I used to think about things in boxes when I was at school. There was chemistry, biology and gym. I didn’t really think much about the connections between them. But these subject headings we learn are not real. All the time your body is doing all sorts of exercise and there are processes going on that interact in ways that are hard to get a scientific handle on.
The idea that your diet might affect how you exercise is a long standing one. How products might affect your ability to exercise is less obvious, but it is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Your skin is your largest organ and it does play a large role in how your body performs and if you want to reach an athletic peak you need to give some thought to keeping it in the right condition.
The most extreme example of this is cross Channel swimmers. The distance from England to France is about 21 miles, but you need to swim rather further than that when you take the tides and currents into account. The sea is also pretty cold. The first man to do it, Captain Mathew Webb in 1875, did so covered in dolphin grease. Even in Victorian times this was a bit of an obscure item and modern swimmers use a blend called Channel Swimmer’s Grease which is 50:50 mineral oil and lanolin.
Both of these reduce the heat loss across the skin and so allow the body to devote more energy to exercise rather than simply maintaining its heat. It isn’t just an insulating layer, it also reduces sweating.
If you are exercising on land you rarely need to worry about maintaining your body temperature. The opposite is the problem, you need to make sure you can dissipate heat quickly and efficiently. This raises the question of whether it is a good idea to use an antiperspirant when engaging in heavy exercise. The perfect experiment would be to get a cohort of top athletes to exercise with and without antiperspirant and analyse their results. Nobody has done this. A study was done on ordinary people in 2003 which didn’t show any effect on body temperature, so it looks like the reduction in sweat in the armpits is not significant. I still wonder about whether it makes a difference at the real peak performance world record breaking level.
Another thing that could be a factor when exercising is the state of the skin. We tend to think of the muscles as the main factor in exercise, as they undoubtedly are. But many muscles pull against the skin. The skin is remarkably flexible and doesn’t generally have a noticeable effect on our ability to move around. But is it possible that sporting performance, particularly running, could be improved by having the skin in an optimum condition?
It doesn’t seem an unreasonable proposal but as far as I can tell no studies on the subject have been reported – though maybe someone who knows the sports medicine literature well might find something. What there a couple of studies looking at the effect of an active called Celadrin on mobility of older people with arthritis. These found that people with arthritis could do a number of tasks like walking across rooms and climbing stairs better when their joints were treated with a cream containing Celadrin.
You have to be a little cautious with studies like this carried out by people with a treatment to sell. But the results were published in a peer review journal and the studies were carried out in a systematic way. What they haven’t done is see whether there is a similar improvement in normal people, and whether this translates into better athletic performance. I find the idea a little unlikely. But I found the idea that a topical cream that doesn’t penetrate the skin in any way helping people with arthritis unlikely as well.
The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped at least one company promoting Celadrin cream as an aid to sporting performance. And it is possible that there is nothing particularly special about Celadrin itself, and that there may be other agents that increase the flexibility of the skin enough to make exercise easier. For now I have to say there is no strong evidence that anything in particular will work, but it seems like an interesting area ripe for development.
Personal Care Products for Skin Care References
J Rheumatol. 2004 Apr;31(4):767-74.Effect of a cetylated fatty acid topical cream on functional mobility and quality of life of patients with osteoarthritis. Kraemer WJ1, Ratamess NA, Anderson JM, Maresh CM, Tiberio DP, Joyce ME, Messinger BN, French DN, Rubin MR, Gómez AL, Volek JS, Hesslink R Jr.
J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):475-80. A cetylated fatty acid topical cream with menthol reduces pain and improves functional performance in individuals with arthritis. Kraemer WJ1, Ratamess NA, Maresh CM, Anderson JA, Volek JS, Tiberio DP, Joyce ME, Messinger BN, French DN, Sharman MJ, Rubin MR, Gómez AL,Silvestre R, Hesslink RL Jr.