Home / Infections  / Dermatologic Hazards of the Gym

A doctor should always be focused on health, right? Unfortunately, thinking about mine took back burner for a little while as Miller Family Derm got off its feet.  Things in the clinic must be settling in because after a 1 year hiatus, I’m finally able to find time to go the gym.  You can take the doctor out of the clinic but it is is harder to take the clinic out of the doctor.  As I sweat my way to better health – or more specifically when my mind starts to wander while doing reps of whatever – I end up thinking about these dermatologic hazards of the gym:

#1 Warts

One of the most common visits at the clinic is for the removal of warts.  While I enjoy helping my patients rid themselves of pesky bumps, I am sure they would prefer to avoid them in the first place.  Warts are caused by an infection in the skin from human papilloma virus.  They are incredibly common and I think that pretty much everyone gets a wart sometime.  Sometimes they go away on their own, but this doesn’t seem to be very common and treatment is often desired when they start to spread or hurt.

I recently had two-one on the bottom of each foot.  Every couple of weeks I blasted them with liquid nitrogen, but I wasn’t able to get rid of them until I started to treat them with beetlejuice.

Wart virus is easily spread in wet environments, like pools and showers.  This is the reason I highly recommend wearing flip flops in the shower at the gym.

#2 Sandpaper Towels

My epidermis is gone!

Seriously, I have no idea where you find a towel as coarse as the ones at the gym.  These things are more like semi-absorbant brillo pads.  No one needs this much exfoliation.  What it really ends up doing is irritating the skin and causing it to become dry and itchy.  If you find yourself feeling itchy after showering at the gym it might be the towel that is causing the problem.

*Note to self:  bring my own towel.

#3 Industrial Soap

Since many people who start working out also start getting acne on their chest and back, I think its very important to shower at the gym to get rid of sweat, grease, and bacteria as quickly as possible.   However, gyms seem to always supply some industrial-strength antibacterial soap.  My gym uses one made by Gojo.  I remember Gojo working really well to remove grease and grime when I worked in my dad’s autobody shop, but when showering in the gym its pretty harsh.  Most of the antibacterial agents are probably harmful to us and/or the environment, especially garbage like triclosan which poisons muscle and probably causes frogs and what not to grow with 4 eyes and extra limbs.

While packing light can be tempting, don’t forget to bring your own body wash.  I think there are two good options:

1.  I prefer Panoxyl 4% Benzoyl Peroxide wash which can be a challenge to find at times, but can be ordered on

PanoxylIt helps with acne on the chest and back and is very effective at killing bacteria, with the added benefit of being gentle on the skin.










2.  Eucerin Calming Body Wash.  Available at pretty much anywhere.

Eucerin Calming WashThis is a body wash with oil it in.  It is awesome if your skin tends to be dry, but won’t help with acne at all.


MRSA refers to methicillin resistant staph aureus.  Basically, staph aureus is a type of bacteria that  20-40% of humans carry as part of their normal skin bacteria.  It is usually completely harmless.   MRSA refers to strains of staph aureus that shows resistance to antibiotics and more commonly causes infections.  Typically, infections only occur when Staph invades through broken skin, hence intact skin is a great defense.  Infections are more common in certain groups of people:

  • Athletes, especially wrestlers and football players who have close contact leading to cuts and abrasions.  Athletes with MRSA very readily spread it to other athletes
  • People with eczema or atopic dermatitis who often have breaks in their skin
  • Diabetics
  • People on dialysis
  • Anyone who is immune suppressed

I’ve never had MRSA, and I’m really not that worried about getting it at the gym.  Commercial gyms are actually cleaner than you think.  The routine sanitation measures that they employ including simply wiping equipment down frequently is very effective.

BUT, MRSA is readily spread in gyms from athletes who have it.  It’s notorious for spreading quickly among high school wrestlers and among college football teams.  The close physical contact of wrestlers is the main reason they spread it quickly.  Its not really relevant for casual gym goers.  College football players spread it because they share water bottles and towels.  Don’t do that.

Want more information on MRSA?  The single best source of data MRSA is the CDC.  They actually have a really good website devoted to the topic.  But basically, the gym makes me think about MRSA but really doesn’t make me worry.

The “Do’s” of Going to the Gym:

  • Pack a small bag with flip flops, body wash and a soft towel.
  • Wipe down machines before and after you use them.
  • Shower after working out.

Being aware of the dangers to your skin at the gym should not discourage you from going there.  With minimal preparation, you can work your way towards a healthier body while keeping your skin safe as well.

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