You've probably heard that wet bathing suits and skin don't mix. After all, the combo of tight synthetic fabrics, moisture and bacteria around your groin seem like a recipe for a rash or an infection, right?
Well, yeah. You're definitely more likely to run into an infection or skin irritation by wearing a wet bathing suit compared to wearing dry underwear.
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Indeed, Jennifer Wu, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, notices that more patients tend to come in with vaginal infections during the summer than at other times of the year.
That said, experts have a hard time saying how risky this practice actually is. (It's a tough thing to study, after all.)
Here's a closer look at why that wet bathing suit might set you up for problems and how worried you really need to be. Plus, the smart beach- or pool-day habits that might make a difference.
Risks of Sitting Around in a Wet Bathing Suit
Let's talk about why that damp suit might spell bad news and what you can do about it.
1. Increased Risk of Vaginal Infection
Bacteria and fungi thrive in warm, dark, moist areas, including the vagina. Wearing a wet bathing suit traps more moisture, which can set the stage for vaginal infections like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, Dr. Wu says.
These infections are typically marked by an increase in vaginal discharge (thick and white for a yeast infection, grayish-white and foul-smelling for bacterial vaginosis). You might also experience vaginal itching or irritation, pain during sex or more frequent urination, the Mayo Clinic notes.
"Tight, wet clothing and synthetic fibers that don't breathe can lead to changes in vaginal pH," Dr. Wu explains. And that pH shift can make it easier for infection-causing bacteria to thrive.
In the absence of studies, experts can't say for sure how high the actual odds for infection are. "It's a risk, but we can't quantify it," Dr. Wu says.
As for other infections like a urinary tract infection? You're unlikely to get one from a wet bathing suit, Dr. Wu says. UTIs happen when bacteria travels up to the urethra, the tube above the vaginal opening that lets urine leave the body. ""It's less likely for bacteria to make its way up there," she explains.
Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are typically treated with antibacterial or antifungal medications, which can be taken orally or applied as a cream.
Some yeast infection treatments are available over the counter, while treatments for bacterial vaginosis usually need a prescription, per the Mayo Clinic.
In both cases, it's a good idea to see your doctor if you're having symptoms, Dr. Wu says. Your doctor can determine which infection you're dealing with and help you decide on the best way to clear the problem.
2. Skin Irritation or Chafing
Infections aside, repeated friction of your skin against the swimsuit material paired with moisture can leave your skin raw and irritated. That can be a recipe for chafing around your inner thighs or vulva, Dr. Wu says (aka a wet bathing suit rash).
Chafed skin can also feel hot, have raised or red bumps, sting or burn.
You can relieve chafed skin at home with some TLC. Clean the affected area with a mild soap and gently pat it dry. Then apply a layer of aloe vera gel topped with a layer of petroleum jelly. The combo will cool and soothe while providing a protective barrier to help your skin heal, the Cleveland Clinic says.
Alternatives to Changing Out of Your Bathing Suit
Getting out of your bathing suit and into some fresh, dry clothes might be the ideal. But that's tough to do during a day at the beach or pool.
The good news is, there are other ways you can reduce your risk for an infection or rash from a wet bathing suit.
1. Wear the Right Suit
Start by making sure your bathing suit isn't too tight, Dr. Wu recommends. A suit that fits comfortably will trap less moisture and cause less friction compared to one that's very snug.
2. Dry Off as Much as Possible
Second, give yourself the chance to dry off thoroughly when you get out of the water, she adds. A dry suit will trap less moisture than a wet one.
Towel off thoroughly and avoid putting on shorts or bottoms over your damp suit, which will cause the moisture to stick around for longer.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Sit Around in a Wet Bathing Suit?
Sitting around in a wet bathing suit for hours isn't the best idea, though it's hard to say for sure exactly how risky it is.
One thing we can say: You shouldn't let your worries about an infection or skin irritation ruin your fun in the sun.
Just play it smart: Wear a suit that's not too snug and give yourself a chance to dry off in between dips as best you can, Dr. Wu suggests.
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.