Non-functioning sweat glands: Anhidrosis under the scope

A rare phenomenon of anhidrosis, also known as the inability to sweat, raises questions about its origins, impact on the skin, and possible solutions. We give 8 tips on how to stay cool.

What is anhidrosis?

Anhidrosis is more than just avoiding sweating on a hot day. It is a medical condition in which the body is unable to produce enough sweat. Sweat is essential for body temperature regulation, and anhidrosis can lead to overheating, especially in stressful situations.

3 causes of anhidrosis

There are three main causes of anhidrosis: peripheral, central and idiopathic (fancy term for, unknown).

One of those reasons has to do with changes that take place in the so-called eccrine glands. These are small factories in your skin that are responsible for producing sweat. Sometimes things can change in these factories themselves, which means that they no longer function properly.

Eccrine glands are like little factories spread across your skin, mainly found in places like your palms, soles of your feet, forehead and armpits. Their most important task? Regulating your body temperature by producing sweat.

Imagine that your body has an air conditioning system to cool down when it is hot. This is where the eccrine glands come into action. For example, when you are active, walking in the sun or just feeling nice and warm, these glands start working by making a fluid called sweat.

Sweat is actually a kind of ‘coolant’ for your body. When it evaporates on your skin, it takes heat with it, cooling your body. This is super important to prevent overheating, especially when you’re running or it’s hot outside.

Another reason is called ‘idiopathic’. This basically means we don’t know exactly why it happens. It’s a bit like a mystery where we can’t find the exact reason.

The third reason has to do with problems in the nervous system, which works as a kind of conductor and sends signals to those sweat factories. If something goes wrong with this communication, you may find yourself unable to sweat. This can be caused by diseases or medications that affect this communication.

Now, if we look deeper into the problem of not being able to sweat, we see that it can happen in different places. It can start in the part of your brain responsible for sweating, or it can happen along the ‘nerve pathway’ that sends signals to your skin, or even in the skin itself.

Some examples of what can go wrong include growths or bleeding in certain parts of the brain, spinal cord, or the area around the brain stem. Certain syndromes, autoimmune diseases, or nerve problems (which can be caused by diabetes, alcohol use, leprosy, and some medications) can also cause the sweating process to be disrupted.

Sometimes direct changes in the skin itself can also cause anhidrosis. This can be congenital, meaning you are already born with it, or it can be acquired later in life. It can also be caused by genetic abnormalities, destruction of the skin by, for example, a tumor, or blockages due to certain skin problems such as psoriasis.

Anhidrosis can have several causes, from changes in the sweat factories themselves to problems in the communication between the brain and the skin. The human body is a complex system in which many things work together, and if something goes wrong somewhere it can have different effects.

Impact on the skin: More than just surviving a hot day

The lack of sweating has profound effects on the skin. Sweat serves as a natural hydrator and protectant. With anhidrosis, the skin can become dry and sensitive, prone to cracking and infections. The absence of this natural cooling mechanism can also lead to heat stress.

What can you do?

Dealing with anhidrosis requires a multidisciplinary approach. It is crucial to identify and treat the underlying cause. It is always advisable to speak to a medical professional for specific advice based on your situation, here are some general tips that people with anhidrosis can consider:

Anhidrosis, No Sweating

Avoid overheating:

  • Try to avoid exposure to extreme heat, especially during hot weather. Seek shade, wear light and breathable clothing, and use a fan or air conditioning if possible.

Cooling methods:

  • Use cooling methods, such as applying cold compresses to your wrists, neck, or forehead.
  • Take cooler showers or baths.


  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Even though you don’t sweat much, hydration is essential for overall health.

Clothing choices:

  • Wear light and airy clothing to help your body cool down naturally.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol:

  • Limit the use of caffeinated drinks and alcohol, as these can promote dehydration.

Seek medical help:

  • Consult a doctor immediately if you experience symptoms of overheating, such as dizziness, nausea or confusion.

Cooling technologies:

  • Consider using cooling technologies, such as cooling towels or clothing with special cooling properties.

Adapted work or activities:

  • Adjust your exercise to cooler parts of the day and practice activities at a lower intensity level.

Remember that these tips are general and it is important to discuss a personalized treatment plan with a healthcare provider who is aware of your medical history and needs.

In other words

Anhidrosis is not just a matter of sweating; it is a complex medical condition with consequences for both health and the skin. Understanding the causes and effects is the first step to effective management. If you have any questions or concerns, it is always wise to consult a dermatologist, as a personalized approach is the key to healthy skin, even under the challenges of anhidrosis.

Explore bromhidrosis, better known as excessive body odor, in depth in our next blog. We reveal the causes, triggers and effective treatment options for this condition. Find out how to get a handle on this unpleasant odor and restore your self-confidence. Click here to find out more.

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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