Sure, it gives you instant access to a ponytail or bun—and even doubles as a fashion accessory. But recently, a woman ended up in the hospital with an infection she says was caused by wearing a hair tie around her wrist.
Should runners think twice before slipping their hands through a sweaty elastic?
The risk probably doesn’t rank high; none of the three doctors we spoke to had ever seen a case of scrunchie-related contamination. “But skin infections are not uncommon, even in people who are generally healthy,” says Delphine Lee, a dermatologist.
Here’s how it could happen: Infection-causing bacteria such as strep and staph normally lurk on your skin, in your mouth, and on your hair tie—especially if it contains a slightly corroded metal piece. If you chew on the tie or wipe your mouth or nose on your arm, you add even more potentially dangerous bugs to the brew, says Tania Elliott, M.D., an allergist and immunologist.
As you run, your sweat and high body temperature make your skin the perfect breeding ground for these harmful germs to multiply, Elliott says. Any small cut or scrape—say, chafing from a too-snug elastic, or a rash from an allergy to rubber or metal—then gives these bugs open access to your insides, says Lindsey Bordone, M.D., a runner and dermatologist.
Some extra-sensitive people, such as those with eczema, face a greater risk. The barrier their skin provides against bacteria is more easily breached. Bugs could even enter their bodies through their hair follicles, a condition called folliculitis, Bordone says.
Warning signs of a skin infection include redness, warmth, swelling, pus, and pain, which tend to spread as the infection worsens. If you develop them around your wrist, or anywhere else, talk to your doctor or dermatologist, Lee says. Antibiotics can treat the infection before it turns more serious.
Elliott says the “perfect storm” of conditions would have had to occur to send the woman to the hospital, where she reportedly required emergency surgery to drain her wound. So, you don’t have to freak out—but you can take a few simple steps to reduce your risk of any infection:
Check your body carefully for cuts or scrapes. Keep them clean, dry, and covered while running, Elliott advises.
Shower immediately after your run—don’t hang around marinating in germ-laden sweat.
If you do wear a hair tie around your wrist, keep it loose enough that it doesn’t cause a visible indentation when you take it off, Elliott says. And consider using hair ties made of stretchy fabric, especially if you have sensitive skin or an allergy to rubber or metal, Bordone advises.
Wash your hands frequently—and thoroughly—to rid your hands and wrists of bacteria.
Rub Vaseline or BodyGlide around your wrist, or anywhere else you tend to chafe, to avoid openings that invite bugs inside, Bordone says.
Hitting the treadmill? Wipe it down with antibacterial spray before, Elliott recommends (and afterward—the next runner will thank you).