You know the saying that women "perspire" instead of sweat? Or that they even glow? Maybe that’s true in magazines, where some Photoshop artist has applied the faintest sheen to a model’s skin. There is no glowing in my case. Instead, I turn into a walking, dripping beacon of grossness. Sounds attractive, doesn’t it?
Well, it isn’t.
It really isn’t.
Even as a child, I got hot very easily, which always meant I was one of the few kids at Halloween without cool face paint or a scary mask. There was no point. I’d just sweat through it and be miserable. A playground monitor hinted that I was a deprived child in need of a jacket when she approached me at recess one morning. It was early spring, and I was happy in a short-sleeved shirt while everyone else wore coats.
As I got older, the sweating and constant feeling of overheating abated–until I got my first job at a restaurant. By then, I had also developed rosacea, so I had cherry red skin to go along with the sweating.
A coworker saw me mopping up in the back one night and stopped in amazement. I felt fine, but I suppose I must have made quite a sight with my ruddy face covered in sweat when I was really doing a very easy task.
At another time, my supervisor actually made me go stand in the walk-in cooler, apparently convinced I was going to have a stroke. That, or she wanted to see if I got stuck to the metal shelves in the walk-in when my sweat froze.
Things only got worse from there. I can’t go to the gym. Everyone sweats there. It’s normal. What’s not normal is sweating, turning bright red and looking like you’re on death’s door when you’re barely moving.
I struggle with makeup. I don’t like to wear much in the first place, but I like to at least try to even out my skin. Even the lightest layer of foundation just slides right off due to the sweat that breaks out no matter what I’m doing or what the temperature is.
When this problem reached its peak in my mid- and late 20s, Internet research became something of a second job. I spent hours scouring the web and convincing myself I had any number of terrible conditions. I took my findings to doctors and begged for help. And what did it turn out to be? "Well, I guess you’re just made that way."
I decided that in the absence of any identifiable problem, I must have hyperhidrosis. To be clear, I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but it’s not for lack of tests. I’ve been tested more than once for both hyper- and hypothyroidism, along with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems and even Cushing’s, a disease I had only ever seen before on House. I was sent for tests at two different points to check that my hormones were in balance and that I wasn’t entering menopause absurdly early.
Every test came back without any hint of an identifiable problem. The doctors moved to off-label prescriptions. They tried a low-dose blood pressure lowering medication. They tried changing my antidepressant. One doctor prescribed a daily antihistamine, which accomplished nothing besides making spring allergies a little easier to bear. Another doctor prescribed an anticholinergic usually used to treat urinary problems. I had a terrible reaction and never tried it again.
Gradually, whether through the grace that comes with age or the hopelessness of defeat, I came to accept that maybe this really is just how I’m made. I’ve been thoroughly checked out by multiple doctors, even specialists, and there’s nothing physically wrong with me. I’m grateful for that, at least.
So what has actually helped? Losing weight helped a lot, even though I think that was a contributing factor, not the cause. Circulating air helps as well. The sweating is always at its worst when the air is still, even if the temperature isn’t too hot.
Avoid hot and/or spicy food and drinks as much as possible. Ditto for caffeine. I know that’s not the news you want to hear, but my sweating rages out of control anytime I have soup or coffee.
My sweating is worst on my face, but I experience it all over to a lesser degree. Layering products have proven to be pretty successful. Invest in a good clinical strength antiperspirant like Duradry and follow it up with a light dusting of body powder for extra protection.
And whatever you do, don’t restrict air flow to those areas where you’re prone to sweating the most. Not only will this make you sweat more, but bacteria thrive in warm, moist conditions. More bacteria equals more odor. Cotton fabrics and loose materials are best. Try to make sure your clothing isn’t snug against areas where you experience excessive sweating.
I’m still a work in progress. I don’t think this problem will ever completely go away, but I’ve found ways to make it more bearable. The biggest lesson I’ve learned–and I know you don’t want to hear this, I didn’t either–is acceptance. That doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with new management techniques. It just means that you can’t spend your life hating yourself and feeling that the universe has cursed you. That way lies madness. Trust me. When in doubt, just recall the serenity prayer: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the resolve to not hit people who say I’m "glowing."
I might have modified that prayer just a little, but you get the idea.