It’s easy to forget the post-swim shower after a beautiful day at the beach, but this derm says you should reconsider.
You know that lovely salty-fresh feeling you get after going for a dip? Well if you thought you didn’t need to shower after that, you thought incorrectly.
A recent study out of Environmental Research, found that participants had an increase in antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs) on their skin post-swim.
Skin microbiome samples were collected before, after, at 6h post and 24h post-swim and analysed by researchers. It found that there was over a 70% increase in antibiotic resistant genes on the skin after swimming in the ocean.
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This continued to increase over 6 hours after swimming, recording a 300% increase compared to the sample recorded before swimming.
“The outcomes of the study support the epidemiological observations of increased risk of skin infections after swimming in the ocean. Cleaning the skin immediately after recreational ocean activities is recommended to reduce the opportunity for infection,” reads the study.
So – we decided to consult esteemed dermatologist and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, Dr Deshan Sebaratnam, on the subject.
“The study identified antibiotic resistant genes on the skin of people who had swum in the ocean,” he tells Body+Soul.
“Human wastewater can contain antibiotics or antibiotic resistant bacteria which ends up in the sea. People who swim in this water may be exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria which may predispose them to bacterial infections resistant to standard antibiotics.”
Ummm…it’s a bit icky right? However, it’s not all as bad as it sounds.
“However just because these antibiotic resistant genes have been identified on people’s skin it doesn’t necessarily translate to a definite increased risked of infection – just a possibility.”
Dr Sebaratnam recommends washing with fresh water after swimming to remove ‘unfavourable compounds’ from the skin. However, whether or not you use soap is up to you – because there just isn’t enough evidence on the benefits regarding this particular usage.
“There isn’t a great evidence-based answer to this specific setting,” he explains. “Soap can help remove a greater number of microbes from the skin but it doesn’t get rid of all germs. Soap can also get rid of good bugs from the skin as well as bad ones. It also damages the normal barrier function of the skin making certain infections easier.”
Big question though – is there a difference between ocean and pool water when it comes to the bacteria?
“Beach water is much less homogenous than a chlorinated pool – every time you swim in the ocean you will be exposed to a different mix of organisms, salt levels, water from different tributaries,” Dr Sebaratnam says.
Luckily, “both salt in the ocean and chlorine in swimming pools have antimicrobial properties.”
If you’re concerned about pollution in the water, Dr Sebaratnam has a few tips to give you peace of mind when you go for your ocean dip.
1. Check the water quality
Consider visiting reliable resources like Beachwatch for pollution reports before swimming at a particular beach.
Rinse off properly afterwards, and if you have sensitive skin consider applying a simple, bland moisturiser afterwards.
3. Don’t forget your SPF
The most important thing in Australia is to be diligent with sun protection – slip, slop, slap. A tan is a skin of skin cells in distress, and while it might seem attractive you are setting yourself up for skin cancer and wrinkles in a few years!
Dr Deshan Sebaratnam is a dermatologist and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Follow him on Instagram here.
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