How to Prevent Chafing—and How to Treat It When You Can't
It's one of the most common skin problems for runners, so here's what you need to know.
If you've never experienced chafing, consider yourself lucky. If you have, know that we're right there with you. This uncomfortable side effect of working out, running, or even just walking sometimes feels unavoidable–but it's not. No matter if you chafe during every long run or only experience thigh chafing on hot summer days, it's important to understand what causes your skin to become so irritated in order to prevent it.
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 (like with thigh chafing) 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. (Related: This Is the Only Pair of Spanx You Need If You Struggle with Thigh Chafing)
As most long-distance runners know, the issue isn't just limited to thigh chafing—and even your most comfortable, moisture-wicking gear can start scratching after enough miles. Thankfully, Dr. Russak shared some tips to avoiding chafing that will work in even the most dire of circumstances.
1. Keep the Skin Dry
Use a towel to keep your skin dry throughout an intense workout. In addition, 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. (That said, 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 comfortable clothing. Wearing loose-fitting items like a cotton t-shirt or tank top encourages rubbing and chafing to occur. And wearing any type of shorts can lead to inner thigh chafing. 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. You can buy seamless gear if you notice that seams are your source of irritation. Tags are often a nuisance as well, so avoid them when possible or consider removing them.
3. Apply Products to Prevent
To protect against thigh chafing when you're wearing a skirt or dress, consider layering biker shorts or anti-chafing bands like Bandelettes underneath. A swipe of basic deodorant can prevent inner thigh chafing on stuffy summer days. If you're looking for more serious protection, try an anti-chafing balm like Megababe Thigh Rescue Anti-Chafe Stick, or runner-favorite Bodyglide, or apply petroleum jelly to keep 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 sweatier-than-average, you're probably already aware you're more susceptible. Dr. 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.
And 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.)