Ah, the dog days of summer. It’s that lazy time of year when it’s perfectly acceptable to live in a fabulous bathing suit and relax by the water all day long.
But lounging in wet swimwear isn’t as glamorous as the Kardashians make it out to be. And while we’ve heard time and time again that staying in wet swimsuits for too long can cause problems ranging from yeast infections to UTIs, we’re all a little guilty of breaking this rule.
“Yeast and bacteria really thrive in moist, dark places, like a wet bathing suit or wet workout clothes,” Alyssa Dweck, an assistant clinical professor and OB/GYN at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told The Huffington Post. “So if you’re really prone to those types of infections [yeast or bacterial], you’re going to want to change out of a wet bathing suit and just put on a dry one.”
While you likely won’t get an infection from a wet bathing suit, according to Dweck, it remains a risk nonetheless and may be related to your overall health. Women with weakened immune systems, such as those who have diabetes or who take certain medications are more likely to be affected by prolonged wear of a damp swimsuit.
So, here’s a much-needed wake up call to motivate you. Below are a few reasons to never, ever stay in a wet swimsuit for too long:
1. It’s the perfect combo for bacteria.
Let’s face it: The inside of a wet swimsuit is both warm and moist, so it’s basically a breeding ground for bacteria.
When in the water, swimsuit material tends to absorb the various chemicals and bacteria that exist in pools or the ocean. But once you’re out of the water, your private parts are cradled inside of your suit, along with all of those gross substances. This can throw off the balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina or introduce harmful bacteria into the urethra, leading to a number of maladies, including vaginitis and urinary tract infections.
Signs you might have a problem: Changes in vaginal discharge, including foul smell or grayish coloring, and itching, swelling or soreness can signal bacterial vaginitis. Symptoms of UTIs include strong and persistent urges to urinate, burning sensations while urinating, pelvic pain and cloudy urine.
What you can do about it: If you are experiencing symptoms of bacterial vaginitis, see your healthcare provider for proper medication. If you sense a UTI coming on, Dweck suggests alerting your primary physician as soon as possible, drinking plenty of fluids, consuming cranberry juice or supplements and using over-the-counter medications for temporary pain relief.
2. It can lead to yeast infections.
Since yeast thrives in warm and wet environments, wet bathing suit bottoms can cause yeast infections in women, especially those who suffer from recurring yeast infections.
The bacteria that festers in wet bathing suits can cause an overgrowth of yeast cells in the vagina or vulva, according to University Hospitals. This can lead to some pretty uncomfortable symptoms, including burning, soreness and clumpy discharge.
Signs you might have a problem: The hallmark signs of a yeast infection include extreme itchiness (external or internal), white “cottage cheese-like” discharge and typically no foul order. Women who have diabetes or who are on certain medications that suppresses the immune system are more prone to yeast infections, according to Dweck.
What you can do about it: Dweck suggests purchasing over-the-counter remedies and anti-fungal vaginal creams, including Monistat or store-brand medications. If the yeast infection does not clear up with those remedies, contact your doctor.
3. It may result in an itchy rash.
You’ve heard of athlete’s foot, right? Well, sitting in a wet swimsuit can cause a very similar infection around your genitals known as “jock itch.”
If you’re wearing a wet suit and happen to come in contact with a type of mold-like fungi known as dermatophytes, it can spread to the skin of your genitals, inner thighs and butt, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Mayo Clinic. This growth leads to red, itchy rashes that may grow in the shape of a ring.
“It’s very similar to a yeast infection in the vagina because they’re both caused by fungus, although it is a slightly different strain of fungus,” Dweck said.
Even if there is no fungal infection involved, people with sensitive skin may experience skin irritation from wearing wet material. “Some women just get irritation from constant moisture,” Dweck said, “so they may just feel better in being in something dry.”
Signs you might have a problem: Symptoms of jock itch include rashes around the creases of the upper thigh and crevices of the genital area, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Red, raised and scaly patches that may sometimes ooze with liquid and cause itchiness. Rashes appear redder on the outside and skin-toned toward the middle.
What you can do about it: Dweck recommends using over-the-counter anti-fungal cream or powder made especially for the genital area. For stronger medication, contact your primary physician and ask about prescription-strength anti-fungal products.
Now that the ugly facts are out there, it’s time to take charge. Change out of that damp swimsuit ASAP or risk a very uncomfortable few days ahead. Your body will thank you for it.