In a perfect world, we would all squeeze in a workout at lunch so we could sleep in and have more free time in the evenings — but powering through a running sesh and leaving time to shower before returning to work just doesn’t seem feasible. Not to mention the fact that gym locker rooms are usually gross AF.
But what if we were to tell you could sleep in, get fit midday, and still have time to be social after work? Yup, all you have to do is skip that post-gym shower.
Before you say, “Ewww,” it turns out there’s no reason to freak out if you can’t get to showering right away. Leaving a bit of after-workout sweat on your skin is not going to compromise your health (how it affects your work relationships is another story).
“If you’re sweaty after your workout but don’t have time for a shower, relax,” Robert Silverman says. “As a sports nutritionist, I work with high-level athletes all the time, and I know that sweat is very unlikely to do any damage to your health or your skin. My bigger concern is dehydration, so be sure to drink enough fluids to replace what you’ve sweated out.”
Within a few hours of your workout, bacteria will get to work on the sweat in your armpits and other places and break the protein in it down into acids, Silverman says. As they do, you’ll start to give off that unpleasant locker room smell. So if you’re not able to shower within a few hours after your workout and are concerned about smelling lovely, it’s important that you address those areas of your body.
“You can avoid body odor after exercise just by using a baby wipe or even a damp paper towel on your armpits and other areas to remove the sweat,” Silverman says. “Shaving the armpits reduces the chances of body odor there. Wearing loose, natural fabrics that let the skin breathe also helps.”
Eva Glasrud, a psychologist and life coach at The Happy Talent, agrees that there are few times when showering right after a workout is a necessity. Unless you’re wrestling or rolling around on mats that are known to have fungus, ringworm or staph, Glasrud says there is no reason you have to shower immediately after a workout.
“When you shower, basically nothing happens,” Glasrud says. “You wash away sweat and dirt, but the bacteria count on your skin doesn’t really change. Hence, you feel clean, but, biologically, you’re the same.
“Remember, our bodies evolved in a world without instant sanitizer,” Glasrud continues. “They are well-equipped to handle a bit of dirt or sweat on your skin. What I usually do is splash some water on my face to get the salt off and shower when it’s most convenient — tonight, tomorrow… whenever. And never forget to wash your hands. Whether you’re using weights or machines or indoor climbing walls, a lot of people have been touching the equipment you’re using.”
None of this is to say it’s preferable to wait hours until you shower. If the opportunity to cleanse sweat from your skin presents itself, David E. Bank, founder of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, is on the side of washing so that your pores do not become clogged with dirt and oil.
“There is no precise time that it takes for the sweat to block the pores,” says Bank. “The sooner you can shower, the better. Showering after exercise, especially if you sweat excessively, should be as essential to your routine as your workout for several reasons. The first is your hygiene: No one wants to smell you or your workout on you! Also, if sweat builds up on your skin, it will clog your pores, not allowing your skin to breathe. And if you have a cut or skin abrasion, sweat can get trapped in there and can cause an infection.”
So, like anything, use your best judgment. Run errands. Pick up the kids. Go shopping. Do what you have to after a workout, and don’t feel like you need to pull a superman change. But keep baby wipes and face wipes handy, and just don’t wait 24 hours before you finally bathe. It’s going to be fine.
Originally published June 2016. Updated May 2017.