We’ve all been there—you take a spin class after work and still need to go to the grocery store, make a CVS run, and finish up a few emails. (At least that’s my life!) But, all those extra minutes spent in your sweaty workout clothing isn’t making your bod that happy, and it can set you up for some nasty skin and health conditions if it becomes routine. (Yikes.)
Here’s what you should know before chilling in those damp clothes for too long and why it’s really smart to bring a spare pair of clothing to quickly change into, even if you can’t take an immediate shower.
Those tight leggings might look cute and get you through your workout, but once you’re out of that fitness class, it’s time for those babies to come off. “Yeast thrives in warm moist places, so sweaty gym clothes provide a yeast promoting environment,” says Karen Brodman, MD, a gynecologist in New York. “Yeast is normally present in the vagina in low amounts, usually held in check from over growing by lactobacilli,” she says, which is why it needs a trigger to cause a flare-up.
What’s more, dry skin is not yeast friendly, so your dry vagina itself won’t likely be thrown off. “But add wet sweaty clothes to that dry skin and yeast may flourish,” she says.
If you do get a yeast infection, use anti-fungal medication, either an oral pill, RX fluconazole, or topical OTC medication, such as miconazole or chlortrimazole, Brodman recommends.
Much like yeast, you can get a bacterial infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), too. “Anything that throws off the normal balance in the vagina (vaginal microbiome) can contribute to B.V.,” Brodman reveals.
“While sweaty gym clothes have not been shown to cause B.V., an increase in anaerobic bacteria will upset the normal flora of the vagina which will then promote growth of BV bacteria,” she explains. Luckily, it can be treated with antibiotics, such as metronidazole or clindamycin. (A hint: If you have fishy-smelling, green-ish discharge, and stinging during urination, you might have BV.)
Seems obvious, but still unwanted. “Bad odors are caused by bacteria. Wet sweaty gym clothes harbor and trap bacteria that then adhere to the skin and lodge into skin folds,” Brodman points out.
You may be walking around in gym clothes that never get clean, harbor bacteria, and smell. Plus, FYI, if you can’t get the smell out, it’s time to get rid of those clothes.
Be sure to give those clothes a good thorough washing after a workout. “If that doesn’t take away the odor you’ve either got a vaginal infection like BV or a skin dermatitis from trapped yeast and bacteria,” Brodman says.
Sometimes a combination of antibiotics and antifungal treatment is needed, so if you’re concerned, speak to a physician. And, bathe thoroughly after your workout and wear underwear that doesn’t trap moisture, such as cotton, she says.
Wearing sweaty workout clothes for too long can lead to acne in uncommon and unfortunate areas, like the butt, chest, back, and genital region (ouch!). If you can’t shower post-workout, make sure to wash with some water in these areas or use cleansing wipes. Change into new clothing, as well.
“Wet clothing can mechanically irritate the skin, making it raw, and disturbing the natural barrier that intact skin offers. That sets you up for bacterial skin infection like dermatitis,” Brodman explains. A tip to avoid chafing: keep skin dry by wearing 100% cotton underwear that will absorb and draw away moisture from the skin.