Chafing And Running: How To Prevent Chafing While Running

Don't let chafing ruin your runs

Chafing is most common in long-distance runners, cyclists, triathletes, or other endurance athletes because it takes time and repetitive friction for skin abrasion to develop.

The good news is that there are effective steps you can take to help prevent chafing while running.

In this guide to chafing and running, we will do a head-to-toe discussion of chafing, covering why it happens, how to prevent it, what helps with chafing, and what to do to heal chafing.

A person scratching their under arm from chafing and running.

What Is Chafing?

Chafing refers to abrasion of the skin caused by friction or rubbing. 

The friction can occur in areas with skin-to-skin contact, such as between the inner thighs, as they rub against one another as you run.

Chafing can also be caused by your running clothes, running gear, or cycling gear.

For example, if you wear a baggy cotton t-shirt, you might get underarm chafing, and many cyclists get saddle sores—a type of chafing—where the butt, groin, or perineum skin rubs against the bike seat.

Chafing is particularly common during exercise because sweat increases friction. Sweating also will make any patches of chafing much more painful, as the acids and salt in sweat can cause burning in any open areas of chafed skin.

Symptoms of chafing include a bumpy, hot, painful, or even blistered rash.

Sometimes, the skin is also worn away, exposing delicate layers of deeper skin, leading to bleeding and the chance of infection.

The good news is that most chafing while running progresses from mild skin irritation to more severe chafing symptoms, so if you are mindful of the signs and symptoms as they occur, you can put a stop to further skin abrasion.

A person with a chafed thigh.

Where Can Chafing Occur?

Chafing occurs anywhere with skin-on-skin contact or when your skin rubs against your clothing. 

Blisters and hotspots on the feet and toes can occur if your socks are bunched up or they get wet while you run.

One of the most common problem areas for cyclists to experience skin abrasions, hotspots, or saddle sores, is where the skin on the butt, groin area, or inner thighs rubs against the bike seat

The most common areas of the body where chafed skin is likely to occur from running include the following:

  • Inner thighs or groin area
  • Armpit or underarm area, especially alongside a sports bra
  • “Under boob chafing” or the area just below the sports bra strap or under the breast tissue
  • Gluteal fold chafing
  • Nipple chafing
  • Feet and toes, which may experience blisters, which is essentially another form of chafed skin
A blister on a toe.

In my work as a running coach, one of the most common misconceptions that many new runners or runners who carry excess body weight harbor is the idea that chafing only happens to runners who are “overweight.”

Time and time again, I hear runners blaming their body weight or feeling self-conscious about their body size as a runner for experiencing inner thigh chafing, chafing under the sports bra area, and chafing in the armpits or underarm area either alongside the sports bra or just with skin to skin contact for men.

After all, one of the unfortunate nicknames that runners and cyclists sometimes ascribe to inner thigh chafing from running or cycling is “chub rub,“ which conjures up the idea that you have to have fatty thighs to experience chafing in the groin or inner thigh area.

While it is true that chafing can occur when there is repetitive skin-to-skin contact, chafing while running can also occur when the fabric is rubbing against your skin.

This cause of chafing has nothing to do with body folds or body size but rather to do with your choice in materials or the fit of your sports bra, running shorts, T-shirt, etc.

Moreover, even in instances where there is inner thigh chafing from skin-on-skin rubbing, skin rubs together for more reasons than just having a high body fat percentage.

For example, many cyclists, triathletes, and even long-distance runners who have large quads may have a low body fat percentage but the large muscle mass will still cause skin-on-skin rubbing as the inner thighs move back and forth past one another.

Similarly, you could still have inner thigh chafing without carrying excess body weight if you have narrow hips. 

All of this is to say that chafing while running can happen to any runner, regardless of body weight or body composition.

You should not feel bad about your body shape or body size if you are experiencing chafing while running; it is a rather universal problem with long-distance running.

A runner in a baggy tee shirt.

How To Prevent Chafing And Running: What Are The Best Anti-Chafing Products For Runners?

Chafing prevention centers around eliminating the friction that is causing the chafing. Let’s take a look at our best tips for chafing and running.

#1: Choose The Right Clothing

Running clothes that shift and rub against your skin can cause chafing, especially if you wear cotton or other fabrics that don’t breathe.

Choose moisture-wicking running clothes that permit airflow to keep your skin dry.

For compression shorts, tops, sports bras, and tights, make sure that the compression gear is indeed tight enough so that the fabric isn’t moving and rubbing your skin with every stride.

The best women’s running underwear I have found is the Paradis Sport underwear because it is sweat-wicking and form-fitting.

The best running underwear for men, according to athletes I work with as a running coach, is Manmade’s Boxer Brief.

Ointment.

#2: Use Anti-Chafing Products For Runners

You should apply an anti-chafing balm before running on any areas with skin-to-skin contact where chafing occurs and areas of the skin rubbed by your running clothes. 

You can use a product specifically designed for chafing for runners or cyclists, such as Body Glide or Chamois Butt’r Coconut Anti-Chafe Cream or coconut oil, shea butter, or even Aloe Vera gel.

These products lubricate the skin to allow a gliding against your skin rather than a shearing friction that causes the skin to be worn away.

Many people suggest using Vaseline, but using petroleum-based products on your skin can be harmful, so I recommend one of the other anti-chafing products.1Concin, N., Hofstetter, G., Plattner, B., Tomovski, C., Fiselier, K., Gerritzen, K., Semsroth, S., Zeimet, A. G., Marth, C., Siegl, H., Rieger, K., Ulmer, H., Concin, H., & Grob, K. (2011). Evidence for cosmetics as a source of mineral oil contamination in women. Journal of Women’s Health (2002)20(11), 1713–1719. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2011.2829

‌Baby powder, cornstarch, or powders like Anti Monkey Butt can also be helpful, particularly on your feet and in the groin area, because these powders absorb excess moisture and reduce friction.

Note that regular talcum powder can also help prevent chafing, but may be associated with adverse health effects.2Berge, W., Mundt, K., Luu, H., & Boffetta, P. (2017). Genital use of talc and risk of ovarian cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 1. https://doi.org/10.1097/cej.0000000000000340

‌Finally, using nip guards or a Band-Aid on your nipples can be an effective way to prevent nipple chafing in runners or other athletes who do not wear sports bras.

A person washing their hands.

How Do You Treat Chafing From Running?

The good news is that if you end up dealing with chafed skin, there are a few effective chafing treatment options that can help heal chafing.

Step 1

First, thoroughly clean the area with warm water and mild soap, especially if the skin is open, and then gently pat it dry. 

Step 2

Apply an antiseptic cream, such as Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment, to the irritated skin.

You can also use zinc oxide on top of the antibiotic ointment to help heal chafing faster. For example, diaper rash cream can also help soothe and heal chafing; a good one to try is Boudreaux’s Butt Paste Maximum Strength Diaper Rash Ointment.

Some doctors also recommend using a steroid cream like hydrocortisone or a lubricant like petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to help soothe irritated, swollen, or cracked and dry skin.

However, steroid creams can thin the skin, so you should not apply hydrocortisone ointment or cream for more than a couple of weeks and limit applications.

Petroleum jelly or Vaseline can be hard to remove from the skin, so while this type of thicker lubricant creates a great skin barrier when you are trying to prevent chafing while running, trying to wash off Vaseline when you already have severely chapped or bleeding areas of chafing can be very painful.

Therefore, I generally recommend using Vaseline or petroleum jelly prophylactically to help prevent chafing while running or only in a pinch when you already have bad post-run chafing.

For example, a nice lubricating coat of petroleum jelly on the areas of skin abrasions can be super helpful if you have a race to run.

A variety of bandaids.

Step 3

Do your best to cover the affected area with Band-Aids. 

You can also use adhesive tape (medical tape or KT Tape Pro) and sterile gauze if the chafed area is larger than the gauze part of the Band-Aids.

Step 4

Some runners find that cool compresses can help alleviate some of the burning sensation, and warm, salty compresses can reduce the risk of infection if you have blistered or bloody patches of chafed skin.

Use a barrier between your skin and the heat or cold compress.

Re-wash the area with mild soap, re-apply the Neosporin, and put on fresh Band-Aids or gauze pads if the area gets wet.

Vaseline.

Step 5

If possible, allow the affected area to heal before you try to run again (if possible).

Chafing may take up to a couple of days to fully heal, especially if you have open sores.

If you really need to stick with your training plan or have a race, it’s certainly possible to run with chafing, but you need to be careful not to exacerbate the issue.

Put Neosporin, Vaseline, or diaper rash cream on the affected areas and cover them with sterile gauze pads adhered with KT tape or medical-grade adhesive tape.

Choose tight running clothes that don’t allow skin contact (such as in the groin area or between the inner thighs).

Compression shorts or running tights, a seamless sports bra or a compression shirt, and running socks with a seamless toe are ideal for preventing chafing or worsening chafed skin. 

You should see a doctor if the chafing does not heal in a couple of days or if you are experiencing signs of infection from open skin wounds. 

If you are particularly having trouble with “runner’s nipple,” check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Concin, N., Hofstetter, G., Plattner, B., Tomovski, C., Fiselier, K., Gerritzen, K., Semsroth, S., Zeimet, A. G., Marth, C., Siegl, H., Rieger, K., Ulmer, H., Concin, H., & Grob, K. (2011). Evidence for cosmetics as a source of mineral oil contamination in women. Journal of Women’s Health (2002)20(11), 1713–1719. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2011.2829
  • 2
    Berge, W., Mundt, K., Luu, H., & Boffetta, P. (2017). Genital use of talc and risk of ovarian cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 1. https://doi.org/10.1097/cej.0000000000000340
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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