One runner-dermatologist shares the causes behind this common runner’s woe, plus tips to prevent it.

Photo by Oliver Baker.

This Is A Chafe-Free Zone

We’ve all been there. You’re running along at a good clip, soaking in the sights and smells, when suddenly your inner thighs feel like they’re being rubbed with sandpaper. Or those cute no-show socks slip off your heels, leaving the backs of your ankles exposed to the rough texture of your shoes. Yep, we’re talking about that runner’s rite of passage known as chafing.

Chafing knows no season, which means you can chafe just as easily running in frigid temps as you can running in the heat. “Cold or hot, it’s friction that causes chafing,” says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., avid runner and board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York. Think: repeated skin-on-skin or fabric-on-skin contact over miles and miles. Ouch. Add a dash of moisture (i.e., sweat or water) and you’ve just upped your odds of finding a bright red rash during your post-run shower.

Gmyrek breaks down the sneaky culprits behind common chafing hotspots—and how to nip painful rubbing in the bud.

Common Chafing Areas

Inner Thighs

Why it happens: If you’re sweaty or struggle with urine leakage during exercise, your inner thighs will likely suffer. And if your pants or shorts are loose-fitting, you’re in for even more trouble. “If clothing is too large, it will move, rubbing against the skin and causing friction and chafing,” Gmyrek says.

What to do: Try coating your inner thighs with a lubricant such as Body Glide, petroleum jelly or mineral oil, and opt for moisture-wicking, leak-resistant compression shorts and pants that sit close to the skin.

Back Of The Arms

Why it happens: Chances are you’ve got skin-on-skin or skin-on-fabric issues. Just like your inner thighs, loose clothing may cause friction if it rubs against the delicate skin on the back of your arms (near your armpit). On the flip side, too-snug tees may dig in, leading to nasty, painful rashes.

What to do: Choose seamless, moisture-wicking running tops that sit close—but not too close!—to the skin, like compression shirts. Use an anti-chafe lubricant as an extra barrier.

Under The Bra Band

Why it happens: Just as loose-fitting sports bras can turn your nipples into red spots, tight-fitting sports bras can aggravate the skin where sweat gathers (i.e., under the bra band).

What to do: Choose seamless sports bras whenever possible. And if the bra band digs in, swap it out for a different bra. Keep moisture under control with a dusting of powder.

Nipples

Why it happens: The skin on your nipples is very sensitive, making them especially ripe for chafing. Typically, you’ll encounter problems if you wear sports bras that are too large for your size, as your nipples may rub against the fabric as you run.   

What to do: Toss the too-big sports bras and invest in seamless, moisture-wicking options that sit close to the skin without digging in.

Feet

Why it happens: Slick dogs paired with cotton socks or socks that don’t cover your ankles is a recipe for a chafing disaster.

What to do: Gmyrek advises sprinkling your feet with powder or coating them with antiperspirant before slipping on your socks and shoes. Stock up on moisture-wicking socks that cover your ankles to keep your shoes from rubbing against your skin.

Already chafed?

Find relief by first cleansing the area (gently!). Then, pat your skin dry and apply a coat of petroleum jelly or Aquaphor to the sore spot multiple times per day. Repeat until healed.

Lifesavers

As a runner herself, Gmyrek knows which products and running duds will carry you for dozens and dozens of chafe-free miles.

Related:

Running and Chafing: 5 Tips To Ward Off Unwelcome Irritation

This Company Is Reinventing Thigh Chafe Prevention

The Foolproof Guide To Combatting Chafing Down There