Unlike my other posts, this one is not going to be so glamorous. As we all know, beauty isn’t just about a flawless complexion, blended eyeshadow and winged eyeliner sharp enough to cut a biatch. Sometimes, beauty is about those things which are in our minds, not so beautiful. We all fight battles with conditions that can lead us to think our imperfections are not ‘beautiful, and that these don’t deserve to be talked about and shown off on our blogs. Truth is, I want to talk about these things because I feel like these battles and imperfections are what make us relatable. We can learn a lot from other people experiencing similar issues, and we can seek comfort in the fact that we aren’t alone. So I want to talk about a condition that plagued me in my teenage years, and to a certain extent even today. It’s not pretty, it’s not glamorous, and it’s not pleasant. I want to talk about sweat.
Let’s talk about sweat baby, let’s talk about you and me…
Ew, but this is something I’ve really struggled with in the past and have learned to manage today. I suffer from hyperhidrosis. Just a fancy word for excessive sweating, hyperhidrosis is the condition of overactive sweat glands that produce a tonne of sweat without the usual stimuli such as mental, thermal or physiological triggers. Although sweating is essential for the regulation of our body temperature, sometimes our glands go into overdrive for no obvious reason and this can be isolating both professionally and socially. There are two forms of hyperhidrosis that exist: primary hyperhidrosis, and secondary hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis occurs usually with an age of onset less than 30 years old, and with no apparent underlying medical conditions. It typically presents in childhood or adolescence, and there appears to a genetic basis to the observed familial tendency to increased sweating (thanks Dad). Secondary hyperhidrosis is when the excessive sweating is linked to infections, endocrine diseases or other catabolic conditions. This is generally easier to manage, as treatment targets the underlying causes or medical conditions, whereas with primary hyperhidrosis the cause is unknown. I suffer from the primary form.
It all started back when I hit puberty. Hyperhidrosis wasn’t something that was apparent in my life until weird things started happening to my body around the age of 13-14. Basically, as soon as I would wake up my armpits would become a fountain of sweat, for absolutely no reason. I could just be brushing my hair, or eating breakfast. At first I didn’t think much of it, but after I endured this day after day where the usual antiperspirant was ineffective, it really got me down. Think back to your teenage years when there was birthday parties, music festivals, sleep overs, trips out to the beach. Think back to your life at school, walking past hundreds of other kids your age, hanging out during breaks, and raising your hand to ask or answer questions in class. Those activities to me were not so easy and comfortable, especially in a time where your social life was basically the most important thing to you. My school uniform shirt was a lemon yellow colour, and my large sweat patches would be so obvious. I would have to replace my shirts quickly because the sweat would stain my clothes. So I limited myself in the number of times I would ask or answer questions. Usually, it would be after I discreetly checked my armpits to see how big my sweat patch was before I ever dared raise my hand to expose them. I would wear dark jumpers to disguise the sweat patches that would eventuate. I would try and keep my distance from my friends when I knew that I was sweating profusely. Yet I never talked about it to anyone except my Mum, because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I thought people would think me dirty or unkempt. It doesn’t seem like much of an issue, but in those times when you are at your social peak and most conscious about your personal appearance, it really got me down.
I eventually took myself to the doctor and asked if there was anything I could do to help and they gave me three options: botox, surgical excision, or using a highly concentrated aluminium antiperspirant. At that age, botox was out of the question for both financial and pain-related reasons. And no way in hell was I getting surgery to remove my sweat glands from my arm pits, that just seemed excessive. There are other options, but none of which are practical or easy to maintain. So I decided to pick up Driclor. If you haven’t heard of Driclor, its a topical antiperspirant that contains around 20% of aluminium chloride with 70% alcohol. The idea is to use it at night before bed and wash it off in the morning. What it actually does it ‘clump’ the sweat together from underneath the skin to form plugs that block the pores and therefore doesn’t allow further sweat from entering these pores and perspiring out into the world. While it was actually really effective (like amazingly effective – stopped my sweating altogether), it’s super drying and very irritating. Don’t even think of shaving your arm pits when using this! Plus, it’s only an antiperspirant, meaning it inhibits the release of sweat, but doesn’t do anything to counteract the odour should any sweat remain. So I had to come full force and treat my hyperhidrosis with both Driclor and a deodorant.
Don’t know the difference between antiperspirant and deodorant?
There’s a big difference, yet people use the terms interchangeably when they shouldn’t.
Antiperspirants will usually contain low concentration active ingredients to block the perspiration of sweat from your pores. Some have the double purpose of being both a deodorant and antiperspirant. There is some controversy surrounding the use of aluminium in antiperspirants (the cancer link again), but for me nothing else works like aluminium does. The only verified risk of using aluminium-based products is the irritation. There is a fantastic article written in Science-based Medicine covering information and the myths of aluminium in antiperspirants which talks about the issues better than I could! But, if you are someone who wants to use natural alternatives, you may want to avoid antiperspirants altogether, as natural forms only act as deodorants. Some people say making a paste with baking soda and water makes your sweat ‘evaporate’. It does not work for me, but it still may have some properties to help reduce odour (so, a deodorant basically).
Deodorants however, are specifically designed to neutralise the odour produced from the bacteria in sweat (think of bacteria farting), but do nothing to actually treat or inhibit sweat from perspiring. They contain acids or salts which inactivate the bacteria in sweat. Which is why deodorants do diddly-squat for those who suffer from hyperhidrosis. They are useless in helping to reduce sweating. Many companies are now using alternatives (ie sodium bicarbonate) or mineral salt crystals to help counteract the odour from sweat.
In any case, these type of products can come in many forms. There are roll-ons, pastes and sprays, or in the mineral deodorants, in solid crystal form which are essentially roll-ons anyway. Sprays do absolutely nothing for me, even if they are labelled as antiperspirants. For best results, I’ve always had to stick to using roll-ons to make sure the sweat glands and pores are coated effectively.
My hyperhidrosis today
At present, my condition still exists but is much less intense than it used to be. Still, at times (even when I am writing this very post at my desk on a Sunday afternoon), I am sweating much more than I should be. Some days are good, but some days are really bad no matter how much antiperspirant I applied or how much I try to avoid sweating and odour (eg loose, dark clothes, washing my armpits throughout the day). I know sweat is a normal physiological process of the human body, but I also know I shouldn’t be sweating as much as I do. So don’t think I am whinging about something that is ‘normal’ because my sweating is definitely in overdrive. Even in Winter, on the coldest days I still manage to leave sweat patches on my clothes.
Still, it’s easier to manage these days than it used to be. A good thing (or bad thing) is that my social life is definitely not anywhere near as vibrant or frequent as my teenage years, nor is it central to my life. I sound anti-social, but I promise I’m not! I guess being cooped up in my house means I don’t have to worry as much about exposing my condition to people.
Of course my hormones are much more regulated now than before and puberty isn’t wreaking havoc on my body as it used to. Seeing as their could be a link of hyperhidrosis to developmental stages, it makes sense that my hyperhidrosis has slowed down in the past few years. So while I still suffer from it, it is a more mild form now which makes my life a little easier.
Tips for managing hyperhidrosis
1.Choose fabrics and colours that work with your sweating habits
The thought of tight fitting clothes which would encourage the production of sweat and bacteria releasing odours makes me slightly anxious. Wearing loose fitting clothing that not only allows my armpit to breathe but also isn’t in close enough contact for sweat patches to be obvious is one trick. Darker colours are also better for masking the appearance of sweat patches. And obviously, materials such as cotton are much better to wear than say, polyester or nylon which bring on sweat like nothing else for me.
2. Timing of product application means everything
If you don’t want to use high-strength aluminium antiperspirants, stick with your normal one, but apply it at night before bed. Why is this important? Overnight, our sweat glands are sort of dormant and are able to absorb more of the active ingredient. Also, it leaves ample time for the actives to work their magic and block your pores, so that when you wake, you’re good to go. Any sweat that is present in the morning when you apply can dilute the product and can make it less effective. For extra security though, apply both at night and in the morning which is the habit I adopt. But I always keep an emergency antiperspirant that also has deodorant properties on my work desk for times in need.
3. Hair removal helps
One thing that seems to make a difference with my sweating is arm pit hair removal. Yes, I know you are meant to do it regularly for personal appearance, but I always find that either I sweat less or the odour isn’t as strong. I can’t seem to find any evidence to suggest why this happens, but it is thought that removing the arm pit hair allows the antiperspirant to penetrate the skin better, thereby making it more effective against sweat. Another reason proposed is that the arm pit hair can trap moisture and bacteria and add to the damp environment where bacteria thrive. Whatever the mechanism is, I always notice a big difference to my sweating after I remove arm pit hair.
4. Choose an antiperspirant with generous actives but with a gentle formula
I’ve moved away from using Driclor because it was just way too drying and irritating. The Mitchum deodorants were working well for me, but left a really gross smell on the arm pit area of my clothes and started to lose effectiveness the longer I was using them. The Rexona Clinical Protection range is one I keep going back to because, while the aluminium content is the same as Driclor, the formula is much more gentle on my skin and I experience no irritation and very minimal dehydration of my armpits. Sounds weird considering that dry armpits is what I am aiming for, but not to the point of flaking and cracking skin. So, I get the same level of sweat reduction but with a more desirable formula.
Packaged as a roll-on, this is more a creamy paste formula that literally feels like nothing on your armpits. The formula is incredibly smooth and does feel like it has a certain element of hydration. It doesn’t contain the high concentration of alcohol like Driclor, instead using a silicone derivative for skin conditioning and delivery. Capric Triglyceride, a mixed tri-ester from coconut oil and glycerin also acts as an emollient and I feel is the other star ingredient of the formula. The only thing is, like with other high strength formulations, it can be expensive with an RRP of around $15. But for me, a small price to pay for the results.
But you NEED to sweat!
If you’re worried that you’ll be interrupting the processes of detoxing your body, it’s largely a myth that sweat eliminates toxins from your body. The function of sweating is purely a temperature regulation tool. The release of water through our skin, which then evaporates is the mechanism by which the hypothalamus tells our body to cool down. Sweat is made up mostly of water, and small amounts of salts, proteins, carbs and urea. Interestingly, environmental toxicology and dermatology experts say that while sweat does contain trace amounts of substances considered as toxins, only less than one percent of our body’s toxins are released through sweat. Instead, our kidneys and liver are the main detox organs. So I’m not that worried about using high strength antiperspirants to eliminate sweating, because if my body was trying to regulate it’s temperature that badly, I would sweat elsewhere as well. For me, my hyperhidrosis is localised to armpits which leads me to think it’s not my body screaming at me to cool down, otherwise I’d sweat profusely elsewhere too right?
The bottom line
To many, applying deodorant is one of those tasks you automatically do every day like brushing your teeth or hair, without thinking too much about it. But for me, as a sufferer of hyperhydrosis, the whole thing is much more important and I have to carefully think about the ways in which I manage it on a daily basis. Even clothes shopping is a different experience for me because some colours, fits and fabrics just don’t work well with my condition. I guess that’s the beauty of hyperhidrosis, whilst inconvenient it is manageable. I hope that if you’re in the same boat, my post has made you feel a little better about it, or at least given you some tips you haven’t thought about before about other ways in which you can deal with it.
That completes this post! Are you a hyperhydrosis sufferer? Pleeeease let me know in the comments! I want to hear about other experiences and ways in which people manage it.
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