Can sweat detoxify your skin? I was talking to a friend the other day and she mentions it’s one of the perks of exercise. I disagree – and not just because I don’t sweat. And yes, I do exercise. I love a good workout session. It gives me energy, improves my mood, and keeps me healthy. What it doesn’t do is make me sweat. No matter how hard I push myself, I sweat very little compared to my friends. I don’t mind that at all. I hate the feeling of sweat running down my face. Or worse, getting sweat in my eyes.
“But how do you detoxify your body if you can’t sweat it out?,” they ask me. “The same way you do,” I reply. “And it’s not through sweat.” I don’t know where this myth originates (although, like all myths, there is a grain of truth in it), but it’s causing all kinds of confusion that needs to be cleared up. That’s what I love to do here. Setting the record straight on confusing sweat. So, here’s what’s really going on and why a good workout won’t help you sweat toxins out of your body and skin:
What Is Sweat?
Your body has around 3 million sweat glands. They mostly fall into two categories: eccrine apocrine sweat glands and eccrine sweat glands Apocrine sweat glands are found in the more “smelly” areas of the body, like feet, armpits, and groin. When the sweat here mixes with bacteria that lives in those warm patches of skin, you get that familiar, not-so-pleasant sweaty smell. Eccrine sweat glands, on the other hand, are located all over the body (lips excluded), including your arms and legs. They provide less sweat that doesn’t smell. Around 99% of sweat, no matter which type of gland produces it, is made up of water. The remaining 1% is made up of urea, salt, ammonia, sugars and oils.
What Do You Sweat?
Sweat is your body’s natural cooling system. “Sweat is secreted by glands in our skin, covering the surface with moisture. The sweat evaporates, cooling our skin and bringing down our skin temperature,” shares board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm.
Whenever you exercise, have a fever, or are in a very hot place (like my hometown Senigallia where the heat can rise up to 40°C in summer) your body’s temperature rises up above its ideal 37°C. Your brain doesn’t like that at all. It wants to get back to 37°C. So, it sends a signal to the sweat glands in your body to start producing sweat.
Related: Why Urea Is A Godsend For Dry, Sensitive Skin
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Can Sweat Detoxify Your Body And Skin?
Even though I’m not much of a sweater, I’d love it if this myth were true. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to breathe the most polluted air, drink lots of alcohol, and then be able to get rid of all those toxins by exercising for an hour or spending some time in a sauna? Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Sweat cools down the body, but it DOESN’T detoxify it.
So why do so people think it can? Because there’s usually a grain of truth in every myth. The grain of truth: Some studies have shown that toxins like mercury, lead, and arsenic, are excreted through sweat. The full truth: Only in incredibly tiny amounts. Only less than 1% of these metals is removed through sweat! If your body relied on sweat to detoxify yourself, you’d be long dead, gorgeous.
Related: Does Your Skin Really Absorbs 60% Of What You Put On It?
How Your Body Really Detoxifies Itself
Relying on sweat to detoxify your body isn’t a smart strategy. Good news: we don’t have to. Your body already has an inbuilt detox system: your liver and kidneys. “Toxic metals like mercury are not detoxified through the skin,” Dr Palmer explains. “There are much more important organ systems that are efficient at detoxification, [like] our liver, kidneys, and intestines.” Every day, they work hard to get rid of all the toxins that somehow make their way inside your body.
As long as your liver and kidneys are healthy, you don’t need to do anything to detox. Yep, you read that right. You don’t need to exercise to detox (although I still recommend you exercise for health reasons). You don’t need to buy expensive skincare products to detox. You just need to take good care of your liver and kidneys by eating a healthy diet (yes, that includes cake – in moderation).
The Bottom Line
Exercise has many benefits, but removing toxins from our body is not one of them. The truth is, sweat can’t detoxify your body and get rid of all of the toxins that get inside them. It’s your liver and kidneys, not your sweat, that detoxify it. I know, eating healthy may not be as fun or easy, but it’s what really works. The science doesn’t lie here.