How tattoos could change your workout

How tattoos could change your workout

More and more people are getting tattoos. Estimates show that 50% of millennials have at least one. Many sports superstars—and everyday athletes—have them, some covering a large part of their exposed skin. A research study, just published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Medicine, concluded that having a tattoo may affect how well a person sweats.

Many athletes depend on a good sweating function to keep them cool, and anything that decreases their ability to sweat could affect their performance. In this study, the researchers recruited 10 healthy men, in their early 20s, who had a tattoo on only one side of their body. There is a medication called pilocarpine, which stimulates sweating when applied to the skin.

Tattoo study

On each of the men, the researchers applied pilocarpine to the area of the tattoo, and an equal amount to the same area on the other side of their body; an area without tattoo. Then the scientists applied an absorbent disk to each area and waited 20 minutes. They removed the disks and weighed them to determine the amount of sweat they absorbed. They also analyzed the sodium content of the sweat.

They found that the discs situated over the tattoo were much lighter after the 20 minutes. The tattooed skin sweated only about 50% as much as the skin area without a tattoo. Also, the sodium content in the sweat from the tattooed skin was higher, meaning it was more concentrated.

Why tattooed skin sweats less

When a tattoo is made, the dye is micro-injected into the middle layer of the skin—the dermis—where the sweat glands reside. The tattoo process produces some damage to the normal skin structures, including some the sweat glands, which are destroyed or blocked.

Is this bad?

This study was small, but the results showed an impressive difference. If the results of this study are confirmed, people with extensive tattoos might not be able to cool themselves as well as those with fewer or no tattoos. The body is smart, however, and it could be that other parts of the skin increase their sweat production to compensate for the tattooed areas that produce less sweat. This is what happens to people who have burned skin. The burn also destroys sweat glands, but the body compensates.

Whether the body compensates for tattoos is not yet known. More research is needed, and the scientists who carried out the current study are doing more extensive studies in “real” situations, such as athletes during exercise.


The principal author of the study, exercise physiologist Maurie Luetkemeier, suggests that if you have one or only a few tattoos, it’s nothing to be concerned about, but, for example: “If you look at someone in the military, where tattoos are very prevalent, and if they’re exposed to high heat and a heavy workload, there could be problems with how they regulate their body temperature”.

Depending on what the “real life” research shows, having large tattoos on the arms, chest, or back (which normally contains lots of sweat glands), may be a concern for competitive athletes. If you have large tattoos, it’s another reason to keep especially well hydrated during exercise and hot weather.

In our next post, we will discuss the broader topic “Are tattoos good or bad for your health?”. Stay tuned. It’s not all bad news!

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)