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How to Prevent Chafing—And How to Treat It When You Can't

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If you've never experienced chafing, consider yourself lucky. If you have, know we're right there with you. This uncomfortable side effect of working out, running, or even walking sometimes feels unavoidable—but it's not. And no matter if you chafe when you run long (or short!) distances or simply on dreaded hot summer days, it's important to understand what causes your skin to become so irritatated. Hint: It's not necessarily a lack of thigh gap.

Chafing occurs when there's friction, or rubbing, of the skin, according to Julie Russak, M.D., of New York-based Russak Dermatology Clinic. This can be skin to skin contact or skin to clothing irritation; either way, the friction causes the top layer of your skin to rub off (!!!), leaving raw and irritated skin behind—which explains the burning sensation and why your red, inflamed skin is so sensitive to the touch.

And, as most long distance runners know, chafing isn't just limited to your thighs—and even your most comfortable, moisture-wicking gear can start scratching after enough miles. Thankfully, Russak shared some tips to avoiding chafing that work in even the most dire circumstances. (It's not just chafing; be wary of these 8 exercise-induced skin afflictions.)

1. Keep the Skin Dry

If you're at the gym, patting dry with a towel will do the trick. Otherwise, be sure to check the labels of your workout clothing. When you're buying new gear, look for clothing labeled "moisture-wicking," which will keep your skin dry. Also know that when cotton gets wet, it stays wet. (But FYI: cotton is one of the best fabrics for managing body odor.)

2. Fit Is Everything

If you're embarking on a long run, wear tight (but still comfortable!) clothing only. Wearing loose-fitting items like a cotton t-shirt, tank top, or any type of shorts encourages rubbing and chafing to occur. More to consider: The seams of your clothing, especially when it comes to the sleeves of your shirts and the outer edge of your shorts. It is possible to buy seamless gear if you notice this is your source of irritation. Tags are often a nuisance as well, so shop smart.

3. Apply Products to Prevent

A swipe of basic deodorant on each inner thigh does wonders for stuffy summer days (or even when you rock your ultra-flattering pencil skirt sans tights, practically guaranteeing inner thigh friction). If you're looking for more serious protection, Bodyglide ($7.99; drugstore.com) is a go-to for runners, and petroleum jelly keeps skin slick and friction-free.

4. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Having sensitive skin doesn't make you prone to chafing, but if you identify as a sweatier-than-average girl, you're probably already aware you're more susceptible. Russak says sweating more allows for the skin to be compromised at a faster rate, which explains why summer is prime chafing season.

If you do find yourself with a bad case of chafing, wash with a mild antibacterial soap and rinse immediately to prevent infection. For lighter irritation, apply a healing ointment (like Neosporin, a calming lotion, or even a diaper rash cream) and keep it covered until your skin loses the burning, blotchy redness. For those times when your skin feels seriously raw, contact your dermatologist. They'll most likely prescribe you a stronger cream like Silvadene 1% and an antimicrobial to stave off infection and promote healing. (Dealing with something else? Blisters, Sore Nipples, and Other Runner's Skin Problems: Solved.)

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