Sweating (and we don’t just mean an attractively flushed face with a slight sheen) is still taboo, especially if you’re a woman. Which is a shame, given that it’s a genuine scientific marvel – our body’s natural air-conditioning system, in fact. When we get really hot, an alert goes to our eccrine glands, all over our bodies, and our apocrine glands, primarily underarms, breasts, face, scalp and groin, and this leads to perspiration, which is designed to stop us overheating. But despite the impressive science, it can also cause real embarrassment and discomfort – especially if it goes into overdrive for some reason. So, armed with expert support, we set out to help three readers sort their very own ‘sweatmares’.
Olivia Paris Rose, 31, business director: ‘I barely sweat at all, unless I have a confrontation with someone. I feel nervous and tense, and my face gets hot and flushed. The more I become aware of it, the quicker it shows. Sweat appears on my hairline and runs down my back.’
Psychologist Emma Kenny says: ‘Sweat can be a reaction to stressors that trigger your “fight or flight” response. While regular sweat is comprised of water and salt, “stress sweat” is released by a different gland and is made up of fatty acids and proteins,so it doesn’t evaporate as quickly, and can develop an odour when it combines with skin bacteria.’
• ‘“Box breathing” will help ensure that whenever you face a challenging situation, you’ll feel able to reduce your nerves,’ says Emma. It involves expelling all the air from your lungs and keeping them empty for a count of four. You then inhale through your nose for four, hold for four, and exhale smoothly for four. That is one ‘circuit’. Repeat for at least five minutes every day and whenever you’re in a stressful situation. Research has found that deep, yogic breathing like this helps balance the autonomic nervous system, regulating bodily functions such as temperature.
• Use an antibacterial soap when you shower or bathe to reduce the bacteria on your skin, which can help prevent the occurrence of odour.
• Avoid foods that can increase body odour – garlic, onions, cumin and curry, while vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, produce sulphur-like compounds when they break down, which can react with sweat. If you have something coming up that you know will bring on an anxious outbreak, apply antiperspirant the night before. You perspire less when you sleep, so it allows the product to work to plug sweat glands. This effect can last 24 hours, even after a morning shower.
Tanya Bernard, 52, social worker: ‘I’ve always had excess sweating in my hands and feet. My main memory of my teenage years is chatting on the phone with sweat dripping down my wrists. My feet were the same – I learnt to always carry a spare pair of socks. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19 and although it’s improved since I went through the menopause, I still get clammy hands, which I clean and moisturise regularly, and I keep cotton gloves, sanitiser and hand cream in my bag.’
Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and medical director of Healthspan, explains: ‘Tanya has hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excessive sweating. It can affect the whole body or certain areas. It’s often hereditary, or can be caused by certain medical conditions [such as an overactive thyroid and low blood sugar].’
• Look for these ingredients in an antiperspirant – aluminium chloride or aluminium chloride hexahydrate, if your usual one isn’t strong enough. Driclor Antiperspirant Roll On Applicator contains them. Apply at night to clean, dry skin – it can even be used on your palms. Once the effect builds up, you only need to use the product every few days.
• Wear non-synthetic shoes or socks made from natural fibres. Hyperhidrosis UK advises looking out for socks that are impregnated with silver or copper to help reduce odour. Bamboo or charcoal insoles, such as Odor-Eaters Super Tuff Insoles, help wick away moisture and have antibacterial effects. Wearing different shoes on alternate days – allowing time for them to dry out – can also help, as well as choosing footwear made of leather.
• ‘Have a bath or shower twice daily to prevent the build-up of bacteria that gives sweat its odour,’ advises Dr Brewer. ‘And dry your feet thoroughly, as dampness can promote bacterial growth, too.’ To stop your skin drying out from so much bathing, try an emollient, such as Oilatum Fragrance-Free Shower Gel.
• ‘Avoid spicy foods, as they contain capsaicin, which tricks your brain into thinking that your body temperature is increasing, triggering sweat. Steer clear of alcohol, too, as it can speed up your heart rate and dilate blood vessels, which fools your body into thinking it needs to cool down via sweating,’ warns Dr Brewer.
Henrietta Oxlade, 53, financial advisor: ‘I started to get night sweats at 49, about three years before my actual menopause, which got progressively worse. I wake up about once an hour drenched in sweat, and hot and panicky. It’s like a tsunami that takes over my whole body!’
GP, menopause specialist and author of The M Word: Everything You Need To Know About The Menopause Dr Philippa Kaye says: ‘Sweats and hot flushes happen when oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease [in perimenopause and menopause]. This affects many bodily functions, including regulating temperature levels in the brain.’
• Relax before bedtime. Early-stage research shows that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi may help improve menopausal symptoms and ease sweating.
• Sip cold water if you wake up at night and spritz yourself with cooling water, such as Promensil Cooling Spray. As well as investing in sweat-wicking nightwear and special quick-drying sheets, try a JML Chillmax Pillow, which contains a special gel to help cool you down.
• Get to grips with strength training. A 2019 Swedish study found that strenuous resistance training, two to three times a week, can eliminate nearly half of hot flushes and night sweats.
• Ask your GP about HRT (hormone replacement therapy) if your symptoms feel unmanageable, suggests Dr Kaye. ‘There are lots of options available, including tablets, skin patches, gels and implants. Your GP may refer you to a menopause specialist if your symptoms don’t improve or if you’re unable to take HRT.’
• Wear natural fibres (cotton, linen, silk) and white or patterned clothes to disguise sweat patches, and try absorbent clothing-protection pads for the underarms.
• Eat smaller meals if the weather is warm – food intake creates heat, so overeating can cause perspiration and flushing (make ours a salad!).
• Soak your feet in cool water for instant relief.
• Keep your face and body moisturisers in the fridge. And before putting on your clothes, stick them in a plastic bag and pop them in the freezer for a few minutes. Icy-cool bliss!
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