In this article I will tell you about the most common BJJ skin infections, how to recognize a BJJ skin infection, how to avoid skin infections from BJJ and what to do when you get a skin disease from BJJ.
The Most Common BJJ Skin Infections
The most common skin diseases in BJJ are infections with staph, ringworm and impetigo.
Staph infection is probably the most common skin disease caused by a bacterial infection you’ll get in BJJ. The bacterium that causes staph is called Staphylococcus aureus. It lives on your skin and in your nose.
If you get a staph infection, it will appear as clusters of pus-filled boils. Staph in BJJ is common because you’re always touching your partner, your skin often breaks and you’re sweaty.
Staph infections are best treated with antibiotics. For prevention, it’s good to use an antibacterial soap such as Defense soap, or another soap that uses essential oils (such as tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil).
Ringworm (tinea corporis) is a fungal infection that causes raised red patches on your skin. The patches can be round or oval, and usually have a scaly edge. Ringworm is most common in warm, moist areas of your body, like your groin, armpits, and scalp.
Ringworm is contagious, so you should avoid skin-to-skin contact with other people while you have it. Wear shower shoes in the shower, and don’t share towels with anyone. Ringworm and BJJ don’t go together.
You can treat ringworm with antifungal creams and oral medications. You can also use an antifungal soap such as the Defense soap bar to help prevent getting ringworm.
Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection caused by either Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus. It’s most common in children, but it can also occur in adults.
Impetigo can appear anywhere on your skin, and often causes clusters of boils and blisters that ooze and form scabs. You’ll know that you have impetigo if you see yellow pus-filled blisters and sores in clusters.
If you have impetigo, you should see a doctor to get treatment. You may need an antibiotic or steroid cream to treat it.
Less Common BJJ Skin Infections
Staph, ringworm and impetigo are not the only skin infections that you can get from jiu jitsu. If you have a skin infection and it’s not staph, ringworm or impetigo, you might have one of the following less common skin conditions.
MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. So it’s a staph infection with a strain of staph that is resistant to antibiotic treatment. MRSA is very serious and can even be fatal if it is not treated with the right antibiotics.
If you have a skin infection that does not go away with normal treatment, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. At a hospital they can try out various different antibiotics to see if there’s one that works.
There have been some high profile MMA fighters that had MRSA in the past. But fortunately, MRSA is much rarer than normal staph.
Cold Sore (Herpes)
A cold sore is a skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It usually appears as a small red blister or cluster of blisters on or around your mouth or nose. The blisters may break open and become painful ulcers.
If you suffer from cold sores, it’s important to avoid training with an active cold sore because you can transmit the herpes simplex virus to your training partners.
A cold sore takes about a week to heal.
Scabies is a skin condition caused by a tiny insect called the human itch mite. The itch mites are tiny and hardly visible to the naked eye. They are usually spread by skin to skin contact.
If you have scabies the first thing you’ll notice is the intense itchiness of your skin. You can’t train jiu jitsu when you have scabies because it’s contagious.
Scabies is treatable with a cream that you can get from a doctor, and you also need to wash all your clothes at a high temperature to kill the scabies in them.
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles, which are the tiny openings from which hair grows. When folliculitis occurs, the hair follicles get inflamed. The result is a pimple or bump that looks like a whitehead or a blackhead. It can be painful, and it can become infected.
Folliculitis is caused by various bacteria and fungi. Depending on which bacteria or fungus is causing the infection, folliculitis may or may not be contagious.
Jock itch is a ringworm infection that occurs between the thighs and in the groin. If you have jock itch, you know you have it because you will have some itchy, red, flaky skin in your groin. It’s often caused by touching your heel to your underwear while you put it on, and transmitting the fungus from your foot to your underwear in that moment. Jock itch can be treated with some anti-fungal cream, but it is very contagious so you should avoid the mat until you are better.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection under the skin. It can be caused by staph or strep, but also by other bacteria. The symptoms of cellulitis include redness, swelling, warmth, pain and possibly drainage. The symptoms can worsen quickly and if you notice them, seek medical attention.
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a fungus infection that commonly affects the foot, but can also affect the toenails. It can be caused by walking around barefoot in gyms, showers, locker rooms and other public places, which is why athletes get it quite often.
This infection can be treated with antifungal creams and powders.
Common Jiu Jitsu Skin Conditions that aren’t contagious
There’s also common BJJ skin conditions and diseases that are not necessarily caused by a skin infection. These skin diseases are not contagious, if they’re not caused by a bacterium, fungus or virus that can be transmitted to someone else. But, they can still cause skin irritation.
I’ll mention some of the most common BJJ skin issues that aren’t contagious.
Eczema is a skin condition that causes the skin to dry out and become itchy, sore and cracked. If you have eczema you will find that it is triggered by stress, heat, sweating, tight clothing, or anything else that causes irritation to your skin.
Eczema tends to be common in areas where the skin is exposed to constant rubbing or friction, such as the neck, arms, hands, back, fingers, elbows, feet, ankles, the soles of the feet, or the knees.
Eczema is not caused by transmittable microbes, but rather by stress and sweating etc., and therefore it isn’t contagious.
If you have itchy skin after BJJ, it may be a sign that you have eczema, but there could also be other causes.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that occurs when it comes into contact with something it is allergic to or that irritates it. In BJJ, contact dermatitis may occur when you wear a new rashguard or gi.
The rash caused by contact dermatitis looks like an eczema rash and can be red, swollen, and itchy.
The rash usually appears on the area of skin that comes into contact with the cause, and usually disappears within a few days when the irritant is removed.
Hives are red, itchy spots that can appear anywhere on your body. Hives can be very itchy, and they can be a symptom of a skin infection or an allergy, but they can also be harmless.
If the hives last for more than a few days, or if they start to spread, you should go to a doctor right away.
Skin rashes are common in Brazilian jiu jitsu. They’re often harmless, but they can get infected, so you always need to pay close attention to them. I’ll briefly mention common skin rashes in BJJ and whether they are likely infected or not.
Face rashes you need to pay careful attention to. You’re actually not likely to get a face rash from friction in BJJ, so if you have a face rash, it’s quite likely it’s because of a skin infection. When I got a staph infection recently, I initially thought it was a harmless face rash from shaving, but I was wrong! So if you have a face rash, monitor it very carefully!
A neck rash is super common in jiu jitsu. You probably got caught with a gi choke, or you did judo with someone who kept pulling on your collar. Neck rashes can be very painful. Someone should invent a turtleneck rash guard so that we can all avoid neck rashes.
Armpit rashes are quite common if you train Brazilian jiu jitsu in the gi. What can happen is that someone is behind you and pulls on your lapel to control you, which can cause the gi to rub over your skin and cause a rash in your armpit. To prevent this, you can wear a rash guard under your gi.
Knee rashes are very common if you train no gi grappling. They occur when you slide your knee over the mat, causing mat burn. This is usually harmless.
Skin burn or mat burn is very common in BJJ, especially if you train no gi without a long sleeve rashguard and spats. The most common places to get it are the elbows, knees and the top of your feet. Mat burn is usually harmless.
Peeling skin in BJJ is usually caused by dry skin, and therefore irritating but harmless. You can prevent peeling skin by using a less aggressive soap, showering colder and less, and wearing a rash guard under your gi.
Skin irritation is an umbrella term for any condition that irritates the skin that I didn’t mention yet. Keep in mind that jiu jitsu is very hard on the skin – it’s hot and moist, there’s constant rubbing of your skin on the mat, your opponent, and so forth. So it’s normal that your skin gets irritated, especially if you’re a beginner.
How to avoid BJJ skin infections?
To avoid skin infections in BJJ you need your skin care and basic good hygiene measures in order. The basic steps of every BJJ skin care and hygiene routine include the following.
Shower directly after training
The basic rule is to shower directly after training. If you do not shower directly after training you give bacteria a chance to multiply on your skin.
If you can’t shower at your gym, then at least wash your face, hands and wrists after training, because these are the areas where you’re most likely to develop a skin infection. You can wash your skin either with water, or with some kind of antibacterial ‘dry’ soap.
Tip: Use Defense Soap to kill bacteria with natural oils
Wash your BJJ gi, belt and other equipment after every training
This should be a no-brainer, but you should wash all your equipment after every training session. This includes your belt, and any protective gear that you might be wearing, such as your elbow and knee pads, headgear, ankle brace, etc. – everything.
Anything that touches you, the mat, or your opponent, will have bacteria on it after training, so you should wash it.
Wear long sleeve rash guard and spats
If you roll no gi, you should wear a long sleeve rash guard and spats (the spats you can wear under your grappling shorts). This is a huge factor in fending off skin infections from BJJ.
In my experience, skin infections are much less common in gyms where they only train gi – and when they do get skin infections there it’s usually on the face, hands and wrists, because that’s the only part of their skin they have exposed.
It’s really direct skin to skin and skin to mat contact that’s most dangerous in terms of infections, so you need to protect yourself from that with long sleeve rash guards and spats.
What to do if you have a skin infection in BJJ?
What should you do if you have a skin infection and you train jiu jitsu? Sadly this part is pretty simple: you consult with a medical professional and you stop training BJJ until your infection is fully healed.
Get diagnosed by a medical professional
You need to see a medical professional because it’s hard to distinguish the different types of skin infections yourself. For example, infections with staph, ringworm and herpes all look fairly similar in the beginning, but they’re caused by a bacterium, fungus and virus respectively, so they require completely different treatments (namely antibiotics, anti-fungal cream and antiviral cream respectively).
Don’t train BJJ with a skin infection
You absolutely can’t train BJJ when you have a skin infection because skin infections are very contagious. You don’t want to infect everybody in your gym, so you need to wait until your infection is fully healed up. This can take up to 2 weeks if you get the proper treatment, which is frustrating but there’s nothing you can do about it.
Don’t let skin infections get in between you and BJJ
Skin infections are so frustrating because unlike with a real injury, you feel perfectly fine to train, but they still prevent you from training and they last way too long.
So if you don’t have them yet, you should get a long sleeve rash guard and spats, as well as antibacterial Defense soap to minimize the chances that you get a skin infection.
If you want to know more about skin and BJJ, read my BJJ skin care routine!