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The Surprising Healing Powers of Sweat

No matter what we try to do about it, summer inevitably leads to sweating. That’s how your body maintains core temperature to keep you from overheating. Besides creating sweat, your glands also play an important role in how your skin repairs itself from cuts and scrapes.

A recent University of Michigan study published in Aging Cell might explain why we have more problems with healing wounds as we age, and it might boil down to how we sweat. Sweat glands, technically called eccrine glands, are located over most of the body. The highest concentration of eccrine glands is found in the underarms, on the palms, and on the soles. You sweat in response to changes in temperature or because of emotional stress, like getting nervous, anxious, or excited. What you may not realize is that sweat glands are also a reservoir for baby skin cells that act as nature’s Band-Aid to fill in for wounded cells after trauma. These new cells are made deep within the glands and move up to the skin’s surface where the cut has occurred. When this process happens properly, wounds heal well. If not, wounds may heal slowly or not at all.

We know that young people heal faster than older people. The Michigan study tried to understand why, and whether sweat gland function plays a role. Older people tend to sweat less than younger people, so does that mean that their glands are less effective? Is that why their wounds don’t heal as well? The researchers concluded that the answer is “yes.”

Results showed that only half the sweat glands in older people make wound-healing baby cells, while in younger people all the sweat glands produced them. Plus, the new cells produced by older people don’t stick together that well, which means that the “Band-Aid” is thin and weak. Skin in older people is often more sun-damaged, making it difficult for cells to get where they need to. It’s like climbing a ladder with missing rungs. Some cells may make it to the top, but others may not.

Healthy eccrine glands may cause wetness and you may really hate being sweaty. But you need those glands to keep your skin healthy and intact. Proper sun protection is also important (remember to apply sunscreen correctly!) so your skin can function well as you age.

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