How to Manage Excessive Sweating
Is sweating causing you troubles? Do you believe that some people simply sweat more than others, and there is very little that you can do about it? The first part is certainly true - people vary widely in how much they sweat, but the second part is not.
Why do some people sweat more than others?
How much one sweats is mostly determined by genetics. There are also some interesting environmental factors that play a complementary role in determining a person’s “sweatiness”. Unfortunately by the time you are reading this, most of the factors that determine how much you sweat are largely fixed.
- Women have more sweat glands than men, but men produce more sweat from each gland. Overall, sweat problems are more common in men.
- Fitness level also plays a small role. Fit people sweat faster (regulate temperature more efficiently) than those who are less fit.
- Unfortunately, for those that are less fit, overweight people sweat faster, as fat acts as an insulator, raising their core body temperature faster.
- Caffeine can increase perspiration.1
- Interestingly enough, sweat glands develop and mature during a person’s first years of life, and people who spent these years in hot climates, may activate more sweat glands, making them “sweatier” throughout their life.2
Why is Sweating a Problem?
Sweating is an integral function to regulate temperature in humans. Efficient thermoregulation serves a critical role in survival, and accounts for why people have such a large living range - we can adapt to all kinds of climates from the Arctic to the Sahara desert. While sweating is a critical function, it can also be a detriment as well, particularly in social situations.
While sweating is normal and expected at the gym, yoga class, or during runs, it can be uncomfortable on the train, at work, or during a date. It’s also important to understand that while everyone can be inconvenienced by sweatiness, people with severe sweating problems have a different type of problem altogether. Hyperhidrosis, or severe sweating can affect a sufferer’s social, and even work life in serious ways3. So, how do you deal with the unwanted, excessive sweat?
Step 1: Buy an Antiperspirant at the Local Drugstore
Yep, that easy. Just go to your local drugstore and you can see a plethora of antiperspirant products to choose from. Antiperspirants are still the most effective and practical tool for combatting sweat for the vast majority of people.
- Antiperspirants are not the same as deodorants. Deodorants mask body odor while antiperspirants block the sweat by plugging the pores of the skin in the applied area.
- If body odor is what you’re most concerned about, purchase a deodorant. Understand that these products will not stop you from sweating however.
- Antiperspirants have some type of aluminum compound in them, and they are absorbed into the skin and have the effect of drawing in the sweat. This expands and creates a sort of plug to stop the sweat.
- Antiperspirants have been used for decades safely. If you want a more detailed run down of antiperspirants, visit our article on deodorants and antiperspirants.
- Clinical strength antiperspirants will generally have a higher concentration of active ingredients, and allow its effects to last longer. However, like conventional strength antiperspirants it's important that you follow the instructions carefully and accurately to maximize its efficacy.
- Is your sweating too severe to be controlled by antiperspirants? Is sweating negatively affecting your quality of life or even your ability to perform certain tasks? Move to step 2. There's a decent chance that you suffer from hyperhidrosis or severe sweating, and it can be treated.
- Did the sweating become a problem recently? Move to step 2. Most people with excessive sweating have had this problem for as long as they can remember. If the onset is sudden, there may be an underlying medical cause.
Step 2: Severe Sweating--See a Dermatologist
Severe sweating is admittedly a rather subjective term. It is estimated that nearly 3% of Americans have hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, but this figure may be higher considering that many people never seek treatment or are unaware that they had a problem that they could fix. Sweating can be restricted to localized areas like the underarms or the palms and feet, or generalized--everywhere, and can cause significant inconveniences both socially, and may even exclude you from performing certain tasks. If you think that you have a problem with severe or excess sweating, know that it isn’t “incurable” or “just how it is.” There are many people that have hyperhidrosis, and there are many ways to treat it.
- Educate yourself. There are many websites that can provide you with medically accurate information about sweating.
- Visit a dermatologist. Dermatologists are familiar with hyperhidrosis, and can offer a number of solutions that you can otherwise not access, or may not have known about.
- Prescription strength antiperspirants: These have higher concentrations of actives and may be able to solve your sweating problems.
- Iontophoresis: Sounds crazy, but electrocuting yourself (in a medically safe way) at the site where sweating is a problem for a few times a week using a machine reduces sweat. It is most effective for people with sweating mostly at the hands and feet.
- Botox: Known for stopping upper face wrinkling, it can also be used to stop sweating by weakening the nerves that signal for sweat to be produced. Effective and safe procedure, but the drawback is that the effect is temporary and re-treatment will be required. See our video on Botox for hyperhidrosis here, and about cost and recovery time here.
- Surgery: The most drastic and permanent solution is to cut off nerves that signal sweating surgically. The risks and potential side-effects are significant, and the vast majority of the time, your doctor will recommend a safer solution if it is feasible.
Step 3: Prevention and Lifestyle
For people with a milder sweating problem, there are some lifestyle changes that can help to reduce sweating. These are some practical tips to help control and manage sweating.
- Sweat is produced when the temperature rises (for evaporative cooling), and in response to emotional stress. Dressing for the environment appropriately, and reducing anxiety and overall stress levels can help control sweating indirectly.
- Avoid spicy foods. Spice has the effect of inducing sweat on the forehead area; some people are particularly sensitive to this effect, and may do well to avoid spices when they don’t wish to sweat.
- Sweat is produced in reaction to core body temperature, and not the skin’s surface temperature. For this reason, drinking cold water is more effective than applying an ice pack to the skin.
- If you are overweight, losing some excess pounds can help reduce total sweat volume. This is in addition to other more important health benefits.
- Preparation helps. Having a small handkerchief, or an extra change of a T-shirt can solve a lot of problems.
3There is more public awareness with the help of social media, as well as vlogs like this one:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGDYfgL8Xkc
4There is actually an objective measurement for hyperhidrosis or “excessive sweating” but the methods to manage sweating remain the same.
5Somewhat ironically, fitness also contributes to more sweating. Sweat is first and foremost a cooling mechanism and the body becomes more efficient at reaching equilibrium.