Help me beat perspiration on vacation
June 19, 2009 11:10 AM   Subscribe

How can I beat perspiration while I'm on vacation? I'm a fairly sweaty person and will be doing significant traveling in Europe in July. What tips do you have to keep me looking good without showering three times a day?

I have a problem with perspiration, especially in my underarm and nether regions. Currently I use a strong deodorant/anti-perspirant and Gold Bond powder, but I still have to change my shirt when I get home from work in order to feel comfortable.

With this vacation upcoming, I'm concerned about all the time I'll be spending outdoors and in non-air-conditioned places. I'm planning on involving a significant amount of biking and walking in my sightseeing but I sometimes have issues with sweat visible on my clothing, especially in hot weather or when being physically active. I don't want to look like every other tourist in cargo shorts. I've also heard that many cathedrals frown upon wearing shorts, plus I would rather not have to spend time going back to the hotel before a nice dinner or cultural experience.

Any tips on clothing (especially a decent pair of pants), products, medication, or other strategies would be much appreciated. Anonymous comments can be directed to
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would just take it slow. It also probably means heading back to the hotel for an hour or so to change/shower, but seeing as that's what you'd do at home and what the locals do, why not? You're on vacation. You can almost certainly find laundromats in big cities if you don't want to wear clothes twice. Dipping into local churches makes for a shady rest stop, too.
posted by mdonley at 11:21 AM on June 19, 2009

Get some 100% Merino wool shirts. My favorite brand is Icebreaker.

They're a bit expensive, but they don't retain smells like cotton shirts do. I've traveled for long periods of time with only three Merino shirts, and been able to wear them for nearly a week without noticing any funk. Plus, they're easy to wash in the sink if you don't have easy access to a laundromat.
posted by nitsuj at 11:21 AM on June 19, 2009

Baby wipes for your underarms, as endorsed by Brad Pitt.

For shorts, get hiking pants that have legs you can zip on/off.

Also, people in Europe are a lot less freakishly obsessed with cleanliness and body odor than Americans.
posted by mkultra at 11:35 AM on June 19, 2009

Pants-wise, everything is better than cotton at breathing and keeping your legs cool, and jeans are the worst. I would recommend:

linen pants (not very dressy, but very airy)
wool dress pants
hiking pants (synthetic materials)

If you find yourself in a situation you need to cool down, you can also make a quick trip into the bathroom. Wipe down any visible sweat, and also run cool water over the inside of your wrists. This will drop the temperature of your blood a bit and reduce your body's need to get rid of heat (by sweating).
posted by meowzilla at 11:38 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, people in Europe are a lot less freakishly obsessed with cleanliness and body odor than Americans.


With your current regimen, you may be the least-perspiring, cleanest smelling person in all of Europe. (I'm exaggerating a bit.)
posted by jabberjaw at 11:40 AM on June 19, 2009

I'm guessing you're a guy... As a girl myself, I want to recommend cotton bike shorts but I think maybe boxer briefs would be a good analog? I'm thinking a fresh pair of cotton underwear that seaparate your thighs from your groin with two solid layers of fabric, under super lightweight pants. My boyfriend has ordered bunches from Cabela's like these, but you'll like some models and not others, so try several and return what you don't like.

And if you're gonna use wipes on your nethers, get super smooshy softie aloey moisturizing ones because drying that area out with too much wiping means chapping and chafing. Oooch. I'd also take a little body oil or baby oil to apply before bed or right out of the shower to keep your sensitive parts moisturized, without any extra scents or chemical garbage.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:49 AM on June 19, 2009

As a big girl, I'd second the bike shorts as a non-chafe, quasi absorbent underlayer - particularly good if you are wearing a skirt - which is infinitely cooler than pants.

As for the face, a few years ago, I purchased Sea Breeze Toner wipes in little packets (like you get moist towelettes at a bbq). They are good for a quick refresher due to whatever menthol-like ingredient is found in them. Compact enough to carry a couple in your pocket for a quick, cooling wipe-down. Sorry, not sure if they are currently available, but you might be able to find something similar if they are not.
posted by sarajane at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2009

Cotton really isn't good for sweatiness and damp places.

"Performance" fibers and weaves are the type that "wick" moisture away from your skin so you're not dripping. You could look into those--they tend to be all synthetic (e.g. CoolMax polyester weave, really airy box weaves, krinkle weaves, etc.). Wool is good, though, which some people may find surprising. Avoid wearing anything remotely tight.

I'd also bring a super-absorbent small camp towel, which are also made from synthetic performance fibers.
posted by Ky at 12:28 PM on June 19, 2009

When I waited tables outside in the summer heat, I learned to wear an undershirt. It will absorb most of the sweat and keep your outer shirt from looking sweaty. Of course the extra layer is slightly warmer but it's a small price to pay for not looking like a sweatmonster.
posted by dreaming in stereo at 12:37 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Any sporting goods store should have BodyGlide around, which is excellent for chafe prevention, as well as good for preventing blisters.
posted by Fleebnork at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2009

Besides wipes & applying extra deodorant/antiperspirant, there's always sweat shields. I googled to find a product link for you and the first result was this page, which appears to have all sorts of sweat wicking undergarment options. I didn't follow the links on the page or read all the sections, but it looked informative.
posted by necessitas at 1:04 PM on June 19, 2009

Look specifically for sweat-wicking fabrics for every item of clothing you can find, even underwear, but also pants and shirts -- it's wonderful stuff in hot sticky weather, and while moving around a lot. Check out an athletic clothing website/catalogue/store.

Linen is also a go-to summer fabric that will help keep you dry.

Handkerchiefs are also very handy. I also have a little collapsible sandlewood fan from China that I use during the very hot summer -- but I'm a girl. Don't know if this would work for you.
posted by peggynature at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2009

Try getting a "clinical" strength anti-perspirant. The key here, and I'm not kidding, is to apply it at night. You can shower the next morning, that's fine, and then apply it again. The anti-perspirant has more of a chance to work when it's not having to work so hard, I guess. Once I started applying at night before bed, I noticed a BIG difference.

A friend of mine sweats in very inconvenient places. She applies the anti-perspirant in those areas and finds it works quite well. So don't just put it on the places you'd expect to need it.
posted by cooker girl at 1:31 PM on June 19, 2009

Try Certain-Dri or another over-the-counter antipersperant. Most of them have aluminum chloride. Use exactly as directed and they work well. I understand runners put it on their feet to keep from getting blisters (dry skin doesn't rub away as easily).
posted by echo target at 1:37 PM on June 19, 2009

Perhaps this shirt?
posted by bz at 1:40 PM on June 19, 2009

Certain-Dri, but don't miss the important step: Antiperspirants work best if they are applied at bed time. I started doing this, and the swampy-pits thing has stopped.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:58 PM on June 19, 2009

Yep, use Certain-Dri for 3-4 nights before your trip. Your armpits (or other area that you apply it on) will itch like crazy after ~3 nights of use, but you won't be sweating for at least a couple of days. Then maybe keep using it once every few days (or as much as your skin can handle it) once in a while to keep up the reduced sweating.

Follow the directions on the bottle - use at night, apply on clean dry skin, really really avoid broken skin or if you've shaved that same day.

I always use this stuff a couple of days before an important event to ensure no sweaty armpits, and then once a week or so just to reduce sweating by a little bit.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2009

certain-dri, certain-dri, certain-dri. it sounds ridiculous but i am being completely sincere when i say that it changed my life. no more sweaty pits ever!
posted by lia at 2:21 PM on June 19, 2009

About all you can do is to avoid too much physical exertion (biking, speed walking, climbing) and use the shade whenever possible. Take taxis or public transportation - they are cheap in Europe anyway. Take a siesta during the hot part of the day and try to break up the day with indoor activities. Don't spend the entire day out in the sun visiting historic sites, for example. Much of the interesting activities really happen at night in many places.
posted by JJ86 at 2:23 PM on June 19, 2009

Also, people in Europe are a lot less freakishly obsessed with cleanliness and body odor than Americans.

This is about as accurate as saying "bitches be shopping, amirite?"
posted by modernnomad at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just traveled in Thailand. I had ExOfficio shirts and pants, and they were great. The pants were the lightest kind that zipped apart if I wanted to wear them as shorts. The shirt also absorbed a lot of the sweat, and dried very quickly, if I came back and hand washed it.
posted by hazyspring at 3:01 PM on June 19, 2009

I second the undershirt thing. The fact is that if it is hot you will sweat, but wearing a thin shirt under your outer layer will stop it from showing, and changing just that thin inner layer is, oh, say about 43% as good as a shower.
It sounds silly, but I got into the habit in the b**tard Japan summer heat and it does help.
posted by mjg123 at 4:15 PM on June 19, 2009

Get a neutral colored bandana and on very hot days, soak it in cool water, squeeze out excess and tie it around your neck.
posted by amanda at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2009

Something like 40% of an adult human being's heat load is going to be handled by their head. Moreover, a few degrees of temperature rise of the brain will light up every involuntary nerve you have that can prod a sweat gland, elsewhere on your body. Accordingly, give a lot of attention to keeping your head, neck and face cool. Pith helmets may not be the latest fashion statement, but they are remarkably good summer headwear, with panama hats being, perhaps a close second. And don't go cheap on headgear, either; a proper pith helmet or a panama has an internal sweat band/suspension and/or vents that create significant air flow around your head, even using the deflected sun's heat to improve this. The right hat can drop your head temperature 20°F, compared to no hat.

A short haircut helps your head reject heat, and makes any excess sweat you have to mop less daunting for your pocket bandana(s).

Keeping a damp bandana around your neck, and fanning your self, can provide a lot of evaporative cooling effect around the base of your neck, where the result is rapidly communicated to the rest of your body, via your brain stem and spinal cord. Some people even resort to pre-wetting their neck bandana to provide fast cooling from the outset of exposure to summer heat. This can be so effective, that you actually get a full body chill, if you happen to duck into the airflow of an electric fan, much less one of Europe's chintzy air-conditioners.

Polypropolene T-shirts do a great job of wicking away moisture from your body, especially if you get a bit of airflow. They generally can't be dried in driers, and absorb body odor easily; but the good news is that they can be cheap enough to toss away after they start to get funky. Stay away from cotton underwear, which does little to wick away moisture, or help cool you.
posted by paulsc at 4:17 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

40% of an adult human being's heat load is going to be handled by their head.

Not actually true.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:59 PM on June 19, 2009

"Not actually true."
posted by hot soup girl at 10:59 PM on June 19 [+] [!]

Depends on whose recent studies you cite, it seems, and what factors are considered. What's really tricky is that the OP's question relates not to preventing heat loss in cold weather, which is the focus of the study you cite, hot soup girl, but to the opposite, which is keeping cool in hot weather. Clearly, preventing heat gain from direct solar radiation is the first thing a good summer head covering can do effectively. Particularly, when the sun is high overhead, limiting exposure of the head, face and neck to direct sunlight is an immediately effective strategy, and probably disproportionately so for the head, given that the blood vessels of the scalp can't vasoconstrict under heat exposure, either, as vessels in the limbs and lower body skin will eventually do, as heat exhaustion approaches.

The shading effect of a summer head covering can be quickly reinforced if the head covering also provides for air circulation about the head, encouraging evaporative cooling, but even a convenient foldable Tilley hat can help. The addition of a wetted bandana about the neck, partially rolled out to exposed more surface area for evaporative cooling, and directing this to cartoid blood vessels in the neck and at the base of the skull is also pretty effective in getting cooling to the brain.
posted by paulsc at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2009

When I've traveled with sweaty people, I generally attack them with powder before they dress. Gold Bond, baby, whatever I can get. They complain, at first, but it does seem to help "wick away" the itchy sweat in the underarms and "down there."

And then I wash their shirts and undies in the sink at night.

I tend to find baby wipes too greasy. You might be better off with a facial cleansing wipe - maybe one for acne with either Tea Tree oil or salicylic acid that will be oil-free and anti-bacterial.

The plus side to this is, as a hot sweaty person, you have an extra incentive to drink beer and cool white wines!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:00 PM on June 20, 2009

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