David is a month away from graduating college in California and interviewing for a full-time job. And though this makes him no different from the other millions of 22-year-olds about to join the workforce, David stands apart in at least one aspect — he’s sweaty as hell.
“I sweat primarily in my armpits, neck, crack and forehead,” the aspiring accountant tells me. “I sweat especially a lot when the seasons change, so like now, when it first starts to heat up, I’ll be sweating profusely in my armpits nonstop.”
David says on campus his preferred clothing has become “tank tops or loose Hawaiian shirts, which is obviously a problem when it comes to interviewing for jobs.”
Job interviews require self-confidence, and nothing quite knocks down your vibe like a trail of sweat rolling down the crease of your back, accelerating into your crack and moistening your underwear. Not to mention sweaty palms, pit stains and dabbing the forehead — all signs of nervousness. “Not something that helps a ton in interviews,” David says.
I know David’s struggle. Last June, in the sweltering Chicago humidity, I did a round of interviews with a fancy consulting firm. I made sure to take a taxi there and not the sometimes-air conditioned train. I wore dark clothes and talcum-powdered my genitals more than an old-timey English wig. Had I not been wearing a suit coat, it would have looked like I’d jumped in a pool by the time I walked out of the final interview.
I didn’t get the job, and I’m going to put 100 percent of the blame on my sweat — not the fact that I was excruciatingly unqualified.
So what could I have done better? I asked David and a few more heavy-sweaters for tips and tricks when it comes to sweating through interviews, especially in the summer months. Then, I ran their tips by Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, to see what she had to add.
Take Any and All Precautions
David says he’s “nearly constantly sweating when I’m hot. It’s just something I can’t turn off.”
For example, he says, one time he was on a hike with his friends, taking turns carrying the group backpack. “I went first, and when it was time to change, no one was willing to carry it anymore because it had been soaked with sweat.”
So, before interviews, David takes all necessary precautions.
“I won’t get in my car until the AC has cooled down enough. I’ll drive with my right arm over the back of the passenger seat and my left hand on the top of the steering wheel while that arm keep its distance from my body. And I don’t put on the final shirt until right before the interview. Also, always dark suits and white shirts.
“While I’m there, I’ll make sure that every time I go to the bathroom I take some paper towels and dab down the pits. Anti-perspirant deodorant does not work, even the no-sweat ones.”
The dermatologist says…
“Sweating from overheating comes mainly from eccrine glands all over the body as a way to cool down,” Dr. Shainhouse explains. “Literally keeping cool will help prevent this sweat. Drink cold drinks and chilled foods and avoid caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods prior to/during your interview. Caffeine and alcohol can trigger sweating for some people, apart from the warming effect of hot coffee. Cold drinks and foods will cool you off from the inside.”
She says there are a few more precautions one can take, such as “applying an antiperspirant at bedtime, when your pits are dry. It will have time to get into the sweat ducts to help reduce wetness the next day. Deodorant is an odor-masking product [that] doesn’t minimize sweating.”
Additionally, shower to remove bacteria from your skin. “Body odor actually develops when fatty acids and proteins in our sweat combine with skin bacteria. Sweat itself is usually odorless. If you are super self-conscious, avoid eating foods that can be emitted with sweat and body odor — like cumin/curry,” Shainhouse explains.
Lotioned up and Stress-Free
Hari, a 33-year-old in Dubai, says he sweats “quite a lot, especially with our super-hot and -humid environment here. I am almost like a water factory, despite how lean I am — and that’s just in walking to the interview.”
Hari explains that the waterworks really begin when he starts to stress. “You’ll see a cold sweat trickling down my forehead,” he says, “which I take as a sign saying, Yo! You’re going to spiral down into a huge pile of nope if you get onboard this thought train, so get off this one and take another one.”
And though the sweat helps him realize he’s beginning to stress out, such mindfulness is only helpful to a certain point, especially with the inescapable anxiety that comes with job interviews. So during his last interview, Hari says, he tried to “trick himself into calming down” by keeping “a travel-sized lotion at the ready.”
“For me, smelling good makes a big difference in mood — so in case I get stressed I discreetly take a whiff of my hand or wrist, and it reassures me: Yo, you got this.”
What happened next? “I went to the washroom, washed my face, applied lotion to my wrist and neck and went for the interview. I got through to the next round, but didn’t get the job. Ah well.”
Either way, Hari says, the lotion helped calm his stress and associated sweat. His advice for others is to “make it a habit of applying lotion/deo/perfume at home, where you’re comfortable and relaxed. This way the smell will take you back to that place and reassure you that I’m safe and everything is all right, so maybe you’ll sweat less. Also, it’s good to apply the lotion and deo when you’re dry.”
The dermatologist says…
The second type of sweat — one that occurs as a result of stress and anxiety, “is actually a sympathetic nervous system response to adrenaline, the hormone that is produced when we are nervous, anxious, excited… it is part of our innate, primitive fight-or-flight response,” Shainhouse tells me. “This type of sweating is more associated with apocrine glands — armpits, areola/nipple, genitals, palms, soles and inside ears!”
To prevent ultra-sweaty palms and nuts, Hari was on the right track. Shainhouse advises to “keep cool mentally. Learning how to manage anxiety with breathing, yoga, biofeedback can not only keep you calm in the moment, but make you less focused and stressed about the possibility of sweating — or the fact that you are already sweaty — which itself can trigger further sweating.”
Ice on the Wrist
Hari also advises big sweaters to place an ice cube on the wrist to help cooling down. Perhaps keep an iced coffee in hand until the last minute, where you can take a piece of ice and “place it on the back of your wrist, where you would normally check for a pulse.”
The dermatologist says…
Literally keeping cool goes a long way. “My high school gym teacher told us the same thing (to run our wrists under cold water in the bathroom sink) when it was hot in class!” she says.
“Theoretically, applying ice or something cold to pulse points — areas on the body where there is a slightly increased blood flow through [veins] that run very close to the skin — cools down the local blood flowing [below], which then gets pumped through the body, making you feel slightly less hot,” Shainhouse adds. “It will not completely cool you down, but can make you more comfortable for a short period.”
Cotton Is Key
Sweaty redditor art_teacher_no_1 tells me she “knows from experience that cotton fabric is so much healthier for people’s skin.”
“My dad is a dermatologist,” she adds, which helped her realize her sensitivity to nylon fabric. “I break out with nylon fabric since it’s basically like wearing a plastic bag that doesn’t let your skin breathe properly. So I highly recommend 100 percent good old cotton fabric instead of all these other crappy manmade synthetic fabrics.”
The dermatologist says…
“Wear light-colored, breathable, non-fitted clothing or clothing that are reinforced with absorbent materials in the armpits,” says Shainhouse. “You can also consider wearing an absorbent ‘liner’ shirt that can be your first line of catching the sweat.
“Feeling super-sweaty can be uncomfortable, and can be especially embarrassing if it leaves wet pit marks on your shirts. But know that this is normal for most people.”
And if you feel your sweating is excessive — to the point that it’s impacting your ability to interview, or just live a normal life — she advises seeing a dermatologist.
There are many options a doctor might prescribe for excessive sweating, such as prescription-strength deodorant to botox to oral medication. So for all the Davids out there hoping the country’s CPAs suddenly change their uniforms from suits to Hawaiian shirts, there is hope.