How to Treat & Prevent Chafing

It’s all about choosing the right running apparel and lubing up before you go.

Blane Bachelor and Hailey Middlebrook |

There’s nothing worse than being stuck out on a long run and feeling that familiar burning sensation of chafing set in. You know the one – maybe it’s your sports bra strap rubbing your shoulder raw, or, for men, the painful friction between your shirt and chest.

“Whether you’re running, walking, or doing cardio, the constant rubbing together of parts of your body causes friction,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman. “That friction can often lead to weakening or wearing away of the skin, which we call chafing.”

Chafing is usually divided into two categories: skin-on-skin rubbing (for example: your thighs or underarms) and fabric-on-skin rubbing (when your shirt, sports bra, or shorts lining aggravate the skin). Excessive moisture on the skin, such as sweat or rain, tend to exacerbate the effects of chafing, Engelman explains, which means long runs in hot, humid, or rainy conditions may be a recipe for disaster.

Luckily, chafing can easily be prevented and treated. Here, Engelman shares tips for prepping skin and choosing the right gear to avoid the dreaded rubbing on your run.

Image by Rob Ward

How to Prevent Chafing

“If you’re doing a long-distance activity like running a marathon, you’ll want to create a layer between your skin and your workout gear,” Engelman says. “Making skin more pliable with moisturisers and lotions will reduce friction.”

While it seems counter-intuitive given that wet conditions increase chafing, dry skin – rather than well-moisturised skin – is more prone to rubbing, she adds.

To avoid that type of rash, she recommends a pre-run slather of Vaseline, talcum powder, or a hypoallergenic balm made specifically to reduce the effects of friction, such as Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream. Make sure to target areas that are especially prone to chafing, such as your thighs, armpits, nipples, and groin. For touching up on the run, stash a travel-size tube of Vaseline in your shorts.

After you’ve prepped your skin, choosing the right apparel is crucial for minimising the rubbing – think: breathable and sweat-wicking materials from top to bottom. “Forego loose, ill-fitting cotton clothing because that just traps in moisture,” Engelman says. Instead, she recommends wearing shirts and shorts made from synthetic materials that cling to your body.

Still, even sweat-wicking clothes can be sneaky chafers. Ladies should avoid sports bras that are too snug, as they can dig into and irritate shoulder blades and rib cages. When possible, wear seamless and tagless gear, as the stitches and tags can rub skin.

Unfortunately for men, even the best synthetic top may not prevent the dreaded runner’s nipple (when the nipples chafe so much they start to bleed). Save yourself the pain – and, let’s face it, embarrassment – by taping or Band-Aid-ing them before you go.

How To Treat Chafing

Sometimes, chafe happens. But don’t worry – if you get back from a run with a raging rash, there are a few ways to stop the problem from getting worse.

First, when you hop in the shower, make sure the water is set to a lukewarm temperature, as scalding water can make the burning sensation worse. Gently lather up with an antibacterial soap to ward off bacteria that can creep into exposed skin and cause problems like folliculitis, a skin condition that dermatologist Tanya Kormeili, M.D., says occurs in athletes.

Once out of the shower, be sure to pat – don’t rub – your skin dry and apply an antibacterial ointment such as nappy creams (the zinc oxide-packed products are great for soothing irritated skin).

After you soothe your rubbed-raw self with ointment, slip on comfy, non-clingy clothes (basically anything but skinny jeans) that will let your skin breathe. Remember that even the worst rashes will heal before you know it.

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