Austin's wet, wonderful world of sweat
There's nothing weird about perspiration, but here's how to live with the inevitable
Sometimes, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s poncho glows. On a recent Friday afternoon, the high points on Austin’s iconic lakeside statue reflected the harsh sun as little white crescents. Cotton-puff clouds above offered infrequent shade to statue and pedestrian alike. Just a few yards away on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, in fact, McKenzie Cona and Ben Harris sported their own shine.
“My sunscreen is coming off. It’s glistening,” Cona said, beads of sweat on her nose.
The pair, out for what Cona called “a nice, scenic stroll on this 97-degree day,” didn’t look out of place sweating profusely during the summer. If there’s one experience that unites people in the city for more months out of the year than not, it’s perspiration. You can’t walk outside for more than a minute without a dampness creeping from your back and sides onto your shirt, or from your scalp until it drips down your Ray-Bans. If you’re outdoors for an extended period of time during the most sweltering months, hope you like a salty burn in your eye.
“It’s a mental thing, honestly,” said Harris, who favors a tank top when it gets steamy outside. “Just know you’re going to be sweating. Don’t wear underwear. Don’t wear a backpack. That just makes it worse. Essentially what I’m saying is, the less clothing, the better.”
“He doesn’t even have sunglasses on,” Cona said.
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When humans get hot from the sun or from working out, they sweat as part of a process called thermoregulation, which keeps the body’s temperature stable, according to an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website. Your brain reacts to increased temperature by releasing sweat from millions of glands all over your body. The sweat then evaporates from the top layer of your skin, releasing heat.
There are two main types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands are largely responsible for body-cooling perspiration. Apocrine glands, which play a key role in stress-related sweat — think what happens on a first date — are located near the armpits, groin and breasts, producing concentrated secretions around hair. The sweat reacts with bacteria to cause body odor. That’s why you wear deodorant, which fights the smell. Antiperspirant, on the other hand, also blocks sweat production (usually with an aluminum compound).
Elsewhere on the trail and on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, passersby demonstrated hands-on techniques of sweat management: the forehead wipe, the shirt swipe over the face, the hands through the hair. Dogs, meanwhile, had the best solution: jumping straight into Lady Bird Lake.
In South Austin, some people warded off perspiration at Moontower Saloon. A man stood under the fan at the entrance of the bar, his head tilting back. Others sipped under misters outside, where just a little hot light bled through into the dark, covered patio. Holly Esparza and Javier Quiroz drank bottled beer while visiting from Midland — where there’s a dry heat, not like the more miserable humid heat here, Esparza said. She has a list of priorities when she knows she’ll be sweating.
“Where’s the water at?” Esparza said. “And beer. And AC.”
After all his years in Texas, Quiroz is used to it.
“I sweat like a hog in the wintertime, anyway,” he said.
“It’s just another day in Austin, Texas,” Lizbeth Gonzales, another patron of the saloon, said with a frosty cocktail in her hand.
The glass was sweating, too.
Quiroz plans for stickiness: “We’re not going to be wearing hoodies. We dress accordingly.”
Laurel Kinney runs her own personal styling business in Austin, working with clients here and around the world. Not even a personal stylist, armed with more sartorial strategy than the average person, can escape the soak sweat entirely. A big problem for her: jumping in the already-hot car and getting drenched almost immediately. One quick tip for avoiding sweat marks, she said: applying an absorbent powder or spray before heading out the door, like the cornstarch-based Bust Dust from Megababe.
Kinney says she gets requests from clients every summer for advice on dressing in hot weather. Think about low-contrast prints that will mask any wetness that happens, or just a color that won’t show the sweat. Some materials and fabric knits are better to wear than others, she says, including linen (it wrinkles, but it’s comfy and breathable) and open-weave knits (it fits well but isn’t restrictive and is great for air-conditioned spaces).
“Natural fabrics are going to have breathability and dry faster,” Kinney said.
Not all natural fabrics are created equal when it comes to sweat.
“Silk is one of those things they sell a lot in summer, but in functionality, it doesn’t work as well,” Kinney said. Even though it’s lightweight, silk can cling to your body on a hot day and show your sweat, she said.
» MORE HEAT WEEK:No need to reapply when the sun protection’s part of your clothing
Performance-wear — you know, fabric engineered for workout clothes — is another option. Sweat dries quickly on the moisture-wicking material. But it doesn’t breathe as well as a natural fabric, and the fit is not always as precise, Kinney said, though companies like Lululemon have started selling dress shirts and trousers that some men these days wear into the office.
Layers are always the best way to go during the workday during the summer, Kinney said. If you’re coming from a harsh, air-conditioned environment into the blazing outdoors, she thinks you need something you can put on and take off as needed, like a linen blazer or cardigan. “The structure is what will help you feel pulled together,” she said.
When it comes to a night out dancing, the perspiration-prone among us might not find the perfect solution, but monochromatic, lightweight looks are a good option, especially in black or white, which won’t show as much sweat. Also, consider ditching sleeves.
“If it shows armpit sweat, you’re not going to feel as cute,” Kinney said.
Still want coverage on those arms? Look for cap or dolman sleeves, she said.
“I feel like you’re going to be a drenched person if you’re dancing in the summer no matter what,” Kinney said.
She’s right, you’ll remember: Physical activity and sweating are two dripping peas in a physiological pod.
“Sweat is not a bad thing,” said Roy Davis, Austin region leader for fitness boot camp Camp Gladiator. “Sweat is a good thing.”
When the mercury reaches its highest highs, no matter where you are, Davis said it’s important to keep an eye on that good thing. And he knows sweat: Davis is a former combat medic with a 22-year Army career, including deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. “The first time I ever went to the desert, we didn’t have any cooling systems,” he said.
“Being in the direct sunlight in the hottest points of the afternoon for an extended period of time is creating a recipe for excessive sweat or something worse,” he said.
Excessive sweating is a symptom of heat exhaustion. On the flip side, not sweating at all during a hot workout can be a sign of the next phase, heatstroke, along with red skin and dry mouth.
“When you’re going through heatstroke, your body’s natural cooling mechanism is shutting down,” Davis said.
Davis says Camp Gladiator has creative ways to help ensure outdoor summer workouts don’t get to that point. Many of them involve water: in buckets, in balloons, soaked into towels. The key, he said, is to educate yourself on how your body feels.
“As the heat climbs, it’s important to know how much rest you need for how much work you’re putting out,” Davis said.
Back at the trail, at least two Austinites have embraced the culture of sweat.
“I love sweating,” Cona said. “I think it feels so good. If I’m at a wedding and I have makeup on, no. But here, in my daily life in Austin, I don’t care.”
“Just go get sweaty,” Harris said. “Whatever that means to you.”
WELCOME TO HEAT WEEK
When you live in Austin, extreme heat's a given. For the next week, we're bringing you a series of stories about all the ways high temperatures affect our way of life beyond the weather forecast.
Essential safety tips for hot weather: stay hydrated; watch for the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke; and never leave kids or pets in the car. If you or someone you encounter seems to be experiencing health problems related to the heat, take immediate action to cool down and call 911. For more tips, go to austintexas.gov.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Family Eldercare's annual Summer Fan Drive delivers fans to seniors, adults with disabilities and families with children who need heat relief and meet the drive's eligibility requirements. Find donation and volunteer information at summerfandrive.org.