Common Skin Irritations Caused By Contact in BJJ

Arguably the best attribute of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that we roll. It is encouraged and can be done at almost 100% in perpetuity. This allows us to get comfortable with the ins and outs of a physical combative encounter without risking serious injury. The downside is that fungi and viruses enjoy rapid spread through this contact if specific and continuous habits aren't adhered to.

Here is a short list of the MOST COMMON skin irritations that can arise when proper hygiene, and cleanliness is not observed. Do not use this in the place of seeing a doctor or your coach! Get that shit checked out!


ring worm.jpg

Commonly known as "Athlete's Foot" when it's contracted on the foot, or "groin itch" when it's contracted in the holiest of holy.

This is a fungal infection that can appear anywhere on the body, including under your hair on your scalp. Its a misnomer because it's actually not a worm, however, it appears as a raised ring of red or brown spots that are itchy and characterized with dry peeling skin. 

Ringworm thrives in damp, warm environments and can survive on hard surfaces for extended periods of time. It is extremely contagious and can be transmitted through physical contact with people, clothing, unclean surfaces or even animals. It has a dormant period after you catch it which makes the source extremely difficult to identify. When clubs get this, it can last a long time.

How to Treat

First of all, the mats and change rooms should be cleaned regularly. When students leave the mats, they should always wear sandals or shoes. Gis and training gear should be washed EVERY time they are used. Prevention is the best bet, but if you get it, stop training immediately, see a doctor and get yourself some Micatin, or some other anti fungal cream. Bleaching the spot is common but not recommended.


Scabies are little tiny mite/tick like critters that get under your skin and burrow around pooping and laying eggs. It's like straight outta Aliens the movie. The sore starts out as a red itchy bump sometimes with a large red ring around it. The sore may get pussy like a large pimple or ingrown hair and can fool doctors into thinking its folliculitis (a bacteria they'll try to give you the anti biotic cephalexin for), this is because the sore becomes infected. When the white head pops, there is sometimes an enlarged pore that looks like an abscess that will ooze until it scabs. No fun! The tell tale sign that it's scabies is that the sore starts to elongate as the little critter burrows along under your skin. Scabies is contagious because the critters lay eggs which can be transferred to clothing, bed sheets, your gi (gasp!), and pretty much anything else. The eggs hatch in roughly 10 days and then they start hunting new food: you.

How to Treat

The good news about scabies, if there is such a thing, is that it is super easy to treat. Once you've seen your doctor and he agrees that you've got the little critters, get yourself some over-the-counter Nex for Scabies Cream. You cover your body from neck down and it will kill the little critters right away. Time this with a massive laundry clean up being sure to get anything you've touched including bed sheets, sweaters, towels, gis, etc. You'll need to put all of that stuff through two dry cycles because its the dry heat that kills the eggs, not the soapy hot water. You'll need to buy two treatments of Nex because 10 days later you do it all over again. just to be sure that if any eggs hatched, you kill them too. Make sure you clean the dojo out and spot check your friends cause man imagine if you killed all the scabies and then your buddy gives the gift of scabies two weeks later. Bummer.


Impetigo is a bacterial infection caused by one of two bacterium, Streptococcus or Staphylococcus. The bacteria usually enters the body through cuts or open wounds but can be otherwise communicated by contact with infected people (like zombies), or unclean surfaces where the bacteria exists.

The symptoms include clusters of red sores on the face (usually around the mouth and nose), neck and hands. The sores don't cause pain, rather are itchy, but when are popped crust over with honey like color due to the fluid. Impetigo may cause flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, and swollen glands.

How to Treat

Prevention, again is the best bet. Common sense habits such as washing hands regularly, bathing or showering regularly, cleaning and covering any injuries to the skin will go a long way. Sometimes Impetigo will go away on its own within two to three weeks. Don't touch those little sores! If it persists, or is serious, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics (pills) as well as an antibacterial scrub. You need to run the entire course of antibiotics, otherwise those bugs will get tough! Stay clean, yo!

Herpes Gladiatorum

Wrestler's Herpes, or Herpes Simplex is one of the most infectious forms of Herpes-caused diseases. It is caused by the herpes virus HSV-1 which more commonly causes cold sores (different than HSV-2 "genital herpes"). Studies show that most people who come into contact with the virus will contract it, but only about 10% will develop symptoms (outbreaks) which include little white blisters that flatten out into yellowy crusty scabs, sore throat, and flu-like symptoms before or during an outbreak.  The blisters contain infectious virus particles that, when the blister pops, can transmit the virus to other sites on the body or training partners. The virus is transmitted primarilly in this way. It is still not well established that the virus can be transmitted by mats as it does not live long outside of the body. It may be spread in the absence of sores when there are symptoms like itchiness before a break out occurs. There is an incubation period of 3 to 14 days which means you'll experience the virus within 14 days of contraction.


Unfortunately once contracted the virus cannot be eradicated. Antiviral meds can be used to suppress outbreaks. This one is strictly preventative. Always spot check your partners and maintain your hygiene. If you're going into some intense training, like a camp, antiviral medication has been shown to be useful in preventing the virus.


Every time I ask my sister who is a nurse about some blemish she always freaks out about MRSA: "get a swab and tell the doc you want lab work done." That's because this is scary stuff. Already mentioned above is Impetigo which is caused by a type of Staphylococcus.  Staph can cause a host of diseases like Impetigo and is caused by bacterium that enter the body through cuts or hair follicles, but can be transmitted by mats that have been exposed to the bacteria. The fear is that these infections can turn into MRSA or Methacillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. This is a type of Staph that is resistant to antibiotics. It is diagnosed with lab work where they take skin samples or swabs. It can be life threatening. Symptoms can vary, but it is usually characterized by a small boil surrounded by tenderness, swelling or redness around the area. You may experience flu like symptoms and the sores may produce pus.


Antibiotics generally solve bacterial infections. See your doctor and observe common hygiene habits.