Yoga classes can be sweaty places, and with sweat comes microbes that can spread to any surfaces you touch. A yoga class and uncleaned mat are the perfect environment to spread infections, says Dr Justine Hextall, a consultant dermatologist at Tarrant Street Clinic in Arundel, West Sussex.
‘Making skin contact with a dirty yoga mat can lead to fungal infections such as ringworm and athlete’s foot, as you’ll have sweaty, bare feet that make infections easier to spread. Exposure to other users’ perspiration and microbes can also worsen acne and transfer staphylococcal and streptococcal infections in susceptible people.’
Bacteria can survive on a surface for several hours to days, while viruses can survive for weeks, depending on the surface. If you’re using a borrowed mat, give it a wipe down with antibacterial wipes before use, and avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands after the class, says Dr Manal Mohammed, a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Westminster.
And wait for the mat to cool before rolling it up: ‘Bacteria and fungi can flourish when it is warm and may infect you when you reuse the mat,’ she says.
It’s not just used yoga mats to be wary of. Dr Lisa Ackerley, a hygiene expert, recalls the case of a skin infection that spread around a friend’s school after children shared gym clothes. ‘As a result of using shared kits that weren’t cleaned properly in between uses, they spread a resistant form of S. aureus that caused red and itchy skin infections,’ she says.