Runners often complain of inner thigh chafing, underarm chafing near the armpits, or chafing under the sports bar band at the bottom of the breasts, but nipple chafing while running is also quite common.
Chafing, which refers to skin irritation or abrasion due to friction against the skin of the nipples, is so common that it’s actually termed runner’s nipple or jogger’s nipple.
Keep reading to learn how to prevent and treat this painful condition so that runner’s nipple doesn’t keep you from enjoying your runs.
What Is Runner’s Nipple?
Runner’s nipple, also called jogger’s nipple, refers to bloody nipples, sore nipples, red nipples, or even blisters on the nipples from running.
Although different areas of the body are prone to chafing while running, such as the inner thighs, armpits, and area under the breasts, the nipple area, and areolas are also prone to chafing while running.
The areola, which is the skin that surrounds the nipple, is thinner and quite sensitive, so it is vulnerable to skin irritation from even small amounts of friction and moisture.
Moreover, the nipple itself is a protrusion off of the areola, so this part of the body can be the most prominent area, and it may repetitively “catch“ on the convex protrusion as a shirt or sports bra bounces up and down as you run.
Although anyone can get runner’s nipple, long distance runners such as those training for a half marathon or marathon are more prone to chafed nipples because it takes time and repetition for the skin abrasion to occur.
Moreover, runners with particularly sensitive or thin skin may also be at an increased risk of chafing while running.
How Does Runner’s Nipple Happen?
Jogger’s nipple progresses from mild skin irritation to more severe runner’s nipple symptoms, so if you are mindful of the signs and symptoms as they occur, you can put a stop to further skin abrasion.
Typically, jogger’s nipple symptoms progress as follows:
Step 1: Sensitive Nipples While Running
You may first notice that your nipples feel sensitive while running.
Essentially, you become aware of them, whereas normally you don’t think about specific parts of your body when you are running unless they are bothering you or you are deliberately trying to work on your running form and thinking about a body part.
Step 2: Red Nipples From Running
You won’t notice that you have red nipples while running, but if you take off your T-shirt or sports bra after a run and notice that your nipples look red, you are starting to develop jogger’s nipple.
Step 3: Dry or Flaking Nipple Skin
As chafed nipples become more severe, the redness can expand beyond the areola, and you may experience flaking skin or extreme dryness around the top and sides of the nipple itself.
Step 4: Cracked Nipples
Chafed nipples can lead to cracked skin on the nipples as well as pain and further discoloration.
Step 5: Blistered Nipples or Bloody Nipples From Running
When nipple chafing from running becomes severe, you can develop blisters or bloody nipples.
You may even see blood stains coming through your T-shirt with severe runner’s nipple.
How Do You Prevent Nipple Chafing While Running?
Nipple irritation from running is not only uncomfortable and can cause your shirt or sports bra to get blood-stained, but nipple chafing while running can also cause secondary infections if the skin irritation opens and you get blistered nipples or bloody nipples while running.
Therefore, it is important to take steps to prevent jogger’s nipple from occurring.
Here are the best tips to prevent nipple chafing while running:
#1: Wear the Right Running Shirts
According to the Cleveland Clinic, one big cause of jogger’s nipples is wearing cotton t-shirts for running.1What’s “Jogger’s Nipple” and How Can You Avoid It? (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 5, 2024, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-joggers-nipple-and-how-can-you-avoid-it
Cotton shirts absorb sweat, which makes them heavy and prone to cling to the skin.
This causes friction between the T-shirt and your nipple.
Instead, I always recommend that long-distance runners wear sweat-wicking performance fabrics such as polyester.
These synthetic moisture-wicking fabrics help pull sweat away from the skin, and they are breathable so your skin stays dry.
This can help reduce friction to prevent nipple chafing while running.
#2: Wear a Tighter Sports Bra or Shirt
Chafing can occur with excessive movement of your T-shirt or sports bra against your areola and nipple area.
Wearing a tighter sports bra or synthetic breathable shirt that will keep your nipples softer (nipples get hard and protrude more significantly when you are cold) can reduce the risk of chafing or rubbing between your shirt and areola and nipple area.
#3: Use One of the Best Products to Prevent Nipple Chafing In Runners
There are a number of anti-chafe products that can help prevent runner’s nipple. Most are inexpensive and can be found online at Amazon or sometimes in local running shoe stores and pharmacies.
You can also prophylactically cover your nipples in clean Band-Aids if you’re prone to jogger’s nipple.
If you’re self-conscious about the appearance of Band-Aids, there is a great transparent product made especially for runners’ nipples called NipEAZE Transparent Adhesive Covers.
How Do You Treat Jogger’s Nipple?
While preventing runner’s nipple is always ideal, if you do end up with bleeding nipples or even early stages of chafed nipples, it’s important to treat the condition right away.
Jogger’s nipple will progress, and if you end up with open wounds, you put yourself at risk of infection and delayed healing.
First, you want to thoroughly clean the area with warm water and mild soap, especially if the skin is open, and then gently pat it dry.
Apply an antiseptic cream, such as Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment, to the nipples and areolas.
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 nipple 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 runner’s nipple, trying to wash off Vaseline when you already have open blisters, bloody nipples, or severely chapped nipples can be very painful.
Therefore, I generally recommend using Vaseline or petroleum jelly prophylactically to help prevent nipple chafing while running or only in a pinch when you already have jogger’s nipple.
For example, a nice lubricating coat of petroleum jelly on your chafed nipples can be super helpful if you have a race to run and want to ensure that the irritation isn’t bothering you for 13.1 miles of a half marathon.
Do your best to cover your nipples 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.
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 bloody nipples.
Make sure to 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 if the area gets wet.
Allow the chafed nipples to heal before you try to run again (if possible).
It may take up to 5-7 days for runner’s nipple 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 possible to run with a jogger’s nipple, but you need to be very careful not to exacerbate the issue.
Use Band-Aids with KT tape or medical-grade adhesive tape over them, and then wear a tight, seamless sports bra or a compression shirt. If it’s warm enough, it’s highly recommended that male runners run shirtless while the nipples heal.
When you run shirtless, there’s no fabric that can possibly rub or create friction on the nipples.
See a doctor if the chafing does not heal or if you are experiencing signs of infection from open skin
If you have issues with chafing in general, check out this next guide:
- 1What’s “Jogger’s Nipple” and How Can You Avoid It? (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 5, 2024, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-joggers-nipple-and-how-can-you-avoid-it