The next time you're at HIIT class, you’re bound to see tons of men wearing compression gear. There’s a reason why tight workout clothes are trendy: not only do they look great, but they also prevent any loose material from getting in the way of doing burpees or lunge jumps. But can wearing constrictive shorts and pants all day negatively affect your health? As it turns out, it can — particularly if your clothes are still all sweaty from that intense Crossfit circuit.
Chilling in your sweaty gym wear for too long after your workout can lead to a host of skin and bacterial conditions, including yeast infections. Yup — men can get yeast infections, too. In fact, balanitis, or inflammation of the head of the penis, is pretty common (though it's much more so among uncircumcised men).
So why is wearing tight, sweaty workout clothes bad for you? Well, wearing tight workout clothes can "increase the likelihood of sweating and buildup of fungus,” says Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, a.k.a. Doctor Mike, who is based in New York City.
Dermatophytes, or fungi that feed on dead skin cells, as well as hair and nails, can cause jock itch or other types of fungal infections, he says. Sweaty, moist environments are also playpens for candida, the fungus that causes yeast infections.
“Fungi like dermatophytes and yeast thrive in dark, humid, and warm environments. They need the moisture to reproduce and feed themselves, as they are very simple organisms and are unable to adapt well to other environments,” Dr. Varshavski explains.
There’s no exact time frame for how long you can sit around in your sweaty pants before getting an infection. But it's safe to say that the longer you stay in your tight workout gear, the higher your chances are of developing redness, itchiness, or swelling around the head of your penis, which are the symptoms of a yeast infection. You should probably hop in the shower stat, or at least change out of your dirty clothes.
No time to shower? You have no excuse: while “dirtiness doesn’t necessarily cause fungal or yeast infections, it can cause skin and even hair follicle infections from bacteria,” he adds. So even if you're not near a shower, you should still carry cleansing wipes with you to freshen your skin and avoid bacterial growth.
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The takeaway? It’s OK to wear tight underwear and compression gear in the gym, though it might not improve your workout — despite claims otherwise, the link between compression gear and increased athletic performance is tenuous at best. But try to be vigilant about how long you stay in your clothes, especially if they are dirty or moist.
It's best to wear cotton whenever possible, Varshavski suggests. “Some fabrics can cause an allergic rash often related to their dyes, which is called contact dermatitis,” he says.
“Cotton is an excellent fabric for reducing the chance to get a fungal infection. It is breathable, which will allow your body not to overheat, and it is moisture wicking so it will absorb the water away from your skin, therefore reducing the fungi's ability to grow on your skin,” he explains.
It's worth noting that you can get a yeast infection a few other ways, too: for instance, if you have unprotected sex with a woman who has a yeast infection, that can cause the bacterial growth to spread to your penis. If you have a compromised immune system, you might also be at risk. As with any skin condition, there can be multiple causes and links for a yeast infection — so always get an accurate diagnosis from a doctor, instead of trying to self-medicate with drugstore creams and lotions.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health