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How to Shop for Workout Clothes That Won't Irritate Your Skin

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There's nothing worse than dropping a ton of money on a trendy new workout outfit only to have it end up shoved to the back of your dresser drawer. Sure, our expectations for aesthetics and performance are higher than ever in 2017. But above all else, your workout clothes still need to be comfortable or really, what's the point? You'll reach for something else every time if those cool new leggings come with a side of irritation.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to shopping for workout clothes—after all, it's primarily driven by the activity you intend to wear them for and your own preferences—there are a few dermatologist guidelines that can help, especially if you suffer from sensitive skin.

Here, derms share their tips for buying workout clothes you won't regret later.

Choose the Right Fabric for You

For the average person, the latest performance textiles with built-in moisture-wicking technology are the way to go, says New York City–based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D.

"They help sweat evaporate off your skin, preventing the clothing from sticking to the skin, trapping dirt, oil, and sweat that may cause breakouts." This, of course, holds especially true if you have acne-prone or oily skin, he says.

These types of breathable fabrics are also important when it comes to preventing folliculitis, the inflammation and infection around the hair follicles that can happen when you wear clothes that aren't breathable (or when you keep your workout clothes on for too long), explains Angela Lamb, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

But on a microscopic level, some of the synthetic fibers can be a bit more irritating, Zeichner cautions. So, if you find that you have super-sensitive skin or suffer from eczema, it may be best to stick to natural fibers, like cotton, that are soft and non-irritating to the skin, he says.

A good compromise for those who don't want to give up the performance element of moisture-wicking synthetics? "Look for synthetic/natural fiber blends, which offer breathability and function at the same time," Lamb says. (Here, 10 fitness fabrics explained.)

Color Matters

While you might think the color of your workout clothes is the last thing that would impact your skin, it turns out that it can be a sneaky factor for some. "Those with very sensitive skin or eczema should beware of darkly colored synthetic fabrics because the dyes used to color them can cause allergic reactions," says Zeichner. If you do suffer from super-sensitive skin, consider sticking to lighter colors, which are less likely to cause a reaction. Or opt for polyester or cotton fabrics, which don't use the same dyes, he says.

Find the Right Fit

While it may not be the philosophy you subscribe to for the rest of your wardrobe, "tight is almost better" for your workout clothes, Zeichner says. That's because looser-fitting clothes actually cause trauma when they rub against the skin as you move, which can lead to an irritation reaction and inflammation. Depending on the activity, you may want to opt for tight spandex, which will cause less friction, rubbing, and chafing than loose shorts, he says.

Be Cautious of Rubber and Latex

If you have really sensitive skin or an existing allergy to rubber/latex, avoid sports bras with elastic bands that can cause irritation along the breast, Zeichner says.

Wash (Correctly) Before You Wear

While you might be tempted to wear your new outfit right out of the store, the most important thing you can do to avoid a rash or irritation is to wash your workout clothes before wearing them for the first time, says Lamb. While you should follow this rule for all your clothes to reduce the chance of a reaction from the chemicals that most fabrics are treated with, it's especially important when it comes to workout clothes since they're worn so close to the skin, she says.

And when you do throw your clothes in the washer, be careful not to overdo it with the detergent (especially if you have a high-efficiency washer, which doesn't require as much), Zeichner warns. "Otherwise, the detergent won't get fully washed out, leaving you with lingering detergent particles between the weave of the fabric, which can cause irritation," he says. (More on that here: The Right Way to Wash Your Workout Clothes)

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