Chafing Prevention

Chafing on Back from Backpack
Chafing on Back from Backpack. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

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 other exercise. 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. You are likely to experience chafing where backpack straps cross your shoulders or back or rub against your upper arms. Heart rate monitor straps are also an area where you may experience chafing.

While some of us wonder if chafing is a signal that it is time to lose weight, 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

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

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

Staying dry: Go light on the deodorant stick as that can make you stickier. 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.

Lubrication: Walkers, runners and cyclists use all kinds of lubricants to keep the skin areas sliding past each other instead of rubbing raw. Good old petroleum jelly is the standby. Apply it liberally before your walk. Many walkers also mention Bag Balm and Udder Cream, available at the local feed shop or pet store. Sports stores have newfangled gels that also purport to help prevent chafing. I've used BodyGlide, which goes on like a deodorant stick. It is petroleum-free and non-staining. I also like SportShield roll-on silicone lubricant. Both are better than petroleum jelly because they don't leave residue in your clothing. In my research I found 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.

    Clothing: Loose clothes may feel good on the trail, but to prevent chafing you need a snug fit. Bike shorts are designed to give a skin tight fit that will prevent chafing and are excellent if your trouble is in 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: Once you are chafed, treat the area like an open wound. Wash and clean with antiseptic (OUCH!) to prevent infection and cover with a sterile gauze pad that allows the area to breathe until it is healed.

    Here's wishing that at your next walk you are chafing at the bit (to get on the trail) - not chafing in the 'pits.

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