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How to Treat and Prevent Chafing So It Won’t Derail Your Runs

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

how to prevent chafing
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  • Chafing is a result of friction that occurs when skin rubs against itself or clothing.
  • To prevent chafing, apply a lubricating balm to reduce the effects of friction or a powder to absorb moisture.
  • Effective chafing treatments include antibacterial ointments and loose clothing so skin can breathe and heal.

    When the temps rise and the humidity creeps back up, you’re getting red in more than just your face. There’s nothing worse than being out on a long run on a particularly hot summer day and feeling that familiar burning sensation of chafing set in. You know the one—maybe it’s your thighs rubbing together, your sports bra strap cutting into your shoulder, or, for men, the 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 Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “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). The uncomfortable sensation is caused by numerous factors, including extra body weight, loose-fitting clothing, non-breathable fabric, as well as hot and humid weather. Additionally, excessive moisture on the skin—either sweat or rain—tends to exacerbate the effects of chafing, Engelman explains, which means long runs in steamy or rainy conditions may be a recipe for disaster.

    Luckily, chafing can easily be prevented and treated before it becomes Andy Bernard from The Office bad. Here, Engelman shares tips for prepping skin and choosing the right gear to avoid the dreaded rubbing on your run.

    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 moisturizers and lotions will reduce friction.”

    While it seems counterintuitive given that wet conditions increase chafing, dry skin—rather than well-moisturized skin—is more prone to rubbing, she adds.

    To avoid that type of rash, she recommends slathering sensitive skin areas with Vaseline, BodyGlide, talcum powder, or a hypoallergenic balm made specifically to reduce the effects of friction, such as Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, before you run. Make sure to cover all of your usual hot spots, such as your thighs, armpits, nipples, and groin. If you’re going extra long, you might want to stash a travel-size tube of Vaseline in your shorts.

    After you’ve prepped your skin, put on the right apparel to minimize 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. If your thighs tend to rub, you might opt for shorts with a longer inseam, such as compression shorts that hit mid-thigh or trail shorts.

    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.

    Lastly, pay attention to your equipment—such as heart rate monitor chest straps, hydration belts and backpacks, and phone armbands—as these can cause chafing, because the straps create heat and friction against your shirt or skin. To minimize the effects of this, make sure to tighten your equipment so that it isn’t bouncing (less movement means less chafing), and apply skin lubricant or cream to the areas touched by the gear.

    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 Santa Monica 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 Desitin or A+D Zinc Oxide cream (yes, they’re diaper-rash creams, but 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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