Is It Bad to Wear Sweaty Workout Clothes All Day?

Just because your running clothes pass the sniff test, should you keep wearing them?

It’s okay to admit it—you’re showering less than you used to. And while in the past you may have selected freshly washed clothes to meet up with your running group, these days, you might be grabbing clothes from the dirty pile for your solo runs to reduce laundry days. No one will get close enough to smell you anyway.

Then, you come inside and get distracted by emails or another task you need to tend to, and before you know it, you’ve been sitting in your sweaty clothes for hours.

But what kind of toll is this really taking on your skin? We asked Heather Goff, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of dermatology at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Whitney High, M.D., who specializes in dermatopathology at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Heading out the door for a morning or lunch run and then sitting in your sweaty clothes all day can be trouble for your skin. Depending on your skin type, problems could range from simply an unpleasant odor to fungal infections, according to High.

That’s why changing out of sweaty clothes as soon as possible is crucial.

“The problem is the moisture,” High said. “Sweat and bacteria can get trapped in the fabrics and, in turn, irritate skin.”

The sweat and bacteria can disrupt the natural microbiome of the skin, Goff says, leading to infection, acne, or dermatitis (skin irritation). Sweat can also get trapped in the areas where the skin folds, called intertrigo, High adds.

And while warmer temps sometimes bring relief to your skin from the dry, cold winters, heat and humidity can come with a whole new set of problems. Prickly heat, or heat rash, happens when sweat ducts get clogged and sweat comes up to surface, but can’t evaporate outside the skin like it normally does.

If you know you have sensitive skin—or just to be safe—it’s best to shower and change into clean clothes as soon as you can after a run or workout. And, Goff suggests, wash with an antibacterial soap or shampoo, especially as temps rise and you become more sweaty during exercise.

“Shampoos with the active ingredient pyrithione zinc are very effective at controlling growth of vectors and yeast on the skin, and can be used as a body wash,” Goff says.

If you do want to rewear your clothes to stretch laundry days, High suggests hanging sweaty clothes to dry before grabbing them again, rather than letting them sit in a ball on the floor or in a hamper, where they stay damp and can harbour moisture and bacteria.

It’s absolutely okay to wear non-sweaty, clean athleisure or workout clothes when working from home, but Goff suggests that you should seek out clothing that wicks moisture. And High adds that it really depends on your skin type and what might irritate your skin. Some people may reach for soft cottons, while others are not bothered by more harsh fabrics.

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to skin health—sun exposure. As weather gets warmer, people get outside for longer and see more of the sun. And sun exposure can cause a myriad of problems, from aging the skin more quickly to increasing the risk of skin cancer. High suggests avoiding running between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

And, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat when you do go out. Though it is tough to do when running in warm weather, High also recommends wearing long pants and long sleeves to shield your skin from the sun whenever possible.

When applying sunscreen, be sure that you’re using enough. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), most people only apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. Most adults need one ounce of SPF 30 or higher—enough to fill a shot glass—to fully cover their body.

What this means is that if you aren’t applying it properly and you’re applying SPF 50, you’re really getting protection closer to SPF 25 to 35, cautions High.

After returning from a run when you wear sunscreen, High suggests showering off right away. Especially as more concerns arise that some chemicals can absorbing into the skin, which shouldn’t stop you from wearing it, it can be helpful to wash it off when you come inside.

Bottom line: It can vary from person to person depending on the sensitivity of your skin. But in general, getting out of wet, sweaty clothes ASAP can help avoid any skin irritations from occurring. Rewearing your dirty workout clothes is okay, but make sure they dry out between uses. And, be sure that you’re protecting your skin from sun exposure any time you go out in the sun.

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