No sweat – tattoos don’t affect sweat or salt loss

Heavily inked people can stay cool – concerns that tattoos compromise sweat rates and raise sodium losses during exercise have been eased following a new study from Griffith University.

Researchers from Griffith’s School of Allied Health Sciences analysed the localised sweat responses of tattooed skin belonging to 22 healthy men and women who undertook a bout of exercise and had their inked skin compared to the responses from their own non-tattooed skin at three alternate sites.

“A recent study raised concerns that tattoos drastically impaired sweating responses” said Associate Professor Ben Desbrow, a sports dietitian who coordinated the study. “Given that sweating is the main way humans thermoregulate during exercise or in hot conditions, it is possible that having tattoos could expose people to greater risks of heat-related illnesses or compromised exercise or work performance,” he said.

“The previous study showed having a tattoo reduced localised sweat rate and increased sweat sodium concentration. However, the sweat response was triggered using an artificial stimulation technique rather than under exercising conditions. Our data suggest that skin tattoos do not alter the amount or sodium concentration of sweat produced in response to exercise.”

Associate Professor Desbrow said further studies were needed to determine whether the presence of localised anatomical and/or neurological changes associated with tattooing – in particular, the impact of different tattooing techniques, equipment, inks and reactions, influence sweat gland function.

“At present, it is unknown if large surface area tattoos, covering regions of high sweat rates, compromise skin temperature and/or whole-body thermoregulatory responses. That will be something to explore in future studies.”

The study has been recently published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.