The first time I remember being properly self-conscious about my appearance was on a warm summer day when I was maybe 10 years old. I had been on a strenuous and lengthy bike exploration with a friend, and returned home hot and sweaty, ready for a cold glass of diluted orange and a lie on my bed.
At 10, I wasn’t massively concerned with how I looked. I was still wearing hand-me-downs and spending most of my summer holidays doing that thing we all lament never happens any more: disappearing out the door in the morning and returning only when dinner was on the table and there wasn’t a tree unclimbed or a bull undodged without a 2km radius. Maybe that day my preteen hormones had just decided to kick in. Maybe I caught sight of myself in a mirror at an inopportune time. Maybe I was suddenly being punished for all my previous childish misgivings. Whatever it was, that was the day I realised I was cursed with a Big Red Face.
From that day to this, I’ve been battling the dreaded combo of the red face and extremely sweaty head. No matter my level of fitness, I’ve been scourged. School PE sessions followed by speedy uniform changes in cramped dressing rooms meant an hour of double history with my cheeks aflame. As if double history wasn’t tortuous enough. Dancing in nightclubs meant whatever make-up I’d carefully applied simply slid off onto my good halter top while pumping my arms to “I’m horny, horny, horny, horny”. Holidays in hot climates have led to 20 minutes of sweating in restaurants upon arrival and ordering four cold drinks at once. It is truly a curse.
I’ve often wished to be one of those mythical creatures who’s always cold. Irish women are stereotypically always freezing but, while I’m convinced that my DNA reaches only as far away as either the Inishowen Peninsula or Loop Head, I am rarely cold when it would suit me. While others are pulling jumpers around their shoulders at the slightest breeze, I’m beside them sweating from the ear lobes.
My head must surely be a medical marvel. I sweat so relatively little from the rest of my body, yet at the first sign of nerves, stress, heat, movement, even thinking about being warm I can feel the first trickle going down the back of my neck. Under my eyes, my temples and the back of my head are absolute divils. Getting my hair done for a special event often feels like a waste of time as I arrive at the salon in a tizz and continue to perspire mildly for the entire appointment. Hot pubs are a nightmare. Public transport can be deadly. Events that combine concentrating in high heels and talking to people I don’t know feel borderline cartoonish.
As I approach peri-menopause, I worry that when my hot flushes reach their peak I may become radioactively toxic and need to stay away from pregnant women
I know I’m not alone in having a sweaty head and/or a big red face. I’ve confided with others about having a treacherous noggin, but the solidarity isn’t much use when it’s you and you alone fretting over your SUL (sweaty upper lip) or beetroot cheeks. I’m pathologically envious of people who aren’t afflicted. I have a very good friend who once told me in a breezy way that she “doesn’t really sweat” and, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve held it against her ever since.
I often feel I’m the only person who doesn’t greet the changing of the season from April to May to June with complete joy. Sure, I love summer but at what cost? Panicking about being too warm. Worrying about temperature changes from indoors to out and vice versa. Applying make-up with the resignation of a person who knows it cannot hold back the beads of sweat and the tomato cheeks.
The medication I take to curb depression and anxiety has the somewhat ironic side effect of bringing on increased stress sweating. As I get older and approach peri-menopause, I worry that when my hot flushes reach their peak I may become radioactively toxic and need to stay away from pregnant women.
Botox is sometimes suggested as a treatment for problematic sweating, both on the head and face and other parts of the body. While it is something I’ve considered, I also harbour a potentially ridiculous fear: if I block it coming out of one place, won’t it just have to be secreted elsewhere? If I Botox up my forehead or under my eyes, will I suddenly develop eyeball sweat or damp knees? Or will my head just spontaneously combust with all the bottled-up heat? On the plus side, at least I might look radiant and youthful while doing so.
And so, as we head into full-blown sweaty head season, let me reassure my fellow sufferers that you are not alone and that while your damp hair and furnace cheeks feel like beacons of shame, your fellow cold-blooded lizards barely notice. They’re too busy looking for a blanket, and may it suffocate them.