As we enter that magical time of year when your underwear glues itself to your butt with the determination of an affectionate barnacle, we’re taking a closer look at sweat. What is it? What does it want? From sweatshops and anxiety to the literal drippy stuff itself, this week is all about the perspiration. Now let’s get sweaty.
For heavy sweaters, life stinks. Constantly worried that they smell bad, are offending others with their moisture or even sabotaging their own job interviews, being relentlessly sweaty is a tough way to live. We talked to three guys who suffer from what’s known as hyperhidrosis to see just how tough.
Jake Tansanco, 31
I lived in the Philippines until I was 25. Back in fifth grade, I realized that my hands were really sweaty. When I used to arm wrestle with my friends they’d always ask me, “Hey Jake, why is your hand so wet?” And I’m like, aren’t your hands sweating too? They’re like, “No, it’s totally you.” In class, when I’d take notes with pencil and paper, the sheet of paper would always get wet, so I’d always have to put a handkerchief under my hand. It’s hard to write on a wet piece of paper.
I went to a doctor, and they said it’s part of puberty, growing up, etc. I’m like, “No, this isn’t normal.” I asked my dad about that, and he was like, “You just have to eat vegetables, and it’ll go away.”
The three main areas I sweat around are my hands, underarms and feet. My case is unique because for some reason if my feet start sweating, it triggers the sweat on my underarms and hands. So if I’m barefoot or wearing flip-flops I’m usually dry, but once I start wearing socks and shoes I start completely sweating.
I wake up in the morning, and my bed sheet is wet because of the sweat. After showering, as soon as I start wearing my socks and shoes, I’m already sweating. Imagine driving on the freeway and the steering wheel is dripping wet. In the office, my keyboard and mouse pad are usually wet. Every lunchtime I used to change my shirt, but nowadays, I use a special undershirt called Thompson Tee, which has special padding in the underarms, so it blocks the sweat going through. I’m lucky because my employer allowed me to wear flip-flops at work because I’ve told them about my condition.
The hardest part is if you make presentations or try to meet new people. Once I shake their hand, my hands are already sweating. First impressions usually last, so they already think that I’m super nervous, when in reality it’s a condition I can’t control. I’m always conscious of people judging me because of my sweat — they’ll think maybe I have bad hygiene, but I shower at least twice a day!
People say it’s just sweat, but for people like us who have hyperhidrosis, it leads to anxiety and depression, a lot. So it’s a never-ending battle, mentally. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t instances where I wanted to commit suicide, it’s that bad.
It changes your lifestyle, and definitely, the clothing you wear. When you open my closet, it’s all black. Also, with the dating scene: It’s hard because as a guy, if you’re not confident then women won’t like you, right? So my confidence is really low. With your career path, there are a lot of jobs I can’t even do, so it limits options for my career, too. There are a lot of issues about it.
Interestingly, doctors don’t know about this condition. I found out about my condition through Google about five years ago. I think I typed, “Why am I sweating excessively?” The International Hyperhidrosis Society popped up, so I decided to start reading more about it, and it made me more aware about the condition I have. Whenever I ask doctors about treatment, they just recommended stuff I already know about that didn’t work on me, usually over-the-counter antiperspirant. There are also Botox procedures, but they’re really expensive because they’re not covered by insurance — insurance companies think it’s cosmetic as opposed to a cure for a medical condition.
There’s also a dreaded surgery where they cut a nerve in the underarm area. I’ve read online that for the first year or two you’ll be completely dry, but after that, there’s a term called “compensatory sweating” wherein your whole body will just sweat nonstop. Others who underwent the surgery say it’s probably the worst decision of their lives.
Personally, for my underarms, I did two procedures of a treatment called miraDry. They melt the sweat glands in your underarms, which takes about two hours. After the treatment you’ll be swollen, but you’ll be sweat free. My underarms are dry. There is an area near the chest that can’t be treated, so that’s the part of me that still sweats.
I just want to encourage other people to be aware of this condition, because it’s pretty new. I probably won’t have the permanent cure in my lifetime, but hopefully people won’t suffer from this in the too far future.
I don’t sweat excessively on my hands or feet — for me, it’s actually my scalp. It drips down onto my face, and it’s related to anxiety and social situations. It makes me a little more anxious when I’m speaking in public, or at a party where I don’t know anyone. It started in my mid-teens.
If I go to the gym, I wear a 1970s style headband. Or if I go somewhere where headwear is acceptable I’ll wear something else on my head, but some places you can’t get away with those kinds of things — if you’re at a party or giving a talk, you can’t put on a bandana or a hat. People who sweat on their hands do certain things to avoid shaking people’s hands, but they can usually get away with talking in public spaces or chatting with people at a party. With the scalp, it becomes more difficult.
A handkerchief is adequate, but again, it’s not commonplace to pull out a handkerchief and keep wiping your brow. At the end of the day, there’s all these things you can kind of do to mitigate the issue, but if you have to do something that other people aren’t doing, it becomes obvious. I’m married now, but it was definitely an issue with dating. You can try and make a joke out of it: “Don’t mind me, I’ll be drinking a lot of water.” You can kind of diffuse it by acknowledging it, but it’s still annoying.
When I’m just hanging out at home or kicking it with friends, it’s not a big deal, but when I’m trying to make a first impression and I’m nervous, it compounds itself. You sweat, you get more anxious, the anxiety kicks up and you sweat a bit more — it’s a feedback loop. Let’s say you have a stressful thing coming up: You’re worried you’re gonna perform, you’re going on a date, and you’re worried it’s gonna go well. There are all these stressors and worries that you can do as best you can to prepare for, but in the end, you’re still thinking, “Am I gonna have sweat pouring down my face?” It’s like this additional worry that you can’t control — at least until recently.
I’d been looking around for options for as long as this has been going on, but a lot of the medications or deodorants don’t work for your face or scalp. When you read about Botox, you read mostly about its use on armpits and hands. But I stumbled upon Dr. Cabin a few years ago; he does Botox for facial and scalp sweating. That was when I went in to get it done. It’s changed everything.
You generally do it every six months or so. It’s not cheap — it’s around $1,500 — but you don’t have to think about it for a while. I paid out-of-pocket because he doesn’t participate in my insurance, but it’s well worth it. It takes about three or four weeks to fully kick in, then I notice it wearing off about five or six months later. I just have a standing appointment every six months.
The doctor told me during our consult that it would diminish sweat by about 80 percent, and I’d say that’s true. It doesn’t stop sweat entirely, but it brings it down to a level like anyone else. So I definitely still sweat, but at least now it’s not unusual.
Starting around the eighth grade, I started profusely sweating all the time, specifically under my armpits. In gym class everyone was required to wear these extremely light gray T-shirts, and I remember sweating and leaving underarm sweat marks before we even started our mile run. It was weird, and I was afraid of other people finding out since sweat profusely leaves stains on light gray. This meant I’d always try to keep my arms closed and clamped by my side, but all that did was make it worse.
Hyperhidrosis commonly affects the armpits, hands and feet. I have them all, and they all sweat together at the same time. Making matters worse, I grew up in Virginia, where it was always extremely humid.
Hyperhidrosis has affected my life greatly, especially during school. I blame it for my anxiety and depression, and for sometimes just missing out on growing up. I was scared that people would find out because it was too weird that someone could sweat so much by doing absolutely nothing. Thus, I spent the first three years of high school trying to hide it from everyone. I was concerned that people would make fun of me. This meant not participating in class as I never raised my hand to expose myself.
It led to me wearing hoodies and sweatshirts nearly every day as multiple layers was absolutely the only way to stop sweat marks from reaching the surface. It didn’t matter what I was doing, my armpits would drip with sweat during the most mundane things: Playing video games, reading a book, watching TV, eating, walking outside in the cold. Activities like running and wrestling meant I sweated even more — and faster. I got into martial arts, but stopped shortly after as my feet left footprint stains all over the mats as we were required to be barefoot. I was afraid people would find that weird, as even I thought it was weird.
Being around so many of my peers meant handshakes at all times of the day. I’d be walking to class when someone would shout my name, and I’d stealthily have to wipe my hand on my clothes before greeting them. This is still a battle I fight to this day.
The summer after my junior year of high school I came to California, one of the hottest and driest climates in the country. I was still sweating and I couldn’t take it — the curiosity finally got to me. I went online and started looking up phrases like “constant sweating,” and I finally came across hyperhidrosis. I immediately knew this was what I had. In the past, I remember explaining my condition to my parents, but they always said it was normal and that everyone does it. After discovering hyperhidrosis, I tried again to explain that this is what I have. They still didn’t take it seriously at first; I don’t think they understand how deeply my life was affected by it. I showed them my sweaty hands, and my dad would quickly feel it and say, “I don’t feel anything, you’re fine.” But I wasn’t. I remember crying because no argument could explain to them why someone constantly sweats doing absolutely nothing.
They finally believed me, though, and we went to the doctor after we came home from vacation. Almost immediately, the doctor agreed I had hyperhidrosis, and that I wasn’t alone.
I’ve used multiple treatments over the years. Glycopyrrolate is an oral medication that reduces sweating. I took it one to two times a day for the sweating on my hands; it took my sweating down by around 50 percent. The problem is that when you block the sweat from one part of your body, it still needs to find a way to get out somehow. This meant my nose would also sweat frequently, and I’d constantly wipe it on my sleeve. Constipation was also a huge side effect: I quit using it simply because I couldn’t deal with not being able to go to the bathroom.
I also used Drysol, an antiperspirant. I applied it once a week on the weekends, and it lasted until the following weekend. It’s a liquid you rub on your armpit. However, the night that follows is absolute hell — the itchiness was some of the most excruciating pain I’ve dealt with. But it worked wonders, and I was finally able to wear my favorite T-shirts to school and participate more. I’ve also tried Drionic, a water device. You put your hands and feet in the machine, and it sends a small current of electricity on the surface of your body to kill or freeze the outer cells that are making you sweat. However, to see results, you have to use it for around 30 minutes daily for months. I never used it enough to see my sweat stop.
And so, today, my sweaty hands makes holding pencils impossible, and driving becomes dangerous as the wheel has almost slipped out of my hands before. Not to mention, if you rest your hand on a paper too long, it becomes soggy and sticks to your body. Passing the video-game controller to your friend is terrifying, too, as it’s all wet. I could go on forever.
I stopped taking all medication a few years ago and have just accepted that I sweat. Three years ago, my armpits stopped sweating. I have no answer for this — it may be because I moved to California and it’s a dry heat, but I don’t believe so. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. My feet were never really a big deal — I never cared about the sweat on them because no one really knows or cares. This leaves me with my hands, the only problem I still face on a daily basis. I try to hide it when possible, but I’m now more open with people and explain that my hands are constantly sweating because of hyperhidrosis. And you know what? They don’t care. I just wish I’d come to this acceptance a long time ago.
It hasn’t stopped me from getting a girlfriend either! We’ve been dating for over a year now, and I told her from the beginning. She finds my nose sweat cute, and even wipes it off with a tissue for me.