There's not much better than that post-workout high — the feel-good endorphins that make you feel invincible, knowing you did something really great for your body. One thing that can kill that buzz, though? A mile-long line for the gym showers.
At some point, we've all wondered: Can I get away with just cleaning up, changing clothes and getting out? Technically, yes (we'll get to the how in a bit). But if you're sweaty after exercising, it's better for your body if you take the time to rinse off before moving onto your next to-do list item. Not just because of the whole odor situation, either.
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"Of course you would want to get rid of that sweaty odor to not to drive your loved ones away, but it also has its health benefits," says Ashish Sharma, MD, hospitalist at Yuma Regional Medical Center. "During intense workouts, you may develop heat rash, skin break down and risk of skin breach by bacteria, which grow rapidly on sweaty skin. Showers help prevent it."
Below, experts weigh in on why you need that post-workout shower and offer up a few tips on how to stay fresh when you're in a rush.
The Dangers of Skipping a Post-Workout Shower
By not showering after exercising, you give the sweat and natural oils accumulating on your skin the chance to create a waxy build-up, says Arash Akhavan, MD, founder of the Dermatology and Laser Group in New York City. "This can cause inflammation in our pores leading to acne breakouts."
And the type of workout you do matters, too. "It becomes even more important for people who usually do more outdoor work out such as hiking or cycling," he says. "In order to clean yourself of things like outdoor dust, an environmental pollution toxin on your skin."
But there's more. Over time, skipping the post-workout suds can lead to infection. For example, tinea versicolor is a fungal infection that tends to occur in sweaty places like the chest and back.
"Since fungi grow more rapidly in warm and moist environments, sweaty sports bras are a common cause for fungal infections under and around the breasts," he says. "As far as skin health goes for women, it's the best thing you can do after you're done post-exercise to get rid of the sports bra, shower and then dry off." If possible, you can use a hair dryer on a cool setting to thoroughly dry areas that are especially prone to yeast infections, such as underneath the breasts.
Also important: Making sure that you wash your workout clothes between wearings. Skipping the spin cycle means that grime from your previous workout is reintroduced to the skin. When it's rubbed onto the body again, you're vulnerable to an inflammatory response that causes common skin conditions like folliculitis (when hair follicles are inflamed), infection, or acne.
What if There’s No Time?
Before you go straight from sweat to steam, take a beat. Wait about 15 minutes after the main part of your workout ends to give your body time to cool down, Dr. Sharma says. He suggests doing some low-intensity stretches and re-hydrating to give your body time to get back to its resting temperature and heart rate.
But still, not everyone has all this time. Which leads us to the question, "What do I do if I have to run ASAP?" In those instances, rely on body wipes, wash your hands with warm water and soap, and swipe on deodorant. Alternatively, you can rinse off your body with a wet towel and dry off with a clean, dry towel. Most important, change into some fresh clothes as soon as possible. Getting out of your wet, sweaty workout clothes can be just as important as showering. Whatever temporary cleanup method you use right after your workout, be sure to hit the shower within 12 to 24 hours.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Not Shower After a Workout?
Is that post-workout shower absolutely, 100-percent necessary to take immediately after your workout ends? Not really. Skipping a shower once in a while for some unavoidable reasons may not cause any big health issues, Dr. Sharma says. But don't make it a habit.
Not hitting the shower after a gym sessions allows all the sweat, oil, dirt and other grime a chance to collect on your skin, causing a host of skin-related issues (not to mention you probably won't smell like a bouquet of roses).
If you're really pressed for time, do the quick clean-up routine mentioned above, making sure that you do get a full shower within 24 hours of your workout (or sooner if you can). After all, a delayed shower is much preferred to no shower at all. And make sure you don't re-wear the same sweaty clothes in your next workout without washing them first.