Nothing compliments warm weather like a day at the beach or pool. Going for a swim is one of the most relaxing warm weather activities imaginable, and laying out in the sun with your favorite book or listening to your favorite podcast or album is a close second. It can be tempting to swim a few laps or play a few rounds of Marco Polo before dozing off in the sun. However, sitting in a wet bathing suit can be potentially harmful—as it provides a perfect climate for fungus.

Yeast infection

“The major problem we can see with wearing a wet bathing suit is an increased risk of fungal infections, and in particular, a yeast infection,” said Adrianne Browning, MD, clerkship director for obstetrics and gynecology for the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “A yeast infection, or candidiasis, occurs when the body’s natural yeast and bacteria become unbalanced.”

A vaginal yeast infection affects up to 75 percent of women at some point in their lifetimes, according to the Mayo Clinic, and many women experience at least two episodes. Signs and symptoms of a yeast infection can include itching, irritation and abnormal discharge, and severe infections can cause swelling and burning while urinating.

Yeast infections are easily treatable with over-the-counter or prescribed medication. “Still, don’t try to diagnose your first yeast infection yourself and treat it with over-the-counter medication,” Browning warned. “See your health care provider instead.”

Tinea cruris (jock itch)

Sitting around in a wet bathing suit can also increase your risk for another type of fungal infection, tinea cruris, more commonly known as jock itch. While this condition is typically found in high school locker rooms, the infection most often occurs in any situation where people wear tight-fitting clothing that traps moisture.

“Jock itch typically occurs around the groin and inner thighs,” Browning said. “It can present with dryness, flaking, redness, itchiness and often have a ring-shaped rash in the area.”

It too is easily treatable with anti-fungal medications, however it’s best to make an appointment with your health care provider to make sure that no secondary infection develops.

If you develop a fungal infection, be sure to wash and dry the affected area thoroughly, change your clothes daily, wash your clothes with warm water and avoid anti-itch cream—like hydrocortisone.

“Using hydrocortisone on a fungal infection will not eliminate the fungus,” Browning said. “It only impairs our body’s ability to fight it. You need anti-fungal medication.”

Chafing (and what it leads to)

Sitting around in wet clothing can cause them to rub up on your body and cause irritation. While chafing can seem like a minor painful inconvenience, it has potential to cause some real problems.

“Chafing and skin irritation could lead to infection,” Browning said. “A wet bathing suit can rub the skin and damage the hair follicles and make them prone to infection—particularly those caused by bacteria.”

Bacterial infections are trickier than their fungal counterparts. Although fungal infections can be treated with over-the-counter creams, bacterial infections require prescription medications. Bacterial infections can present with localized pain, redness, swelling and occasional pus.

Take proper precautions

A day at the pool or beach should be a stress-free day, and it can be, if you plan accordingly. Apart from the typical necessities, such as sunblock and plenty of water, if you plan on going from the water to the lounge chairs, you may want to bring extra clothing.

“Sunbathe (safely) before getting in the water,” Browning said. “If you’re going to be going back and forth, consider having a spare and dry bathing suit and towels so you can lay in the sun while limiting your risk of infection.”

— Dominic Hernandez

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