If you are an exercise enthusiast, or if you are overweight, you have probably experienced skin chafing, the annoying and often painful result of skin rubbing against skin or clothing. Chafing can occur anywhere on your body, but the thighs, groin, underarms, and nipples are particularly vulnerable.
There are a number of ways to prevent skin chafing, so don't let it slow you down.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer
readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2010 issue, we
turned to WebMD's Skin Care Expert, Karyn Grossman, MD, to get advice on
dealing with those pesky little bumps that so many of us have on our upper
Q. I have lots of little bumps on my upper arms -- I don't like going
sleeveless. What are they? Can I get rid of them?
A. Those little bumps are caused by keratosis pilaris, a common skin
In order to prevent skin chafing, you must decrease the amount of friction to your skin. Here are some ways to do this:
Stay dry. Wet skin can make chafing worse. Before you head out the door, apply talcum and alum powders to areas that get the most sweaty. Powders can help wick moisture away from the skin. Don't stay in wet or sweaty clothes.
Lubricate. Apply petroleum jelly, or a similar product, to hot spots. Lubricants can help reduce friction to the skin. Petroleum jelly is inexpensive and widely available; several types of lubricants are available over the counter. You may have to try a few before you find the one that works best for you. To reduce nipple chafing, petroleum jelly, patches, or tape can be placed on your nipples to reduce friction.
Dress right. When exercising, wear proper-fitting, moisture-wicking clothes, such as those made with synthetic fibers. Do not exercise in cotton. Compression shorts, such as those worn by cyclists, may help reduce thigh chafing. Also, less is more when it comes to dressing for exercise. If it is warm outside, consider running without a shirt if you are a man and in only a jogging bra if you are a woman. Lastly, choose exercise clothes and bras that have smooth seams to avoid rubbing.
How to Treat Chafing
Skin chafing should be treated, so don't ignore it. Gently clean the chafed area with water and dry it thoroughly. After cleaning the area, apply a substance like petroleum jelly. If the area is very painful, swollen, bleeding, or crusted, your health care provider may recommend a medicated ointment.
Give your skin some time to heal from chafing before being active again. Continued friction will only make it worse and could lead to infection. If your skin chafing does not improve after trying these self-care measures, make an appointment to see your doctor. You may need an antibiotic ointment if the area becomes infected.
Mailler-Savage, E. and Adams, B. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2014.
American College of Sports Medicine: "'Hot' Clothes for Safe Exercise."
Brian B. Adams, MD, MPH, associate professor of dermatology and director of Sports Dermatology Clinic, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine; chief of dermatology, Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center.