If you’ve ever had a regular exercise regimen, you have, at some point, done something cringe-worthy. Maybe it was a once-off – forgot to pack panties in your gym bag and went commando? We’ve all been there. Or maybe it’s a regular, icky habit (who has time to wash their hair after every single run?).
Whatever it is, chances are it’s a dark secret that you will take to the grave. But what if it’s actually bad for you? We convinced a handful of women to ‘fess up. Then we asked experts to weigh in. If you recognise any of these habits, you’d better read on….
1/ I often do open-water paddling and I never shower afterwards. The salt-spray makes my hair look wavy and pretty and the wind dries my sweat.
EXPERT SAYS: Bad idea. “Showering after exercise helps to cool your skin and make it less itchy and will get rid of irritants like sweat, salt, grass and chlorine,” says dermatologist Dr. Nomphelo Gantsho. “Sweat can also cause acne flare-ups due to clogged pores on your face and too much salt can leave your hair lank and limp. The main thing is to get the dirt and sweat off your skin. Sweat also has an odour, which you need to get rid of by washing.”
2/ I exercise at lunchtime but I don’t sweat much, so I don’t shower until I get home in the evenings to save water. I just change my clothes.
EXPERT SAYS: Bad idea. “Wash immediately after your workout wherever you break a sweat – the amount of sweating doesn’t matter,” says Gantsho. “It’s one of a few skincare rules that you should never break.”
NEED TO KNOW: If you can’t shower after your workout, Gantsho suggests using a soft towel with warm water to wipe down and remove most of the sweat, but you still need to shower as soon as you can. “You don’t want a cocktail of dirt, oil and bodily fluids clinging to your skin, affecting its pH, and clogging your pores,” she says.
3/ When I first started exercising, I used to stay in my sweaty gym clothes (and I sweat a lot!), but I started getting a rash under my boobs.
EXPERT SAYS: Bad idea. “When you leave salty stuff on your skin to dry, this will cause irritation and redness,” says Gantsho. “A sweaty bra can also cause irritation, resulting in a rash. A heat rash occurs when sweat ducts become clogged and the sweat can’t get to the surface of the skin. Instead, it becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface causing a mild inflammation or rash.”
4/ It’s such a mission to wash my hair after a workout that I often skip it, even after a lot of sweating. If my hair looks very dirty, I use dry shampoo and tie it up.
EXPERT SAYS: Go for it. “Sweaty hair is no one’s favourite look, except maybe on the runway, but washing it isn’t always the best solution,” says Gantsho. “If you aren’t sweating so much that your hairline gets wet, you can probably skip washing your hair that day.”
And if your workout is always a sweat fest? “If you’re doing heavy cardio daily, you should wash your hair two to three times a week,” says Gantsho. Although she stresses that you should avoid over-shampooing. Between washes, she recommends rinsing with conditioner only – particularly for curly or kinky hair types. “Conditioner won’t strip your hair of its natural oils,” she says.
As for that dry shampoo obsession: “No dry shampoo on wet hair. It’ll just leave behind a cakey residue resulting from the powder-and-water mix,” she says.
NEED TO KNOW: You can use dry shampoo to prep your hair before a workout to help absorb sweat.
5/ I run early in the morning for about half an hour. I start in the dark so I always forget to wear sunscreen – but about 10 minutes into my run, the sun comes up.
EXPERT SAYS: Bad idea. “I see a lot of patients in my dermatology practice with tanned and wrinkled skin who tell me that because they walk or swim in the morning or during the non-summer months that they don’t need sunscreen or sun protective clothing,” says Gantsho.
“The sun’s rays may not be as harmful before sunrise, but that does not mean that you won’t experience problems in the future.” She lists early wrinkles and skin cancer among the issues that could develop. Yikes. “You must always put on sunscreen when you go out.”
NEED TO KNOW: Apply sunscreen to dry skin at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, even on cloudy or winter days, since skin-damaging rays can still shine through the clouds.
6/ To save on laundry, I don’t wear underwear when I exercise.
EXPERT SAYS: Go for it. “For most women, it shouldn’t be a problem,” says Dr Elna Rudolph, medical doctor, sexologist and clinical head of My Sexual Health. “There are some women who have more sensitive skin, who might develop an irritation due to the synthetic material of their tights or even due to the sweat. Those women need to wear cotton underwear when they exercise, but for the rest, I don’t see a problem with it.”
NEED TO KNOW: “When women exercise, their physiological discharge might increase significantly due to the increased blood flow to the vagina (like the rest of the body),” says Rudolph. “Wearing underwear absorbs some of that. If you don’t wear underwear, you might develop a wet patch around your crotch, which could be pretty embarrassing.” Panties it is then.
7/ With cycling shorts being so expensive, I only have one good pair so I often wear it for two rides in a row.
EXPERT SAYS: Gross, but okay. “Will you get sick from not washing your exercise clothes? Probably not. Might the synthetic material build up an unpleasant odour in that area if left unwashed? Most likely! Just wash it!” says Rudolph.
This article was first published on Women's Health South Africa.