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When I'm travelling by air, my clothes (underwear in particular) seem to collect more sweat than usual. This happens even when the environment is not particularly warm, I'm not wearing a jumper or long pants, and I'm not using the blanket supplied. I'm not nervous about flying either. I occasionally get up to go to the toilet, and travel in economy class in an aisle seat. I don't get car-sick, in fact I can read quite comfortably even while I'm in a bumpy car ride, and I'm not aware of getting air sick.

Is there anything about air travel (perhaps the narrow seats?) that makes sweating more of a problem? What can I do to prevent it?

How to hide your bodily odors after a long flight? is more how to hide sweating that does happen.

  • Do you ever have any symptoms of airsickness? – Revetahw Sep 17 '16 at 10:16
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    Canton to Sydney, which is quite a long trip. – Andrew Grimm Sep 17 '16 at 10:19
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    I definitely don't sweat just because I'm flying. I might at the beginning or end of a flight if I was worried about missing the flight or having overweight luggage or miscounting the days in my stay or not having an onward ticket or some other stressful condition. I definitely feel like I need a shower after a long flight though. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 12:28
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    Which Canton? Michigan, Ohio, ...., Guangzhou? Kayak can't find flights CAN to SYD but Adioso offers one 29 hours, one 16hours, and one SZX to SYD for eight hours. So, how many hours is "quite long"? – WGroleau Sep 17 '16 at 15:18
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    @WGroleau I flew from Guangzhou to Sydney, using China Southern. – Andrew Grimm Sep 17 '16 at 22:53
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I also tend to feel sweaty during and after long flights. I'm not sure if there is any hard research showing that it is or is not more common. I would personally guess that it is, but I don't have any evidence to back it up.

However, it's certainly possible that certain people do sweat more. You say it's the case for you, and I feel that it is for me personally as well. Why is this the case for some people?

Long time in one position against seat

You're typically sitting in the same position for many hours. This means that there is little or no air circulation between your body and the seat. It also depends on the quality of the seat, but it's quite common for it to get clammy due to your backside being pressed against the seat for long periods of time.

Long time, no shower

Canton to Sydney, which is quite a long trip.

In this example, you may be traveling for 35 hours or more. In that case, there is a simple answer: You're going for quite a long time without showering. (It's, of course, possible to shower during the layover or even on the plane, but most people don't.)

Normally, most people shower/wash themselves at least once a day. Some people do it twice a day. There are good reasons for that. Sweat, salts, etc. accumulate on the body, causing various uncomfortable sensations for oneself as well as others. Long air journeys can take much longer than that, sometimes causing you to not shower for > 50 hours. Perhaps, if you went that long without a shower unrelated to flying, you would notice some buildup of sweat too.

Airsickness

This may not be something you (OP) personally suffer from, but many travelers do. Cold sweating is one of the symptoms of airsickness.

Stress

I don't know if this applies to you, but a lot of people can get slightly stressed while going on long journeys. They have to pack everything, remember everything, perhaps get up in the middle of the night, have their documents in order, keep track of their passport and money, be on time for everything, pass security, customs, immigration, guard against theft, wait in lines, experience lack of sleep, etc. Most people (including me, certainly), can feel mildly stressed due to all this. It is a well known fact that stress increases perspiration.

Lack of sleep

Even if you are a seasoned traveler who don't feel stressed at all, and even if you've managed to shower during your journey, it's likely that your journey interferes with your sleeping patterns. You might get some sleep during your journey, but it's not going to be the same quality that you would normally get. Lack of sleep may possibly cause increased perspiration. Your body is tired, and has to work harder to perform its normal functions.

Airplane air

Here's a final point that I expect to be (and welcome being) challenged on, but I'm including it anyway: The air in airplane cabins is extremely dry. This may cause the body to compensate by sweating, etc. Of course, water also evaporates much faster in the dry air. However, only the water evaporates. The salts and other components of your sweat all remain on your skin/clothes. This may increase the feeling of being sweaty. (Again, I do feel that this last point is somewhat speculative, so I'm including it more as a hypothesis than a fact.)

Prevention

Shower right before departing. If possible, shower during layovers. As @pnuts said, wear antiperspirant. Try to relax as much as possible during your journey, and try not to be in a hurry for or very worried about anything. Wear clothing that breathes well. Get up from your seat regularly and stretch a little bit. Bring extra sets of underwear/shirts/other clothing and change in the bathroom when you feel sweaty. You may even bring body wipes to clean your skin and reapply antiperspirant on clean skin. Do whatever you can to get enough sleep. If you can afford it, get business class which is much easier to sleep in. If you're rich enough, and it's available for your route, consider flight tickets that give you access to an in-flight shower.

Personally, I don't bother with all of this (although I certainly do some of it). I'm just trying to answer the question on how to counteract excessive sweating, though. To which lengths you may want to go would depend on how important this is to you personally.

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    While you do feel sweat all over, the only sweat that people will smell is the sweat of your armpits, so that is the only area you should worry about. Deodorant or anti persperant, re-apply a few times during the journey. And if you feel it helps, wash or wipe the areas before the re-applying. – Willeke Sep 17 '16 at 20:07
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    Most people don't shower once a day. – vclaw Sep 17 '16 at 20:57
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    You can go a long time without showering perfectly well, our bodies are not designed to be washed as frequently as most of us do. – Count Iblis Sep 17 '16 at 21:20
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    "Many people do it twice a day. " Really? This is news to me. When do people shower for the second time? – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 18 '16 at 1:14
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: One shower in the morning (to wakeup, ease aching muscles, wash sleep out of eyes), One shower at night to wash away grime of the day. Particularly if you are somewhere hot, or do a lot of exercise (People who bicycle commute in the tropics, quiet likely regularly hit 4) – Lyndon White Sep 18 '16 at 2:06
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Perspiration is a normal physiologic response to the environment on an airplane.

Some factors, such as temperature and humidity, are obvious.

There is one that is apparently less so. Airplane cabins are simply not the environment most of our bodies are used to, no matter how frequently we fly. At cruising altitudes, cabins are pressurised at pressures equivalent to about 1800-2400 m (6000-8000 ft) above sea level.

Most of our bodies are not used to that. In response to the low barometric pressure, our bodies go into a mild state of hypoxia (lower oxygen concentration in the blood). This in turn will activate our sympathetic nervous system – that is, the fight-or-flight (haha) response. For more details see The autonomic nervous system at high altitude and Physiological Adaptation of the Cardiovascular System to High Altitude.

A consequence of increased sympathetic activation is the secretion of sweat from our sweat glands.

Your sympathetic nervous system may be further activated by stress, anxiety, or a number of other factors.

So there's really nothing you can do to prevent your body from perspiring when you travel on a plane. Just let your body go about its usual sweaty business, and prepare for the repercussions.

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All other conditions being the same, air travel has two physical aspects different from other modes of travel.

  1. The air in the cabin is drier. This is why you are encouraged to drink water during your flight. Why would this promote sweating? The moisture in your skin would evaporate and your body is trying to compensate.

  2. The pressure in the cabin might be lower than the atmosphere at ground level, which would increase the evaporation rate on your exposed skin.

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    @pnuts at lower atmospheric pressure, water evaporates quicker (liquid-gas equilibrium is shifted). – David Sep 17 '16 at 17:28
  • Evaporation on your skin gives the perception of cooling because there is energy drawn from your body to effect the phase transformation from liquid to gas, however, at lower pressure the energy required is also lower. – David Sep 17 '16 at 17:34
  • @David You're certainly welcome. – Revetahw Sep 17 '16 at 18:36
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    @pnuts OP doesn't have enough reputation yet to comment. – Revetahw Sep 17 '16 at 18:55
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    @pnuts He does now :) – Revetahw Sep 19 '16 at 0:02
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You did not mention whether you use the overhead air inlet (ventilation). It is there on every plane for your comfort. I open my inlet as soon as I get on the plane, and enjoy the nice and cool stream of air. It completely solves the whole sweating issue for me. (Sorry not enough rep to comment)

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    They're not available on every plane. – Berwyn Sep 17 '16 at 23:04
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    I see no problem with posting this as an answer: part of the question is "What can I do to prevent it?" and this answers that. – David Richerby Sep 17 '16 at 23:14
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I have the same problem when I travel by air. My experience is that airplane seats don't breathe like other fabrics/seats due to their secondary use as floatation devices (I've had similar problems with sitting in leather chairs). One of the best remedies I've found to at least remediate the discomfort is to use talcum powder prior to boarding, and reapply during long flights.

Another potential cause is that the total time sitting during travel can be quite high. I find that I have less sweat issues when I refrain from sitting in the boarding area prior to boarding.

To add some conjecture: If someone stores luggage under your seat, I imagine the airflow is cut down. Heat dissipation is likely the main issue here.

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    Not all seats are used as flotation devices. I do suspect that seats are generally designed to be easy to clean, which typically means they won't be very absorbent. That might lead to increased sweating. – Berwyn Sep 18 '16 at 16:26
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Try wearing flip flops. If I wear regular shoes my feet get sweaty - and thus I feel more sweaty and unclean on long flights.

This works for me and I always do this (I fly 10-20 times per year).

I also couple this with comfortable lightweight clothes - t-shirt or lightweight casual shirt & shorts.

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    I can't remember the last time I got socks - but even if they give them to you - you'd have to take off your shoes which is a bit gross - and your whole foot is still covered & sweating. Flip flops allow for total skin exposure and sweat evaporation - it's great try it. – niico Sep 18 '16 at 15:50
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    Doesn't matter - I travel hand luggage only - and always have other shoes in my carry on. – niico Sep 18 '16 at 16:15
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    related to this - I also usually wear comfortable clothes on the plane (t-shirt or casual lightweight shirt - maybe shorts) – niico Sep 18 '16 at 16:16
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    Taking off your shoes is gross? I always take off my shoes the minute I board a flight, whether it's a 30 minute flight or a 12 hour one. – Berwyn Sep 18 '16 at 16:24
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    taking off shoes is a bit gross - specially if you have sweaty or smelly feet - some people object to this quite strongly (possibly including me). Flip flops end to end prevents any smells or sweat - its just all comfort. – niico Sep 18 '16 at 16:28

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