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How does sweat impact the skin?

How does sweat impact the skin?
Holly James
Beauty Writer1 year ago
View Holly James's profile

A completely normal bodily function, sweat is the body's natural way of maintaining a comfortable temperature, meaning it happens for most of us when the weather gets warmer or of course, when we exercise. With the fitness industry growing at a rapid rate and NHS advice to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week* into our routine, there are clear health benefits to a breaking a sweat. But how does it affect the skin? We spoke to the expert dermatologists on how to properly care for your complexion when perspiring.


What causes us to sweat?

"When your body’s internal temperature starts to rise, your hypothalamus (a small region in your brain) tells eccrine sweat glands distributed all over your body to start sweating, which in turn cools you down" explains Ada Ooi, consultant dermatologist. "Sweat helps to rid the skin of bacteria, oils, dirt and impurities so this is beneficial for your skin as long as you are washing the sweat off. However excessive sweating can deplete body fluids too much if not regulated properly, thus why it’s so important to hydrate especially when we become ill" she adds.

How does sweat affect the skin?

Although Ada points out that sweat can be moisturising for the skin, she points out that "if left on the skin for too long, the ammonia and urea released in sweat can cause irritation", stressing the importance of washing it off properly soon after exercising. This is particularly important for those with sensitive skin, dry skin or eczema, adds Mimi Luzon, consultant dermatologist who adds that "sweating can cause heat rash if it gets trapped in the skin by clogged sweat ducts".

"Staying cool and hydrated as well as keeping your skin clean and moisturised are the best ways to combat this irritation" says Ada. "Keep your mind calm too, hike in stress can cause rapid palpitation leading to excessive sweating too" she adds. Ada suggests using a moisturising, fatty acid-rich formula to keep hydration levels supported, as well as products blended with zinc and vitamin E that natural control sebum production.

Does sweat cause breakouts?

In addition to irritation, both experts point out that if left on the skin, sweat can contribute to breakouts and acne. "Sweat remaining on your skin for long periods can cause bacteria to remain on the skin, which could lead to breakouts" explains Ada. ‘"Bacne’ and acne in other areas of the body can be caused by the combination of sweat, heat, and friction which leads to the clogging of pores" she adds.

To ensure that your natural 'glow' doesn't affect the skin in the long run, Mimi advises cleansing as soon as possible after sweating to remove bacteria from the skin's surface. "Start by cleansing the face with to get rid of any impurities and follow with a serum or moisturiser to hydrate your skin and boost your glow". If you don't have access to water, Mimi recommends a micellar water and pads to refresh the skin and wipe away impurities.

Should you wear makeup when exercising?

"It’s a good idea to remove your makeup before sweating or working out to prevent it from clogging your pores when mixed with sweat" says Mimi. "Makeup covers your sweat glands, so as you sweat the pores can get clogged, causing breakouts" she clarifies.

If you do choose to wear makeup when exercising or sweating, Mimi stresses to "fully cleanse your face as soon as you’re finished to prevent bacteria from becoming trapped inside pores".

*SOURCE:, Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64, August, 2021.

Holly James
Beauty Writer
View Holly James's profile
Working with brands at LOOKFANTASTIC for over two years I have developed my knowledge of all things beauty from key skincare concerns to niche makeup tricks and haircare hacks. I have a major passion for finding effective solutions that are easily accessible to everyone so that we can all achieve our best, glowing complexion.