Sweating Out Your Toxins

Can you sweat out toxins?

The guy next to me on the bike yesterday morning was working like Lance Armstrong in training; he had laid towels on the floor to absorb the impressive perspiration he was generating.

He shouted over to me: “I’m hitting it hard to cleanse out the toxins from last night. Too much Captain Morgan and Buffalo wings, ya know?”

“Really,” I said.

“Actually, I’m a dermatologist, and sweat does not contain any toxins,” I said to myself so that he could not hear. (Gym decorum dictates men do not correct men in the middle of a workout — especially if prefaced by “Actually, I’m a dermatologist”). I left him to his aerobics and wrote this post in my head while I finished mine.

You might not want to believe me, but it’s fact: you cannot sweat out toxins. Sweat is composed of 99% water and a tiny percent of salt, urea, proteins and carbohydrates. Salt, proteins and carbohydrates are natural. Urea is a by-product of protein metabolism and is non-toxic. It’s regulated to keep your blood at a healthy pH. Most excess urea is eliminated in urine (hence the name) and a small amount is in sweat.

Toxins like mercury, chemicals, alcohol, drugs, and spicy BBQ sauce are eliminated by your liver and intestines.

Sweat glands, all 2.6 million of them, regulate your temperature — they’re not designed to expel toxins.

The primary ingredient in sweat is pure water. The water evaporates from your skin, cooling you. Excess sweating doesn’t eliminate excess salt or help hangovers. By forcing your body to copiously perspire, you’re only forcing your kidneys to save water (and ironically actual toxins) elsewhere. The water that ends up in the towel on the floor is the precious water you needed to stay hydrated, not a puddle of poison.

In some ways sweat is the opposite of toxic, it’s a vital fluid. When you are working out hard, replace it. I recommend water, not Captain Morgan Rum.

Photo: Lafrancevi

32 thoughts on “Sweating Out Your Toxins”

  1. “The water that ends up in the towel on the floor is the precious water you needed to stay hydrated, not a puddle of poison.”

    — Great writing! I laughed when I read this. Awesome post.

  2. Kathryn Fenner says:

    I wonder if some of this “toxins in sweat” theory comes from our teenage years, when sweating and increased acne seem to go hand in hand. Correlation, however, is not causation, as this English major has learned later in life.

  3. I believe that sweat is mostly water but this explanation does not cover where odor comes from. Further, why does the underarm odor very from person to person? Why are some people stinkier than others? Is this not caused by the food one eats?? Our skin is the body’s largest organ. It stand to reason that it would secrete at least some undesired organisms

  4. Could you explain, then, how exercising can help your body to remove toxins?

  5. Guernsey Rob says:

    I am always disappointed to read that “sweat does not contain any toxins” or that “you cannot sweat out toxins” in articles written by doctors and other professionals who have not done their homework.

    There is no lack of information on how sweating can reduce pesticides and other poisons in our bodies. For instance Dr David Schnare of the U.S.A Environmental Protection Agency showed that saunas reduce body levels of HCB (hexachlorobenzene) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in electrical workers. He also helped drug users, victims of accidental ingestions, and those poisoned by a variety of environmental chemicals to recover with sauna detoxification.
    For more information and references on the benefits of sweating in low temperature saunas, see Dr Sherry Rogers book “Detoxify or Die”. Also Dr Sara Myhill has a website with an informative section on infra red saunas, including 210 case studies of patients who benefited from sweating treatments.
    I am an ex-tomato grower who suffered many years of problems from the accumulation of old pesticides (DDT etc) in my body, and thanks to regular saunas I am now almost completely free of all my previous symptoms.

  6. @JC thanks!

    Possibly. Although as it turns out sweat does not cause acne either.

    The odor is from bacteria that live (peacefully) on our skin.

    That’s just it, exercise doesn’t remove toxins. If anything, it creates a toxin, called lactic acid (although it’s basically good for you).

  7. @Guernsey Rob
    Thanks for contributing to the conversation. There are many books and websites written about medical cures including detoxification. It’s important to look at the quality of the information.

    Dr. Schnare published an article on sweat and toxins. He believed that L. Ron Hubbard, from the Church of Scientology, could eliminate toxins using sweat. A group was assigned to sweat for 3 mo using the L. Ron Hubbard method. A control group did not sweat. The sweat group had fewer toxins at the end. However, the sweat group also took niacin, oils and toxin absorbing supplements. It’s not possible to know if the sweat was important at all. Further, the study was done over 25 years ago and has never been repeated.

    Drs. Rogers and Myhill have never published any articles about their claims.

    The standard textbooks used by emergency physicians and poison control centers in the best medical centers in the country have no mention of sweating to eliminate toxins.

    Some toxin can be excreted in sweat, such as with lithium, but the amount is minuscule.

    I’m sincerely glad that you are well after your treatments. I hope to hear from you again. If you have seen articles published about eliminating toxins in sweat, then please post them here so we can discuss them.


  8. There was a study conducted by Olaf Mickelsen and Ancel Keys, Laboratory of Physical Hygiene, University of Minnesota,Minneapolis 1943. The study showed minuscule amounts of vitamin C, Thiamine and Riboflavin excreted in sweat, however .1mg/100cc of Niacin were excreted.

    Based on this study, it appears that we can excrete some chemical compounds in significant quantities. It would be interesting to know which compounds are excreted. Until the scientific data is in, it seems that the jury should remain out.

  9. Guernsey Rob says:

    Thank you for your kind and informative reply to my blog. Perhaps I was a bit harsh to suggest a lack of homework by doctors etc., because after hours of searching the internet, I have to admit I have failed to find what I was looking for, i.e. conclusive evidence that sweat does indeed contain pesticides and related toxic substances.

    I did find plenty circumstantial evidence, case histories, and some interesting articles which, taken together would convince some people that sweat could contains these toxins. For instance the Victoria (Australia) Forensic Science Centre found 20 basic elements, and dozens of organic compounds in moisture on the skin’s surface. In Israel, in 2009, Dr. Michael Gozin of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry were looking at the biochemical components of human sweat to attempt to show that each person has his or her very own chemical fingerprint. The article “Sweat, the Fingerprint of the Future” can be found at http://www.israel21c.org/technology/sweat-the-fingerprint-of-the-future Also if you Google “The excretion of trace metals in human sweat” you will find papers showing that zinc, copper, iron, nickel, cadmium, lead, manganese, sodium and chloride have been found in human sweat.

    From the above, I put it to you that there is strong evidence available that sweat does indeed contain certain toxins, so it is reasonable to assume that sweat can also contain toxic pesticides and toxic volatile organic compounds that are in our bodies. However I respect your healthy scepticism towards this belief, and regret that I have not yet found evidence of independent trials and experiments, replicated by others, that good science demands before a theory can be a generally accepted fact.

    I note that in your reply to my blog you say “some toxin can be excreted in sweat” and hope we may have some common ground, and look forward to your reply.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep looking!

  10. Weeks ago I caught the flu, Friday into Saturday. So I sat in my hallway (no ventilation) on the phone for 30 minutes. By the end of that call, I was sweating so much my clothes were soaked and I felt much better that my aches from the flu were practically gone.

    I then took a steamy shower and went to bed. The next morning I woke up and felt great.

    Every time I feel a cold coming on, the first thing I do is try and sweat it out. It always works.

  11. Doctor:
    My name is Eloisa, I am a second year medicine student, from the city of chile, and I chose your blog to do my research.
    In particular I really like this post, cause it gives information to the general population, of the belief that toxins can be sweat out, I found it very interesting how simple and yet how precisely you can make clear that this is not possible, however, I would have liked some links to any paper or any investigation to read, outlining a more scientific way, of the reason that the sweat does not dispose toxins from the body.
    Many people who visit your blog (as I see), discuss a lot about what you say, and many use papers and other investigations to support the words they are saying.
    I was one of those people who thought they could sweat out toxins, but now I realize that this doesn’t happen, thank you very much for the information, I really liked and enjoyed reading your blog, I’ll be looking out to see more of your posts.

  12. Haha, my mother always talks about how she loves sweating because she is eliminating toxins…I’ve told her that isn’t the case for years…now I have more evidence!

  13. Thanks for the post.

    As a naturopath, I draw on both “nature cure” tradition and modern scientific discoveries. I’m certainly more inclined to believe that toxins are removed in perspiration, through the use of saunas as well as through exercise. I am interested in getting more information about toxins that are removed through sweating, even if in miniscule amounts.

    Glad you opened the discussion.

    Well wishes.

  14. I am doing research on the benefits of sweating. Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated. I like your approach. However,there is not enough research to credit or discredit the claim that toxins are released in sweat.

  15. oops! typo wrong “M” address

  16. Hi I was wondering why I perspire so much especially during the summer.. The back of my neck and hair sometimes gets soaked when I look at other people they seem dry as can be. Just wondering..I always have to use Mitchum deodrant for ladies and that seems to help some.. Thanks TeeJay

  17. its not the sweat that is helping you get over your cold. Its raising your body temperature. Dont get me wrong. I love the steam room and it has plenty of benefits, but sweating out viruses and toxins is not one of them.

  18. Easy Jc, it improves blood flow and circulation allowing your kidneys to remove more material through pee. Keeping the stomach fit can also help improve digestive processes, which means waste is removed more regularly. But as it was said, you need to stay hydrated!

  19. Now correct me if I am wrong, but lactic acid is primarily made during extensive stress of the muscle, which is why the term “feel the burn” comes into play, including in anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise could help with blood circulation, and heart health, which in turn could provide more blood flow to the kidneys, whose primary job is the removal of waste built up in your veins and arteries. Keeping fit (not necessarily building muscle mass) in areas, like the stomach, have been shown to improve regulation of bowl movements, which in turn removes the solid waste product more regularly. So exercise does play a part in toxin removal if my points are valid. Hydration, Diet, and Exercise are key points in keeping the system clean is what I am saying.

  20. Guernsey Rob says:

    I have (at last!) found another study that suggests that sweat does remove some toxins.
    In 2011 a study by Dr Steven Genius. University of Alberta USA came to this conclusion about bisphenol (BPA) which is a widely used chemical in plastics.
    “ Induced sweating appears to be a clinically useful tool to facilitate the release of BPA through the skin in order to eliminate this toxicant from the human body” . The study also found that some of the individuals tested had considerable levels of BPA in their sweat, but little or none was found in their urine or serum. This suggests to me that this particular toxin is excreted as sweat.

    The complete experiment is posted on the internet, and can be found by searching for “Dr Steven Genius” and/or “Human Excretion of Bisphenol A”.

  21. You have a good opinion! I would love to see some proof that you body can’t sweat out viruses or toxins. I have been sweating and using a sauna for 20 years, I am 39 and look 25. How do you explain that? 🙂

  22. How to get proof that you can sweat out toxins in a sauna. Ok, get around four gallons of water with a bunch of ice. Then jump in a sauna that is around 140 degrees and sit in it for 15 to 20min then take a five minute break and cool off, do this for two to three hours. Drink as much water as you can in the two to three hours. Then cool down for two hours and go look in the mirror. Now, if you don’t look like you sweated out a ton of toxins and look better, I will cut of my left pinky toe. Sally, people that think you do not sweat out toxins really need to go back to school…. the school of experience!

  23. Well if that link to the Pub Med study does not do it for the disbelievers, then nothing will.

    Good Job Mike!
    You Rock!

  24. MC, thanks for sharing. I notice that this study came out a year after I published my post.

  25. I couldn’t without knowing your medical history and lifestyle habits, but it sounds it’s working for you, so that’s good.

  26. Thank you for sharing this, Rob. This study was published a year after my post. I hope it’s a topic that more researchers will focus on.

  27. Dr. Michael says:

    The entire slant of this article reminds me of when practitioners use to tell their patients that virtually nothing is absorbed through the skin, We know how wrong they were. The integument is a membrane and yes substances travel both ways through this incredible membrane. Common sense alone would dictate some toxins would be expelled especially from lymphatic wastes. At least we can only hope the skin can expell some wastes that are friendly dermatologist has likely prescribed!

    Dr. D. M.

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