Is “Sweating Out Toxins” A Myth?

It was my last day of vacation, and after a week of nightly wine, rich foods and much less activity than I’m used to, I was doing what any self-respecting health nut would do: signing up for classes in a near-frenzy, planning a full week’s worth of workouts before my phone had to be turned to airplane mode.

Like many people, I’ve worked under the assumption that a good sweat (or six) is exactly what I need to cleanse my body of any damage I did while on vacation. After all, many hot yoga studios point to “sweating out toxins” as a major benefit of the practice, and there’s evidence in favor of working out as a hangover-reducer. Plus, the latest trend of infrared saunas use these medically-approved devices to improve detoxification (while making it as pleasant as possible to be sweating in your own personal burrito wrap, according to our own Amanda Lauren).

But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, what does the medical community have to say about sweating and its effect on toxins in your body?

According to a recent New York Times article, your liver and your kidneys are likely far more effective than your sweat glands when it comes to detoxifying your body. In fact, detoxification is the primary function of both your liver and your kidney, whereas your sweat glands exist to regulate your body’s temperature (your own built-in AC, if you will).

Plus, your sweat isn’t comprised of toxins that you’ve ingested over a particularly hedonistic week. No matter what you’ve drunk in Cabo, your sweat is made up of the same few things: water (99 percent) and teeny tiny bits of carbs, salts, proteins and urea.

The same holds true for more dangerous toxins, like BPA or or heavy metals. Even though minuscule amounts (less than 1 percent) of these toxins can be found in sweat, your liver and kidneys are far more effective at processing them out than your sweat glands are (and in fact, in the most extreme cases, prescription medication might be required to get rid of the toxins).

It’s true that when you sweat, you release trace amounts of toxins (that is, less than 1 percent of the body’s total content) – but releasing these toxins is the equivalent to searching for buried treasure using a teaspoon. Sure, each spoonful improves your chances of finding said treasure, but in such a small amount that it’s very nearly imperceptible.

So what are your options if you’re desperate to detox? Getting in a good sweat won’t hurt the process any, but a more effective route would be to focus on hydration and eating a clean, fiber-filled diet. This will help your kidney and liver facilitate their detoxification process (and yes, it means you might be spending more time in the bathroom than normal).

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.