Chafing Prevention

How to Prevent Painful Skin Chafing from Your Workouts

Chafing on Back
Chafing on Back After Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Chafing is damage to the skin caused by repetitive rubbing, and it often looks like scratch marks. It is painful and can bleed. A chafed area is basically a scratch mark where your sweaty, salty skin has rubbed against your clothing or even against itself. When you sweat, the moist skin is more prone to damage, and then the salt crystals formed when sweat evaporates adds grit that can cause more friction and more chafing.

Where Does Chafing Occur?

If you know where chafing might happen, you can take measures to lubricate those areas before walking, running, cycling or doing other exercises. Chafing is most often seen in the crevices of the body, with the crotch, armpits, under-breast area and inner thighs being prime chafing areas. It's also common to see chafed nipples, especially for runners.

Straps are another source of pressure that can lead to chafing. You are likely to experience chafing where backpack straps cross your shoulders or back or rub against your upper arms. Heart rate monitor straps can lead to chafing across your chest and back as well.

You might wonder if chafing is a signal that it is time to lose weight, but in fact even the skinniest walkers, runners,, and cyclists experience the same problem. You can be toned and trim and still need to take measures to prevent chafing.

How to Prevent Chafing - 4 Tactics

Prevention of chafing falls into four categories: staying hydrated, staying dry, using a lubricant, and wearing appropriate clothing.

1., Hydration: Drink lots of water before, during, and after your walk, run, ride, or other workouts. This will allow you to perspire freely so the perspiration doesn't dry into salt crystals that can enhance the chafing.

2. Staying dry: Try using less deodorant stick as that can make your skin tackier and rub together.

Use talcum powder, cornstarch, or potato starch to stay dry. One product that uses this tactic is Squeaky Cheeks Hi-Performance Powder. If this method doesn't work, it is time to progress to using a lubricant.

3. Lubrication: Walkers, runners, and cyclists use all kinds of lubricants to keep the skin areas sliding past each other instead of rubbing each other raw. Plain old petroleum jelly is the standby choice. You can apply it liberally before your workout. Other traditional ointments include Bag Balm and Udder Cream, developed for dairy cows, which are available at the local feed shop or pet store.

Sports stores have new types of lubricants that are formulated to help prevent chafing. For example, BodyGlide which goes on like a deodorant stick but improves on petroleum jelly in that it is petroleum-free and non-staining. SportShield roll-on silicone lubricant likewise has no odor, no petroleum ingredients, and doesn't leave a residue in clothing. There are also many hand creams that advertise their usefulness in chafing prevention. Open up your medicine cabinet and search for something that will keep the area lubricated. See these and more  top picks for anti-chafing lubricants

4. Clothing: Loose clothes may feel good on the trail, but to prevent chafing you need a snug fit.

Bike shorts or compression shorts are designed to give a skin-tight fit that will prevent chafing for the lower body or thigh area. For the upper body, polypropylene or lycra/spandex tops that fit skin tight will do the trick. Nipples are especially prone to chafing, for men and bra-less women. NipGuards or adhesive bandages can provide even more protection than lubrication.

Treatment for Chafing

You may feel the pain from chafed areas during your workout or you may only experience it once you hit the showers. Once you are chafed, you should treat the area like an open wound. Wash and clean the area with antiseptic to prevent infection.

This is likely to sting. Cover the chafed patches with a sterile gauze pad that allows the area to breathe until it is healed.

Sources:

Helm MF, N. Helm T, F. Bergfeld W. Skin problems in the long-distance runner 2500 years after the battle of marathon. International Journal of Dermatology. 2012;51(3):263–270. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05183.x.

Mailler-Savage EA, Adams BB. Skin manifestations of running. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2006;55(2):290–301. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2006.02.011.

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