Before I intellectually knew that sweating was good for the skin, I could see it. Feel it. It was 28 long years of existing as a human before my personal aha moment, though, mostly because I’ve spent the majority of my life rejecting exercise in favor of feeding myself Sour Patch Kids by the fistful in air-conditioned rooms. But now that I’ve seen the light (and the glow), I’m devoted to getting sweaty everyday in the name of clear skin, a healthy bod, and general happiness. Who knew sweat could solve all my problems?!
Here’s how it works: Sweating is the body’s natural cooling system. When we get overheated (from hot temps, stress, or exercise), our nervous system tells our glands to secrete liquid through the skin, which then evaporates and cools the body. Along the way, this process (AKA, sweating) triggers unexpected skin-boosting benefits LIKE...
Releasing toxins. Sweating helps you release toxins like phthalates and BPA (both used in plastics and known carcinogens), as well has heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury. Heavy metals in the body have been linked to chronic skin issues like psoriasis and eczema, so it’s essential to get rid of those bad boys. Studies have shown that sweat is actually the best way to detox from BPAs and heavy metals — this one tested toxin levels in the sweat, urine, and blood of their subjects and found that “many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat;” meaning that your body gets a deeper detox when you turn up the heat.
Opening pores. When you sweat, your pores open up and release impurities. It doesn’t take a doctor to realize that unclogged pores equal better skin — so how come no dermatologists are prescribing acne-killing sweat sessions?! (Hint: Because it’s free!)
Protecting skin from bad bacteria. Sweating secretes a natural antibiotic called dermcidin, which protects the skin from “bad” bacteria (E. coli and Staph, for example).
Reducing stress. Turns out, you can totally sweat your stress away. Sweating has been proven to reduce anxiety and boost endorphins, both of which result in a happier you. And happy skin = clear skin!
K, great. But how will you actually get your skin-saving sweat on? Here are three ways to sweat (and two ways to fake it, for the lazy ones out there. Hi!)
Exercise. This one’s kind of a duh. For me, though, knowing that a kickboxing session is actually going to make my skin look better is the ultimate motivation. If I’m hitting the gym for the sake of getting skinny or being healthy, I’m more likely to hit snooze or pay the $5 ClassPass cancel fee. Add skin health to the mix and I’m there. (Sad, but true.) My personal favorite get-sweaty exercise is a yoga class. My friend Lindsey of The Luminous recommends Kundalini yoga for a mind-body balancing sweat: “Kundalini yoga can produce a sweat that is internal, like a flush of the entire system that hurts so good sweat. I’ve noticed an enormous boost in my overall energy and total body function since I’ve been consistently breaking a sweat every day, even if just for a few minutes!”
Steam saunas. For some reason when I think of a sauna, I picture a group of sweaty old men in towels. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Look for a day spa with a sauna and an ice room to give your skin the ultimate one-two punch: Sit in the sauna for 10 - 15 minutes to open up your pores and clean them out, then go for five minutes in the ice room to seal everything up. You’ll G-L-O-W! If you don’t have access to this kind of spa situation, you can easily recreate it at home. Boil a pot of water, pour into a bowl, and hold your face over the bowl as long as you can (it helps if you drape a towel over your head to trap in the steam). Then, run an ice cube over your face. I mean, not as luxe as a spa day, but it gets the job done.
Infrared saunas. I started going to ShapeHouse once a week, and it’s literally changed my life. This “urban sweat lodge” uses FAR infrared heat (“a radiant form of natural energy”) to heat the body and promote detoxification. The process is pretty crazy: They lie you down on a cot, wrap you in a foil sleeping bag-type-thing, then turn up the heat to 150 degrees. While you cook, you can watch Netflix or Hulu in your private sweatbox until time’s up. 50 minutes later (when you’re literally drenched/dripping in sweat), you’re escorted to a relaxation room and served hot tea and orange slices. It’s soooo fucking luxurious. I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy levels and my skin from adding this to my weekly routine. Highly recommend.
Looking for more of a low-effort glow? You can fake the effects of a good sweat by…
Using a facial steamer. You can grab one of these on Amazon for about $30 to get a sauna-esque sweat at home. Use it to steam open your pores for about 10 minutes, and follow with your usual skincare routine.
Taking a bath while masking. A hot bath will open up your pores in the same way a good workout would. Slather on a face mask while you’re soaking to allow the active ingredients to penetrate deep into your skin.
However you decide to get sweaty, just make sure to splash some water on your face afterwards to cleanse. Now go get your glow on.