Do you have a tattoo? And do you exercise regularly? Are you an athlete with tattoos? Maybe you’re in the military and have tattoos?
Loads of people now have tattoos(1) including athletes and military personnel(2). And there’s a long history of tattoos in the military(3) – there’s even an exhibition in the National Army Museum! Speaking from my own experiences from being in the Army, tattoos are very popular, in men and women.
I’ve seen and known, so many soldiers that have tattoos of things to do with their regiment, like their cap badge, an emblem or motto, to proudly show they belong (among other reasons). A common thing is for soldiers that have just completed training for example, for the Paras or Marines, or got through the selection process for the SAS (Special Air Service), to have a tattoo done, such as a Para and a set of wings. Or tattoos that references to where they’ve served or their friends(4). The Army has rules about tattoos.
And many soldiers have some pretty naff ones too!! I remember a colleague of mine, said when he first joined the Army as a teenager, he decided to give himself a tattoo rather than going to get one done by a proper tattooist. It was of The Saint (- a stickman with a halo over his head – the retro TV series with Sir Roger Moore (ex-James Bond)! (Google it!!)!
So tattoos may interfere with your sweat rate. Sweat rate, how much you sweat, is important. Read more about your sweat rate here.
But What’s The Issue With Ink And Sweating?
Obviously when you get a tattoo, needles with the dye repeatedly puncture the skin. It goes into the dermal layer. And this dermal layer contains sweat glands that secret or release fluid (sweat), to help cool the body. So the potential issue is the concern that the tattoo will basically block the sweat glands from doing their job – “thermoregulation”.
So who could be at a greater risk?
People that obviously have tattoos. And people that work in hot environments and/or extreme exercise, such as military personnel, fire fighters, police, athletes…
Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics this year, which will be hot and humid with temperatures likely to be ~30+’C(5). So athletes…and spectators, will need to acclimatise.
So if you have ink, does it stop you from sweating so much?
Well, just as a heads up, there’s limited research into this – tattoos and sweating because it’s a relatively new area. Although there’s growing research into technology for early detection of heat illness(5,11,12,13).
If you read the paper by Luetkemeier et al.(2), who artificially stimulated sweating, tattoos may make you sweat less and cause greater sodium losses. So this could be an issue if someone has a lot of tattoos and exercised a lot, and especially if they were a soldier.
…and especially if they were deployed to some hostile “sandpit”, working in extreme temperatures, wearing full (and heavy) kit. And hence they’d be at greater risk of heat illness(6,7) because of the environmental temperatures AND physical exertion. Heat illness includes heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke(8,9). If not treated, it can go from hindering exercise performance to having very serious consequences(8,9).
Soldiers at risk of heat illness
If a soldier is suffering from heat illness, it can put their team under extra pressure (because their team may have to casevac them back to camp, as well as then being a man down; lacking in numbers unless someone else can replace them). Plus it can compromise the effectiveness of their team and ultimately the mission.
Therefore soldiers and commanders need to take preventative action against heat illness, but also be able recognise the signs and symptoms, and know what action to take if a soldier does go down with it.
If you read the paper by Rogers et al.(10), who got their participants on a stationary bike to make them sweat, they state tattoos don’t appear to influence sweat rate as much as previously thought, nor alter the sodium concentration of sweat.
But there’s limitations to both the Luetkemeier et al.(2) and Rogers et al.(10) studies, including small numbers of participants (i.e. 10 in Luetkemeier et al.(2) and 22 in Rogers et al.(10)) and the quality of the studies. So because of the various limitations within these studies, and the limited number of studies in this area, you have to be cautious with how you interpret the results.
Key Points to Note
- More research (and quality research) is definitely needed into the impact of tattoos and sweat rates
- It may be that people with tattoos, especially if they have a lot of tattoos, covering a lot of their body, have an increased risk of heat illness
- So the less tattoos, the less risk; the more tattoos, the greater the potential risk
- Athletes and military personnel with tattoos should be made aware of this potential increased risk of heat illness
- Know how to prevent it
- Know the signs and symptoms
- And know how to treat it
- Other professions, such as fire fighters, that have tattoos and at times wear heavy kit and work in hot environments, also need to be aware of this
A sports Dietitian can work with you to get you the right diet and drinking strategy to meet your health and exercise performance needs, as well as give you practical info and advice to reduce your risk of heat illness.
It is crucial to get your food and fluid intake right if you want to control your IBS symptoms and if you want train harder, go faster and recover quicker from training sessions and competitions. Dietary requirements are highly individualised and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Working with a Registered Clinical & Sports Dietitian to develop a bespoke plan based on your unique requirements will help to ensure the most appropriate strategy and best results are achieved.
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new treatment or health care regimen, or before making any changes to your existing treatment, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
- Chalmers, S., Harwood, A. E., Morris, N. B., & Jay, O. (2019). Do tattoos impair sweating?. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 22(11), 1173-1174.
- Luetkemeier, M. J., Hanisko, J. M., & Aho, K. M. (2017). Skin Tattoos Alter Sweat Rate and Na+ Concentration. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 49(7), 1432-1436.
- Lande, R. G., Bahroo, B. A., & Soumoff, A. (2013). United States military service members and their tattoos: a descriptive study. Military medicine, 178(8), 921-925.
- Dyvik, S. L., & Welland, J. (2018). War Ink: Sense-Making and Curating War through Military Tattoos. International Political Sociology, 12(4), 346-361
- Muniz-Pardos, B., Sutehall, S., Angeloudis, K., Shurlock, J., & Pitsiladis, Y. P. (2019). Considerations for event organisers to protect the health of athletes during sporting competitions in the heat. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1, 38.
- Health.mil. (2019). Update: Heat illness, Active component, US Armed Faces, 2018.
- Moore, A. C., Stacey, M. J., Bailey, K. G. H., Bunn, R. J., Woods, D. R., Haworth, K. J., … & Folkes, S. E. F. (2016). Risk factors for heat illness among British soldiers in the hot Collective Training Environment. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 162(6), 434-439.
- Wasserman, D. D., & Healy, M. (2019). Cooling techniques for hyperthermia. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
- NHS Heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Rogers, E., Irwin, C., McCartney, D., Cox, G. R., & Desbrow, B. (2019). Tattoos do not affect exercise-induced localised sweat rate or sodium concentration. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 22(11), 1249-1253.
- Kaya, T., Liu, G., Ho, J., Yelamarthi, K., Miller, K., Edwards, J., & Stannard, A. (2019). Wearable sweat sensors: Background and current trends. Electroanalysis, 31(3), 411-421.
- Seshadri, D. R., Li, R. T., Voos, J. E., Rowbottom, J. R., Alfes, C. M., Zorman, C. A., & Drummond, C. K. (2019). Wearable sensors for monitoring the physiological and biochemical profile of the athlete. NPJ digital medicine, 2(1), 1-16.
- Hosokawa, Y., Casa, D. J., Trtanj, J. M., Belval, L. N., Deuster, P. A., Giltz, S. M., … & Jardine, J. F. (2019). Activity modification in heat: critical assessment of guidelines across athletic, occupational, and military settings in the USA. International journal of biometeorology, 63(3), 405-427.
- McCubbin, A. J., Allanson, B. A., Odgers, J. N. C., Cort, M. M., Costa, R. J., Cox, G. R., … & Hughes, D. (2020). Sports Dietitians Australia Position Statement: Nutrition for Exercise in Hot Environments. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1(aop), 1-16.