Why You Should Think Twice Before Showering At The Gym

If your packed gym bag doesn't yet contain a pair of shower shoes, make getting some the next item on your to-do list. Sweaty, steamy locker rooms and showers, even if they look clean, are perfect breeding environments for many different pathogens. Bacteria that can cause serious skin infections, fungi that cause athlete's foot, and wart-causing viruses can all thrive in these moist, warm environments.

Emily McKenzie, M.D., a dermatologist with University of Utah Health, says "Fungal and bacterial infections can often be acquired from the shower. All of these are much more common in shared showers, such as those at the pool, gym or in dorms" (via University of Utah Health).

You have no idea what your fellow fitness aficionados may have left behind in the shower or on the locker room bench or floor. Even those who are not sick can still track in bacteria-infested fecal matter from outside. And if you have nicks or scratches, or spent extra time enjoying the pool, hot tub, or shower, your risk goes up. David A. Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates, notes "Our skin softens when exposed to [damp] heat, making us far more prone to infectious transmission" (via Shape).

Make sure your gym bag contains shower shoes

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of infection. First off, get those shower shoes packed, and wear them in both the locker room and the shower. Continually going barefoot in those environments is basically making it a matter of when, not if, athlete's foot, ringworm, or warts will appear. After showering, dry your toes thoroughly to make sure they're moisture-free. Also be sure to keep those toenails clipped. Long nails give fungi more room for growth.

And of course, don't share towels or sit naked on the locker room bench. These both make it easier for pathogens to be transmitted.

In case you're wondering if you can skip the shower altogether — don't. Your post-workout sweat doesn't just leave you smelling bad, it also increases your chance of infection. Holly L. Phillips, M.D., a women's health physician and medical contributor to CBS News in New York City, adds "Perspiration left behind on your skin allows bacteria to proliferate, and that can lead to rashes and breakouts" (via Women's Health Magazine). So, do shower — just do it smartly.