Today’s growing athleisure trend means that it’s acceptable — and even encouraged — to wear workout clothes in and outside of the gym. But although running errands in your yoga clothes following your favorite vinyasa class might seem convenient, it turns out that wearing workout gear might be harmful to your health. I know what you’re thinking right now — something along the lines of, “The only way you’re getting these yoga pants is from my COLD, DEAD HANDS” — but there’s no need to panic. By taking a few simple precautions, you can rock your favorite workout clothes, while at the same time preserving your health.
In a recent article for TODAY, Gabrielle Frank interviewed dermatologists about the potential health hazards of workout clothing. Of course, exercise in general is great for your overall health, but wearing your sweaty workout gear for hours after you exercise can lead to a host of skin problems. Dr. Lauren Ploch, a dermatologist at Skin Cancer Center and Georgia Dermatology in August, Georgia, explained to TODAY that, in the last few years, people have been wearing their workout clothes differently. “People always used to shower after workouts, but now, due to the rise of athleisure clothing, they're wearing their workout clothes a lot longer than intended,” Ploch said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, wearing sweaty, tight clothing for long periods of time isn’t good for your skin. Ploch cites three major skin issues that she sees cropping up due to overuse of workout gear: intertrigo, folliculitis, and tinea cruris. Intertrigo is a skin rash that tends to show up in skin folds (e.g. the underarms, groin, inner thigh, or under the breasts); the rash is often red and accompanied by itchiness or oozing. Folliculitis, inflammation of the hair follicles, usually looks like small pimples on your hair follicles. Tinea cruis is a fungal infection more commonly known as jock itch; usually affecting the groin and buttocks, jock itch often involves a red, scaly rash and itchiness.
The key to preventing these conditions is to shower after exercise and change into clean, dry clothing. If you already are experiencing intertrigo or jock itch, you may need to use an antifungal medication. If you’re suffering from folliculitis, you may need to use antibacterial benzoyl peroxide wash and wear loose clothing (so keep away from the compression gear).
Compression clothing, or tight workout clothing in general, can also cause problems. Mental Floss points out that very tight shorts or pants can cause meralgia paresthetica, a nerve condition that causes “tingling or numbness in the thighs.” (Notably, shapewear can lead to the same issue). And if that weren’t enough, tight clothing can cause “butt acne.” Dr. Mari Jhin, a dermatologist and author of the book Asian Beauty Secrets, explained to TODAY, “When your clothes are too tight, your skin can't breathe and this can lead to acne.” Some athletes swear by compression clothing, believing it boosts performance. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to give up your favorite compression gear, but you do need to change out of it promptly after a workout. It’s fine for short periods, but be sure to put on something looser if you’re going to run errands or meet up with friends after you exercise.