Rigoberto Urán bathes in vinegar, dermatologists are flummoxed

Is their any proven benefit to the Colombian's post-ride ritual?

Clock09:29, Friday 9th February 2024

© RCN / Buen Día Colombia

Rigoberto Urán revealed his habit on Colombian TV, appearing in a fake bath

Last week, Colombian media was awash with some rather bizarre news: Rigoberto Urán bathes in vinegar. Appearing on a TV show sat, equally bizarrely, in a bathtub full of plastic balls, the EF Education-EasyPost rider revealed his habit of adding vinegar to his bathwater during races.

Sufficiently surprised, we sent some emails out to a few qualified dermatologists.

“Sorry I can’t help you, I haven’t a clue why he’s doing this,” came the reply from the first, a university professor in the UK.

Over in the USA, Chris Adigun MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, was kind enough to pick up the phone but was equally bemused.

“I don’t know why you’d be bathing your whole body in vinegar,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m trying to think of possible reasons… no, we just don’t really use vinegar in a bathtub.”

An approach to the EF team and their doctor yielded no further information, which would suggest this is either a top-secret marginal gain, or they were simply not aware this was even happening.

Read more: Beer, milk, and pickles – the method to Lachlan Morton’s nutritional madness

Urán didn’t go into much detail on the show but did note that in the course of his profession, he sweats a lot and comes into contact with a lot of people. Presumably, then, this is about scrubbing himself clean.

“Vinegar doesn’t have that effect,” countered Adigun, who practises in an area of North Carolina where she sees many cyclists as patients.
“Maybe people think it will disinfect saddle sores, or tinea cruris (jock itch) if they think it’s going to help with the fungal load. I’m not entirely sure, but it’s not something we as dermatologists would recommend routinely.

“When it comes to routine antimicrobial bathing, what has been more heavily studied is what’s called a bleach bath, which is almost a cousin to what you’re talking about. For people with atopic dermatitis, or chronic staph infections, we’ll have them do a bath with a quarter cup of bleach. Believe it or not that’s not irritating to the skin when it’s that dilute, it doesn’t leave an odour, and it has anti-inflammatory properties for the skin.”

That said, the idea of vinegar is not completely and utterly beyond the realms of plausibility.

“We do use white vinegar soaks post-laser resurfacing, so when you have a broad, very superficial wound,” said Adigun.

This would appear to be relevant for a pro cyclist, for whom crashes are an everyday part of the job, and road rash – where layers of skin are scraped off as they slide along the road – is a common outcome.

“White vinegar has microbial properties and a soothing effect in dealing with broad wounds on the skin, so it’s not like we don’t use vinegar. I have instructions on how to do vinegar soaks in my office,” Adigun added.

What she cannot fathom, however, is why anyone would expose their whole body – and not just the wound – to vinegar. It would also make sense that if Urán was doing it to heal wounds, the team doctor would very much be in the loop and it would be part of an established practice.

Read more: Rigoberto Urán will go out with a bang and not a whimper, says Jonathan Vaughters

It’s worth adding that there’s an even weirder aspect to this story, which comes when doing something you should never do: Googling health advice. Type vinegar bath into your search engine and you’re going to see a lot of references to the purported benefits of adding apple cider vinegar, commonly used in cookery, to bath water.

Could this be Urán’s secret weapon?

“I see so many problems with people putting apple cider vinegar on their skin,” said Adigun, quickly shooting that idea down.

“It’s odorous and has other components in it compared to pure white vinegar, so you’re exposing your wounds to potential problems. I don’t know why but people seem to love it. They even want to drink it, which is fine, go ahead and drink it, just don’t put it on your skin - you’re killing me!”

So, there we have it. There’s no real expert explanation for Rigoberto Urán’s vinegar baths, and no suggestion that this is an area of professional cycling performance that you should look to emulate. A splash on your post-ride fish and chips is the best possible use for the stuff.

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