Research: Tattoos Cause You to Sweat Less

Maurie Luetkemeier conducts the first known study to document changes in sweating function associated with tattooing. His research rings an alarm for potential health risks for heavily tattooed individuals.

<em>Maurie Luetkemeier</em> Maurie LuetkemeierThe popularity of tattoos has increased in recent times, especially among young people. A recent study estimated that 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo.

Because the tattooing process involves permanently depositing ink under the skin at a similar depth as the sweat glands, Alma College’s Maurie Luetkemeier and two students posed the question: Does possessing a tattoo interfere with the basic functions of the sweat gland?

To partially answer this question, they conducted a study involving 10 subjects who had tattoos on one side of their upper body but not the other. The researchers chemically stimulated both the tattooed skin and the non-tattooed skin to determine whether there were differences in sweat rate and the saltiness of the sweat.

“The tattooed skin produced about half as much sweat as the non-tattooed skin,” says Luetkemeier, professor of integrative physiology and health science. “In addition, sweat from the tattooed skin was significantly saltier than the non-tattooed skin.”

Read the New York Times coverage of Professor Luetkemeier’s research on changes in sweating function associated with tattooing.

Former students Joe Hanisko and Kyle Aho, both 2015 graduates of Alma College, assisted Luetkemeier in the study.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study of its kind to document alterations in sweating function associated with tattooing,” says Luetkemeier. “However, we are somewhat cautious about our results. The process we used for stimulating sweat glands differs from the normal process, which involves cooling yourself following a rise in body temperature.

“Yet, this preliminary study provides a ‘proof of concept’ for more studies to be done,” he says. “Future research may address the ultimate question whether or not heavily tattooed individuals are at risk of heat-related injuries.”

Their research was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the periodical of the American Colleges of Sports Medicine.

Their study also has been referenced in the popular press, including Time Health Online, Runner’s World, Teen Vogue, Elle Magazine Australia, Huntington Post Canada and the Daily Mail, United Kingdom.

Story published on May 16, 2017