Chafing is a common issue among runners. It can quickly ruin a run and mean you need to take a break for your skin to heal. While chafing can occur anywhere, like on your thighs, nipples, buttocks, or underarms, it’s most common in two areas: around your thighs and under your breasts.
Chafing is annoying and painful, so we’ve put together some tips to help you prevent chafing on hot runs. Follow this guidance and there’s a good chance you will be able to reduce or even prevent chafing.
What Exactly Is Chafing?
Chafing, also known as "friction burn", occurs when skin rubs against itself or against another surface. Constant friction can cause the epidermis (outer layer of skin) to be worn away and expose the dermis (inner layer of skin).
Chafed skin has a red, irritated appearance, similar to a sunburn or heat rash. It can occur anywhere on your body but is most often associated with the groin, inner thighs, underarms, under breasts, crotch, and nipples. If you have chafing and it becomes infected, the skin may swell up, become warm, and be tender to the touch.
Why Are Some Runners Prone to Chafing?
Chafing is common and can affect any athlete. But why do some runners experience this condition more than others?
Anyone can experience chafing. Even Beyonce has been pictured wearing anti-chafing shorts. But there are some things that can make chafing more likely, or more severe.
- Carrying excess weight
- Wearing badly fitted clothes
- Being sweaty
How to Prevent Chafing
How can you stop chafing from ruining your run? Here are some simple steps to take.
1. Wear Close-Fitting Clothes
You may have noticed that pro athletes wear form-fitting uniforms, and there's a good reason for their choice. They don't tend to cause chafing.
Tight-fitting bike shorts or compression shorts can help minimize chafing around the thigh and groin areas. Similarly, compression sports bras can provide additional support and a closer fit to help prevent chafing.
If you are prone to chafing in your upper body area and nipples, then body-hugging running tops will help.
2. Avoid Cotton
Cotton is a natural fiber, but it absorbs sweat and retains moisture. Good synthetic fabrics allow your skin to "breathe" and stay dry. Synthetics also wick away moisture from the body, which helps keep skin dry and reduce friction levels.
3. Wear Clothes That Are Seamless and Tagless
Seams and tags on your shirts or undergarments can cause irritation and are particularly problematic for people with sensitive skin. Choose seamless clothing designs. If you remove tags from your clothes yourself, then make sure you don’t leave any fabric that can rub and irritate.
4. Make Sure Your Legs Are Protected
Compression shorts do a good job of preventing chafing. They act as a buffer between your skin and clothes, keeping your skin dry and protecting it from rubbing against loose skin.
Protect your nipples. Nipple chafing will occur without fail if you don't take precautions. You’ll end up in a world of pain. Some runners rely on tape, bandages, or nipple shields to prevent chafing. Your upper body clothing choices are also important.
6. Use Lubricants and Antiperspirants on Problem Areas
You can use petroleum jelly or a lube with aloe vera and vitamin E on areas that you know get irritated when you run. There are anti-chafing products that are specifically designed to reduce chafing for runners and everyone else.
The salt content in sweat is a menace. The salt crystals act like sandpaper on skin. Antiperspirants help control sweating, which can help reduce friction and irritation of the skin.
If you are planning to wear wet swimwear during a triathlon, do not use petroleum jelly because it does not come out very easily from neoprene material. Consider another lubricant.
7. Drink Lots of Water
Your body is less able to flush these salts from your skin if you're dehydrated. When this happens, the salts can accumulate on your skin. This will create a hotbed for chafing.
An important tip to prevent chafing is to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Staying hydrated allows your body to flush salts away from your skin so they don't dry into salt crystals. Hydration is important in many ways. This is just another good reason to drink plenty of water.
Moisturize your skin before going for a run, and have a moisturizing regime. Moisturizing the areas most susceptible to chafing can help prevent irritation, keeping skin supple and hydrated.
Moisturizers also form a protective layer on your skin.
9. Shave Chafing-Prone Areas Properly
Shaving properly can keep your body free of bumps and rashes that could make your skin prone to chafing. Make sure you use shaving foam or gel, and wait for the hairs to soften rather than just lathering up and getting the blade out. If you are prone to skin sensitivity after shaving, then make sure you leave enough time for your skin to recover before you run. Shaving properly and at the right time can make a difference.
Tips for Treating and Soothing Chafed Skin
To treat and soothe chafed skin, follow these tips.
- Treat chafed skin by cleaning the area thoroughly with soap and water. Pat it dry. Don’t rub.
- Apply a thin layer of an anti-chafing product to prevent further irritation.
- Once you have cleaned and treated the area, you can use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve pain. Speak to a pharmacist if you would like to try other creams. Avoid using anti-itch creams until after you have cleansed the affected area thoroughly. Otherwise, you may risk adding more bacteria or infection to your skin.
- Stay dry! When possible, avoid getting wet. Use waterproof tape on your feet, or special socks that reduce moisture absorption; apply baby powder between your toes prior to activity to reduce blisters; don’t pour water over your head when running.
Follow These Tips and Stay Ahead of Chafing
With a little TLC, you can prevent chafing during your next hot run and avoid the painful consequences. Follow these simple tips to make the difference between a pleasant post-run shower and an excruciating week of skin irritation.