Thursday, June 19, 2014

Taking the Lane: Embrace Your Sweaty Glow

Perspiration, glow, shine, or just plain sweat. No matter what you call it, the function is the same. Sweat is how your body thermoregulates and it is a literal life saver. (Now, I am about to get a little nerdy.) The human body has two different types of sweat glands, the eccrine glands and the apocrine glands. The eccrine glands are all over the human body and produce an odorless substance consisting of mostly water and salt. The apocrine glands are located primarily under the arms and the genital regions. These produce an odorless, oily substance consisting of water, proteins and lipids. This will produce an odor when exposed to bacteria. Now that the days are warmer, you will experience both of these kinds of sweat while commuting into work or just riding in general, which can present a challenge if you are trying show up to work daisy fresh.

Sweat Gland Locations (image from

If you are a mild to moderate sweater or the weather is cool, you have two options, avoid sweating or embrace sweating. If you are like me and are a heavy sweater, you really only have one option, embrace your glow. Since, I have never successfully managed to avoid sweating on my commute (even in the dead of winter), I will give you advice on making friends with your eccrine and apocrine glands. The easiest method to deal with sweat is to shower after arriving to work, however, for many of us, this is not an option. I will be writing the remainder of the article under the assumption that showers are not available. So let us consider how we can embrace our sweat without embracing any unpleasant olfactory side effects.

From Sweaty Swamp Beast Look (Picture by Piper Williams)
It is generally considered to be unprofessional to smell like a gym when arrive to work, unless you work in manual labor field. Even if you sweat profusely this can easily be avoided. If you recall, sweat is odorless and will only smell if exposed to bacteria. If you know you will sweat on your morning commute, shower in the morning before you leave. This will ensure that your skin is clean and less likely to have odor producing bacteria. Also apply deodorant and/or antiperspirant before you leave to further reduce any undesirable smells. (If you use natural deodorants or make your own, try one with tea tree oil which is naturally antimicrobial.) When you arrive to work, make sure you have left early enough, to give you enough time to do a little clean up. In this, a quick drying microfiber towel can be your best friend. My clean up normally consists of washing my face, a quick pat down, reapplying deodorant, a little beauty routine, and dealing with my hair. All of this I can do in the bathroom in under 5 minutes. A few notes on if you have long hair that has become wet from sweat. I have a had a lot of luck with a little dry shampoo, styling oil, and a quick brush. However, I have thin hair that dries quickly. You may find that learning a few quick updos that will hide that your hair is wet, or storing a blow dyer at work to do a quick touch up and give you a professional look may be a better fit for you and your hair type. Now, you can go and sit and your desk and no one will be the wiser that you looked like a sweaty swamp beast when you arrived. (Okay, so that is normally what I look like in the mornings.)

To Physics Grad Student (Image from RHUL)

All commuters have two basic clothing options: commute in what you will wear to work, or bring a change of clothes. (I am sure that both of these options will be expanded in much greater detail in subsequent Taking the Lane blogs.) Throughout the year, I will engage in both practices. When it is cooler and darker and my commute is shorter (~6 miles one way) I often choose to commute in what I will wear to work. Since I am a graduate student, this is typically jeans and some sort of shirt. I often choose a darker shirt that will hide how much I have perspired on the bike ride. I am also a big fan of merino wool and tech shirts. These wick the sweat away from your skin and if you are savvy about your selection, they can look quite professional. Merino wool is also naturally antimicrobial and will not smell.  In the warmer months when my commute grows in length (13+ miles one way), I choose to commute in cycling clothes that wick the sweat away and change into work clothes at the office. I bring in a pair or two of jeans at beginning of the week, leave them in a locker overnight, and take them home at the end of the week to be washed. Each day I bring in a fresh shirt and undergarments in my bag. The important things is finding the routine that works best for you and your work environment. (One further note: if you choose to commute in your regular clothes, it might be worth considering carrying a fresh pair of undergarments, including a bra if you wear one, as most of your apocrine glands are located near or under these articles of clothing. This can be a quick and easy way of freshening up without a full change of clothing, which is especially useful if you have a longer ride.)

Looks refreshing? Be sure to get lots of it. Image from
Sweat is mostly comprised of water so if you sweat a great deal on your ride into your work, hydrating becomes very important. It has been well researched that hydrated people concentrate better. So here is your friendly reminder to make sure you are drinking enough water during these warmer months. Also, it is important to know if you are a salty sweater or not. Salty sweater loose a higher than average amount of salt and electrolytes through perspiration. A few signs that you are a salty sweater is that your skin will feel chalky after a work out, clothes that you have sweat in will have white streaks, and your sweat stings your eyes. I am a very salty sweater and I have found that I sometimes need an electrolyte boost when I arrive at work, especially if it is very warm outside. This for me is normally either a sports drink or coconut water. If I do not get this boost, I will often become tired and listless. Listening to your body is the best way to figure out if plain water will be enough to meet your hydration needs.

One further note. I have surprised more than one person that I do not shower after cycling in, especially in the summer. Their initial reaction has been one of being slightly grossed out. This is a good time to point out that sweat does not smell unless exposed to bacteria, and that until they asked, the did not know that you weren't showering. Sweating is a natural body function. That is all part of embracing your glow.

Happy sweaty riding.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Em. I keep a large ziplock bag full of "freshening agents" at work. They include face wash & lotion, baby wipes, antiperspirant, mascara, washcloth, hair refresher for curly hair, hairbands, and shampoo/conditioner for those days I really need to shower.