Trying on a new swimsuit is enough to cause nightmares, but not for the reason you think. It turns out the scary part of sampling a new suit goes far beyond the horrors of the changing room's florescent lighting and has to do instead with a thin strip of paper attached to the swimsuit's bottom. Or, more accurately, the paper's potential contamination with things like fecal matter and an assortment of potentially illness-inducing bacteria.
Most women's swimwear comes with a removable sanitary liner meant to protect against fluids and other germs. Some companies even anchor return policies to the intact placement of the strips in an effort to provide cleaner clothing for customers. But according to experts, they don't need to bother: Those hygienic strips in the crotch of new suits aren't exactly a safeguard against contact with bacteria or viruses.
Dr Philip Tierno, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University's School of Medicine, has conducted research on the microflora and human secretions found on a variety of clothing items bought in stores, from underwear to dresses. Predictably, he found a slew of filth, including skin, fecal and respiratory tract bacteria, along with vaginal organisms like yeast. The articles of clothing that carried the most flora were swimsuits, underwear and other intimate items.
In the course of his research, the quality of the store didn't matter when it came to how dirty the swimsuits were, Tierno told The Huffington Post. Whether the shop is high- or low-end, as long as people are trying on clothes, there will always be tell-tale signs of bacteria.
What did seem to matter, according to Tierno, was the skimpiness of the swimsuit. Though women are often advised to leave on underwear for added protection, many removed it so they could see how their new suit would actually fit. And the more revealing the swimwear, the more likely a woman is to remove her underwear before slipping it on. Some of the women in Tierno's research, perhaps bolstered by a false confidence in the liner's ability, even removed it. "Not everyone does that, but some women may not be aware that the strip is not as protective as they think," he said. "Sometimes they put them on backward, with the sticky side down. Other people may just take it off altogether, and [then] the garment is riddled with organisms."
But just because the average swimsuit hanging on a store rack is a veritable petri dish, is it an actual health threat? In other words, what are you really risking when you try on a suit in the dressing room?
"The good thing is that most people have a very robust immune system, so they can usually fight off the small number of organisms they may get on their body," said Tierno. "The fact that you come into contact with one doesn't mean you're going to get sick."
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