Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind—and kudos to you for taking such good care of yourself. Likely, you also spend a good amount of time looking up new workouts, proper nutrition, and cutting edge gear. But, there’s probably one thing you’re forgetting to take care of: your vagina.
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of sweating and friction that comes with exercise. While that’s great and all, it can be kind of irritating for your lady parts. Much like you take extra care to wash your face after a sweat sesh, your vagina could use some extra attention. Here are some things to look out for:
Have a separate set of underwear reserved for the gym.
Porter recommends breathable fabrics, like cotton, especially in the crotch area; ideally, you want a fabric that allows for airflow. Fabrics like lycra and nylon can trap moisture and heat, creating (you guessed it) a bacteria breeding ground. “Any material that wicks away moisture is a good idea,” says Porter. While cotton undies are best, we know that they usually look the worst under tighter workout gear.
Nobody wants frumpy rumples or super obvious panty lines, but most experts agree that thongs are not the answer. Aside from the horrible friction, thongs are really great at transferring bacteria to places you don’t want it. “Thong underwear should never be worn for workouts,” says Porter. “It can create a nice pathway for e.coli (a bacteria that lives in the colorectal system and is responsible for most urinary tract infections and vaginal bacterial infections) to be transmitted to the vaginal area.” If you can’t find cotton or cotton lined underwear that fit, the best alternative is no undies.
It’s the consistent and prolonged exposure to moisture that tips your vaginal flora into yeast infection territory. This can be anything from too much time in a wet bathing suit to too much time in sweaty, tight workout shorts. To prevent this kind of infection, wear breathable workout gear like cotton or items specifically designed to breathe and wick away moisture. Let everything air out overnight by sleeping naked if you can. And change out of your bathing suit as soon as your swim ends.
Wash and dry off
It doesn’t matter what kind of workout clothes you’re wearing, you should get them off and your body freshened up right after a workout. It looks fun on TV when girlfriends go from spin class to the coffee shop, but in reality, that’s not a great idea. You’ll just be trapping your vagina in a hot, warm environment. “It’s […] very important to get out of wet or sweaty clothes promptly,” says Ginger Bane, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner with ob-gyn gynecologist Dr. Lisa Jukes. “After an intense sweat session I recommend changing clothes.”
Along with a change of clothes, wipe off as much sweat as possible—that could be with a body wipe, but ideally a shower. “Warm water and a soft cloth are all you need to clean the inner folds of the vulva,” says Porter. “Mild, unscented soap can be used in the pubic and groin area.” And no douching; that will rid your body of all bacteria, making you more susceptible to infections.
After you’ve showered, make sure that your body is completely dry before getting dressed. If it’s not, then, well, we’re right back where we started.
Since microbes thrive in a moist environment, whether you’ve spent an hour swimming or cycling, you want to wash and dry your vulva (the outside of your vagina) soon after your workout. If you can’t shower directly at the gym, try to rinse off once you get home. Avoid antibacterial soap or anything with perfume; they can disrupt the pH of your vagina. “It’s best if you can take a shower and use a regular hypoallergenic soap and dry well,” says Dr. Dweck. “That will prevent the chance for bacteria and yeast growing or overgrowing and becoming imbalanced.”
If you can’t hop in the shower quickly, at least change into dry clothes. And in a pinch, Dr. Dweck advises using cleansing wipes with minimal or no fragrance — less chance of irritation — as a post-gym cleanser.
Sweat stains are ok
Swimming, sweating, and grinding it out at the gym can lead to all kinds of gunky situations. First, vagina sweat is totally normal. Even if you leave the gym looking like you peed your pants, it’s totally [okay]OK. Pads and panty liners aren’t very breathable, so if you’re embarrassed, try breathable cloth menstrual pads or period underwear. They contain soft, cotton or flannel that will absorb your sweat. But really, it’s totally fine to let it all sweat out.
Sometimes sweat mixed with dry skin or too much friction can make for gunky residue, especially in the folds where your legs connect to your body. Just clean these areas thoroughly so you don’t get an irritation rash. If you do, just make sure to wash and air out thoroughly after your workouts. Apply a little antibiotic ointment or vaseline if your rash breaks the skin or starts getting weepy. That might also be a good time to see your doctor.
Avoid ingrown hair
The constant friction a workout can cause irritated hair follicles and ingrown hairs. Sometimes even just a little pimple can swell and fill up with infection until it’s a painful, puss-filled nightmare. Try trimming instead of shaving to avoid the ingrown hair problem altogether. If you do get a [gross]CUT cyst-like ingrown hair or out-of-control pimple, use a hot compress or try a sitz bath. Apply antibacterial ointment. Don’t pop it, as it can pop from the underside and push infection into your bloodstream. If you think it needs drained, see your doctor.