It's inevitable -- you have a big day ahead of you, and when you wake up, what's staring back at you in the mirror? A new pimple. Is it because of the summer heat and humidity? Or because of your workout? Let's find out if your sweat is ruining your complexion.
There are two types of sweat glands in our skin: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are located throughout our skin and secrete a saltwater fluid that helps regulate our body temperature -- most of our sweat is produced by the eccrine glands. Apocrine glands are also sweat glands, but this type is found mostly in our armpits and in the groin area. Apocrine glands produce a type of sweat that's thicker and fattier than the type produced by the eccrine glands -- it's this type of sweat that causes body odor when the bacteria living on our skin metabolize your sweat's sugary proteins.
We sweat through our pores, but most clogged pores aren't actually caused by the secretions from our eccrine and apocrine glands. Blockages from oil glands, or sebaceous glands, typically lead to clogged pores. Sebaceous glands are found in our skin on our face, shoulders, chest and back, and they produce oil that keeps our skin and hair moisturized and supple. Clogged pores come in two forms: whiteheads and blackheads. Both types form when a hair follicle becomes plugged with sebum, the oil produced by the sebaceous glands. Whiteheads form a small white center, hence the name. And blackheads form a small black center; the plugged pore has opened and exposed the sebum to oxygen, which turns it black. When a pore is plugged by sebum below the skin and becomes infected by bacteria, this is acne (cystic, pustular or nodular).
What sweat can do, though, is cause a condition called pityrosporum folliculitis. This itchy reddish-pink rash usually appears on the chest, upper back and shoulders and gets worse after sweating or a hot shower. It's a condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast, not sebum. Yeast is a fungus that likes warm, moist places, and although it's a natural inhabitant among the bacterial flora on the surface of our skin, too much yeast inflames pores. Pityrosporum folliculitis occurs most frequently in people who live in hot and humid climates or who often engage in sweaty workouts, especially if they wear tight clothing or clothing that doesn't breathe well.
Want to learn more about clogged pores? See the links below.
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Pityrosporum Folliculitis." 2010. (Aug. 25, 2010) http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/pityrosporum_folli.html
- Baker, Donald J. and Warren R. Heymann. "Eccrine and Apocrine Glands." American Academy of Dermatology. 2010. (Aug. 25, 2010) http://www.aad.org/education/students/glands.htm
- Zoubloulis, CC. "Acne and sebaceous gland function." American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2004. (Aug. 25, 2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15556719