Is Sweating Good for You?

Woman working out and sweating

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

When you think about sweating, you probably think icky and sticky (and maybe a little smelly too). But sweating is a totally natural, normal, and healthy process that's good for you. Learn more about what happens when you sweat and how it benefits your health. 

Why Do We Sweat?

To really start sweating, you're usually taking part in an activity that causes your heart rate to speed up, your breathing to intensify, and your muscles to ache. Or you could just be lounging on a hot day in the sun at the beach. 

Yes, humans sweat significantly during physical activity and when exposed to heat. Think of your body like an engine. If it gets too hot, it can malfunction. Just like a car, your body will “break down” in the form of overheating or, in worse scenarios, in the form of a heatstroke.

But how exactly does sweat cool the body? It’s actually quite simple. When sweat leaves your pores and hits the air, it evaporates, which has an immediate cooling effect on the body.

If you live in a humid environment or just sweat a great deal, it can often seem that sweating isn’t effective (because the sweat doesn’t evaporate as well, and you just end up wet and stinky). Moisture-wicking clothing made of fabrics like nylon and polyester can help with this.

Though heat and physical activity are the primary sweat-drivers, they aren’t the only two things that can cause people to sweat. Emotions, such as fear, nervousness, and anxiety, can also cause moisture to seep through your pores. Some people also sweat in response to spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, or caffeine. Battling an infection, especially with a fever, can make you sweat, too.

Sweating is a natural process that occurs when your body shifts out of homeostasis—that is, when something in your body is not in balance, usually in an attempt to lower your body temperature. 

What Is in Sweat? 

Sweat is mostly water, but it contains small amounts of salt, other electrolytes and minerals (including potassium, chloride, magnesium, zinc and copper), proteins, urea, and ammonia.

You’ll want to replenish your electrolytes after a heavy bout of sweating, but all that other stuff is waste and sweating is one way your body excretes it. 

Why Does Sweat Smell? 

The truth is sweat itself doesn’t actually smell. It’s virtually odorless! Yet, you smell when you get sweaty, so what gives? 

When sweat reaches the surface of your skin, it mixes with bacteria and chemical reactions occur. Byproducts of these chemical reactions include compounds that really stink. For example, the sweat in your armpits comes from apocrine glands, which produce bacteria that rapidly multiply in the presence of sweat and break sweat down into acids that smell.

This happens mainly with the apocrine glands concentrated around hair follicles, because they produce sweat that's fattier than the dilute sweat that comes from your eccrine glands. This is why your armpits smell worse than, say, your forearm.

Is Sweating Good for You?

Yes, in general, breaking a sweat is good for you. If you didn’t sweat, you could quickly overheat and faint or experience other heat-related medical problems. You might get severe muscle cramps, feel very weak, and experience flushing of your skin. When you don’t sweat at all or enough to cool your body down, it’s called anhidrosis or hypohidrosis.

Health experts generally recognize sweating as a good thing because most people sweat when doing activities that improve their overall health. Physical activity has a multitude of proven health benefits and is key to keeping your body healthy as you age. All types of exercise can cause you to sweat, from walking to weightlifting to high-intensity interval training. 

Does Sweat Really 'Detox' You? 

Kind of. Sweating does help your body excrete waste, but the amounts are so trace that most experts don’t consider sweating a “detox.”

“Detox” is kind of a made-up word anyway, because your body has all sorts of systems running at all times that remove waste. Your digestive system, lymphatic system, urinary system, and your cardiovascular system all remove toxins in different ways.

However, some research has found sweating to be an effective removal route for certain toxins, including bisphenol A (BPA, a chemical found in single-use water bottles and other plastic items) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, another class of chemicals).

Sweating may also help remove heavy metal toxins from the body, according to limited research. Expert opinions differ on this, and more research is needed to confirm the effects.

So, while you may feel invigorated after a sweat session, that happy and healthy feeling isn’t a product of a “sweat detox” — it’s more than likely a product of all the endorphins your body releases in response to exercise.

Can You Sweat Too Much?

Like sweating too little, sweating too much can pose health risks. Excessive sweating, medically known as hyperhidrosis, can cause dehydration if body fluids aren’t replaced. Every time you sweat a significant amount, such as during exercise or on a hot day, you should take care to drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes

Watch out for these signs of dehydration

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Dry mouth and lips 
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Reduced urination frequency
  • Dark-colored urine

Mild dehydration can be remedied with adequate fluid consumption, reduced physical activity and seeking shelter from the hot sun. Severe dehydration may require intravenous fluids. If you think you’re experiencing severe dehydration, seek emergency medical care.

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