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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Sweat research to inform women’s sportswear design

Published: 4 May 2023
Using a thermal imaging camera
Using a thermal imaging camera as part of the study

Understanding how women sweat could unlock the secrets to better sports bra designs, according to researchers from the University of Southampton.

Their research is examining women’s body temperature and sweat during different life phases, including ovulation, pregnancy, perimenopause and post-menopause.

Experiments into how women sweat are being conducted at a state-of-the-art climate chamber at the NIHR (National Institute for Health and Care Research) Southampton Clinical Research Facility, at University Hospital Southampton. Women taking part in the research are asked to jog for 45 minutes in 32-degree heat, with their sweat output monitored.

Dr Davide Filingeri, Associate Professor in Thermal Physiology and internationally leading expert in the neurophysiology of human skin wetness sensing, is leading the research.

He said: “We lack a comprehensive understanding of how responses to heat vary at an individual level according to sex, age and hormones. Women undergo unique morphological, physiological, and hormonal changes – for example, consider the impact of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause – all of which are accompanied by both short and long-term effects on body temperature regulation, heat tolerance and thermal comfort.

“This knowledge gap provides a significant barrier for sportswear manufacturers and textile engineers to design clothing that meets the thermal needs of women across different life stages, and ultimately limits women’s clothing options to maintain an active lifestyle.

“We have done lots of research into how you detect temperature and wetness across your body, which is relevant to people producing sports clothing, as they can produce garments that are more breathable in certain areas, or warmer in areas that are prone to getting cold – and therefore more comfortable.”

The research includes examining sports bra design, which postgraduate researcher Hannah Blount is working on. She is using 3D scanning to calculate breast surface area, and measuring sweat gland density using iodine-infused paper which, when placed on skin, reacts with the chemicals in sweat.

“We have established that breast size may impact sweat gland density – the smaller the surface area, the higher the density of sweat glands,” explained Hannah. “This information could be really valuable to sports bra design, enabling manufacturers to produce more comfortable garments.”

She added: “We are getting more sedentary as a society. If we can do anything to aid women to become more active and to make sport more accessible, that’s really exciting.”

Recruitment for the research is ongoing. Women who typically wear an XL sports bra (approximate size 38D-E or 40A-C) and can jog for at least 15 minutes who are interested in taking part can contact Hannah at .

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