Fungal infections of the skin are common, especially among athletes and others -- kids or adults -- who work out regularly. Athlete's foot is just one example. Jock itch, ringworm, and yeast infections of the skin are others.
If you exercise at a school gym or field, health club, private gym, or tennis club, you're bound to be exposed to sweaty clothes, germ-ridden exercise equipment, or both. It can add up to an increased risk of these annoying, but typically not serious, skin infections.
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To lower your risk of fungal infections, use these hygiene tips whenever you work out:
Wash your hands. It sounds obvious, but do you wash every time? Before and after a workout, wash your hands properly. That means using soap, lathering up (either warm or cold water is OK), and rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, according to CDC guidelines. Rinse well. Dry with a clean towel, or air dry.
Sanitize if you can’t wash. If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based sanitizer. Pick one that has at least 60% alcohol. Apply sanitizer to the palm of one hand then rub your hands together. Rub it over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are totally dry.
Germ-proof gym equipment. Before a workout, wipe down the equipment and mats with a disinfectant spray or wipe. Then do the next person a favor -- wipe down equipment after every workout. As an alternative, consider bringing your own exercise mat and equipment.
Shower ASAP. After a workout, resist the urge to crash on the sofa or go out to eat in your sweaty clothes. Take a shower as soon as you are able after an exercise session. Bacteria love to breed in your sweaty clothes. Shower thoroughly and dry off with a clean towel. The put on dry, clean clothes.
Protect your feet. When in the health club shower, wear water shoes or flip flops. Wash your feet and dry them thoroughly, especially between your toes. If you are prone to athlete's foot, use an antifungal powder on your feet.
Wear it and wash it. Wash and dry your workout clothes each time you wear them. This includes swimsuits and socks.
Be skin-conscious. If you have a break in your skin, cover it with a waterproof bandage. If you've got an open wound, skin break, or infection, avoid the whirlpool and other common areas until it heals completely.
Don’t share personal care items. Don't share towels, water bottles, soap, razor, combs, brushes, or make-up. Anything that comes into contact with someone else's skin could be contaminated with a fungus.
Choose your health club wisely. If you are checking out a new gym, consider more than the price and overall ambiance. Evaluate the cleanliness of the facility. Look to see if the equipment is clean and free of sweat. Are bathroom floors clean? What about sinks and toilets? Do you see cleaning personnel in the gym regularly?
Linda Stein Gold, MD, director of dermatology clinical research, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.
Jeffrey Weinberg, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; director, Clinical Research Center, Department of Dermatology, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Beth Israel Medical Center. Formerly served as investigator for Ortho Dermatologics.
Simmons College: "Gym Hygiene: How to Reduce the Risk of Infections in the Gym," February 2011.
CDC: "Wash Your Hands."
IHRSA: "2008 IHRSA's Guide to Health Club Cleanliness."
National Athletic Trainers' Association: "Guidelines for Skin Disease Prevention," June 23, 2010.