Going to the gym regularly is a feat of which to be proud. However, you might not realize that your get-in-shape routine could actually wreak havoc on your skin — and body.
We consulted the experts on what you need to look out for when you’re getting your sweat on. Here are six sites for danger and what you need to do to avoid them.
1. Equipment and Mats
Fitness model and personal trainer Mackenzie Kelly warns of deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), which she says can be easily contracted at the gym even without direct person-to-person contact. “While the chance is low, it is still possible to contract it using shared gym equipment from free weights or cycle machines,” she says. Her advice? Always wipe down gym equipment before and after use (most gyms provide wipes), wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after working out, and always use some kind of barrier between you and the equipment.
Board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, author of Skin Rules, agrees, adding that bringing your own mat to the gym for classes is also the safest if you want to protect yourself from viral and bacterial infections.
While the gym towels themselves are assumedly clean and sterilized, you need to be careful about how you use them says beauty industry expert David Pollock. He suggests having two towels with you at the gym—one to wipe down your machine and one to use to wipe yourself down. “Never use a towel used to clean a workout machine on your face,” he warns. “Would you be willing to wipe a finger across the machine and lick your finger? The same should apply to your newly washed, fresh towel. A dirty towel is a method of transfer of a significant amount of dirt from others, or even from your own body, that can easily clog pores and introduce bacteria to your skin.” Hello, breakouts.
3. The Sauna
Be careful in the sauna or steam room, Jaliman says. Always sit on a towel to provide a barrier between your body and the seat to protect yourself from getting a candida or tinea fungal infection. And, of course, never walk barefoot in any part of the gym, she adds: You can get a fungal infection or even warts.
4. Complimentary Combs
Jaliman says the liquid sanitizers that are supposed to disinfect the gym-issued combs shouldn’t be trusted. Bring your own brush, she advises, to protect yourself against folliculitis, a common bacterial infection.
5. Your Gym Clothes
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB/GYN, advises wearing cotton underwear when working out and changing out of wet workout clothes as soon as you are done exercising. “It’s important to keep the vaginal area dry because excessive moisture can bring on irritation or even infections,” she says. “Many women don’t know that staying in wet exercise clothing too long can actually perpetuate a yeast infection.”
But infection isn’t the only issue with lounging around in your sweaty clothes: Beauty expert Shiri Sarfati warns that, yes, butt acne, is another icky consequence of prolonging a shower. “With the heat and the bacteria at the gym, you might notice acne on your buttocks,” she says. “When sweat gets mixed with skin that is not sterile, organisms from staphylococci to streptococci can cause bacteria to cultivate.” She suggests using an anti-bacterial, antimicrobial wash to treat areas on which you’re experiencing breakouts and soap-free body wash for the rest of your body. Using baby powder on your bum will help keep moisture at bay.
6. Your Gym Bag
One site of grossness people often overlook is the gym bag, Jaliman says. “Many people carry dirty gym clothing back and forth in a gym bag and never clean the inside of it,” she says. “This is another breeding ground for bacteria.” To avoid transferring that bacteria to your body, make sure to wash your bag once a week and never re-wear dirty gym clothes (or any other clothes you stuffed in there).