BJJ Guide: How to Prevent Skin Infections
As jiu-jitsu practitioners, we share a lot on the mat. Laughs, growth, sweat, blood, tears… and skin infections. That last one we could do without, though.
The exact types of skin infections you can get from the jiu-jitsu mat are numerous. Some of the most common are: ringworm, impetigo, staph, MRSA, and herpes simplex. Each has their own special kinds of symptoms, rates of transmissibility, and cures. But that’s beyond the scope of this blog.
Instead, I want to focus on how to best prevent any and all skin infections, before they establish themselves. Because let’s face it: you don’t have any control over the actions of others, who may – knowingly or unknowingly – decide to train while infectious. But you do have control over what you do.
And here’s what you can do to prevent skin infections:
Always Wear Clean Gis and No-Gi Gear
I shouldn’t have to say this, but here we are… First and foremost, don’t be the source of infection-causing bacteria and fungi. Dirty, sweaty gis and no-gi gear are the perfect breeding grounds for microscopic organisms like these. And while you may have “let it dry out”, your BJJ gi or rash guard could still be harboring them.
So always, always wear clean gis and no-gi gear. Wash after every wear, no exceptions; no matter how much you “didn’t sweat in it.” Don’t know how to wash your gi? Here’s a guide.
Take a Shower ASAP (or Wipe Down)
So, you’ve already been rolling around in your and everybody else’s sweat for an hour or two. Fantastic. You got your jiu-jitsu fix. Now go take a shower you dirty animal.
Fortunately, many academies now have showers (and maybe even separate locker rooms with showers for men and women… if you’re lucky). In that case, please make use of them. Even if it’s just to rinse off a bit before you drive/bike/walk home. Keep a small shower kit in your gym bag for just the occasion, complete with a pair of extra shower flops (because who knows how often the shower gets cleaned).
If your academy doesn’t have such amenities, then anti-bacterial wipes will be your best friend. Even if there is a shower, they should be your best friend. Defense Soap is one of our favorites, but there are a ton of other options out there.
Do Regular Skin Checks
Even the most careful can fall victim to a skin infection. But it’s far easier to treat – and get rid of fast – when it’s small. Not only that, but the sooner you identify it, the sooner you’re able to protect your training partners from the same fate by staying off the mat.
How do you check? First, make sure you always have a full-length mirror available. I’m talking to you, boys. A full-length mirror will enable you to easily check your entire body (and will also help you come to terms with your chicken legs and hopefully never skip leg day again). You can also have a buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend help you check any hard to see spots… and don't forget your hairline!
What are you looking for? It’s different for each infection, but basically any red, irritated, pus-filled or raised spots. It might just be an ingrown hair, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Help Keep the Mats Clean
One of the most common sources for skin infection-causing bacteria and fungi? The mats.
Think about it: the mats may see hundreds of different people, each with their own sanitary habits, several times a day. They may get cleaned in between each class, but they may not. Even if they get cleaned, are they really “getting cleaned”? Is the disinfectant strong enough? Are the mop heads clean? Was the cleaning job thorough?
You may think that you have no control over this… but that’s silly. You can always offer to help clean. In fact, if you have any suspicion regarding the cleanliness – or lack thereof – of the mats, it is your civic duty to help. I don’t care what belt you are.
Spread the Word about Preventing Skin Infections
The black belt or head instructor at your academy doesn’t have to be the only source of crucial BJJ-related info. Especially if you’re a colored belt, you have plenty of experience and insight that you can impart upon your fellow jiu-jitsu practitioners… especially those brand new white belts.
I wish every academy could include a mandatory hygiene brief into their “introductory class” for brand new students, but that’s wishful thinking. Therefore, to ensure that everyone, from day one, is maintaining a minimal level of cleanliness on the mats, go ahead and take it into your own hands. If you see people wearing stinky gis, not clipping their toe nails, going days without showers, etc… say something. In fact, say something even if you don’t.
Preventing skin infections in jiu-jitsu is one thing for which it is OKAY to be the squeaky wheel.