Exercise Perspiration: Polyester’s ‘Wicking’ versus Cotton’s Absorbency & Comfort

‘Wicking’ of workout clothing is a term in sport for a fabric that moves perspiration away from the skin for a more comfortable workout.  Polyester, Gore-Tex and other made-made materials have been proven to perform this task better than natural-materials like cotton and rayon (made from tree bark), but are they preferred?

Yes, for large amounts of perspiration, wicking-materials are better because they get the perspiration away from the skin, to the outside of the fabric.  This prevents the skin from becoming saturated on the surface which decreases its surface-area and ability to cool.  The higher the skin surface-area the better heat loss and more comfortable workout when the body is particularly hot.  However, when sweating profusely in cold environments, like running outdoors in the Winter, wicking is only good if there is ANOTHER layer of clothing worn atop.  This will prevent the cold air from chilling the body, because polyester transmits cold more than cotton.  Wearing fewer items allows for less friction of the arms as they rub onto the trunk and legs as they rub onto each other and weight from the additional piece of clothing.

At the same time, contrarily, wicking is NOT preferred!  How so?

Cotton and other natural fibers are more beneficial when sweating is not profuse and training outside in cool not cold weather.  The sweat is absorbed like a sponge into the fabric and conveys the cooling effect of evaporation to the skin whose surface-area is expanded for better ventilation.  This keeps the athlete cooler and more comfortable when it is not so cold.  If it is very cold outside an additional outer layer of clothing is necessary to retain heat.  Most times, cotton usage does not require an additional layer.  Because it is a natural material cotton softens and moves with the body better than polyester which when damp chafes the skin.

Although no studies, to my knowledge, have been performed on the deleterious effects of artificial fabrics in close contact with the skin, but I suspect, particularly when sweating, natural materials are safer should be used as much as possible for sport, work and play.

Read more on my exercise recommendations at www.DrSaracino.com’s “Health Information” page.  I welcome your comments.

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