How to prevent and treat chafing when running

how to prevent chafing when running

Ever experience thigh rubbing so painful your legs feel like they’ve brushed against a cheese grater? Or cross a finish line, realising that the spectacle of your blood-streaked shirt is eliciting horror from spectators? Chafing, a runner’s rite of passage, is the result of friction that occurs when skin rubs against itself or clothing. As anyone who has endured an excruciating post-run shower on freshly grazed skin knows, prevention is all-important. 

We spoke to Richard Edmonds, co-founder of anti-chafe running underwear brand Runderwear, for his top tips on how runners can avoid the dreaded chafe the summer. 

Related: The best anti-chafing products for runners 


What is chafing? 

In scientific terms, chafing is a friction-induced skin injury where the outer layer of skin (epidermis) is rubbed, creating microscopic tears. This exposes the skin layer below (the dermis), which becomes red, raw and irritated. The thighs, groin, underarms, under breast and nipples are particularly vulnerable, but it can occur anywhere on your body. 


Why are runners more susceptible to chafing?

Runners, along with other endurance athletes, are more likely to experience friction due to repetitive movements, skin-to-skin contact of multiple body parts, combined with sweat. Excess moisture from sweating, water sports such as a triathlon swim, or damp weather conditions will increase the likelihood of chafing. 

When we perspire, the salt aggravates the situation, as can sea water. It acts like sandpaper, grinding and irritating the skin. Runners who have experienced chafing will certainly be an extremely painful experience. 


How to prevent chafing 

Which fabrics should runners wear to avoid chafing? 

1. Ditch cotton: It absorbs sweat and stays wet. Wear synthetic, sweat wicking fabrics. The layers of clothing closest to the skin should be a moisture-wicking fabric, delivering sweat away from the body and minimising rubbing or irritation.

2. Go seamless and tagless: Seams and tags on a T-shirt or bra can cause irritation.

3. Get a proper fit: A too-snug sports bra can dig in; the excess material of a baggy T-shirt can rub you raw. Make sure you choose underwear, socks and base layers with an ergonomic fit, that's just right. Loose fitting garments, combined with sweat will increase the chances of rubbing. That said, our feet can swell when running, particularly in hot weather, so it's good to wear apparel with a certain amount of 'give'. Check the materials for the presence of elastane which will indicate this. 

4. Protect your legs: Compression shorts or running tights can protect your inner thighs from abrasions.

5. Cover ‘em up: Nipple protection is critical for men. NipGuards and plasters are common shields.

6. Get greasy: Apply lubricant to chafe-prone body parts. Vaseline is a classic salve, and it’s cheap but it contains petroleum jelly, which might stain gear and can’t be used on neoprene wetsuits in a triathlon. We've summed up the best anti-chafing products on the market here. 

7. Hydrate: Fluids are so important to keep on top of, Edmonds explains. Not only to keep the body hydrated and functioning at its best, but also to reduce the risk of chafing. If you are dehydrated, your body is unable to flush salts away from your skin as easily. Drink lots of water before, during and after exercise, allowing you to perspire freely so the perspiration doesn't dry into salt crystals that can enhance the chafing. 

8. Moisturise: Skin that’s well moisturised is less prone to chafing.


How to treat chafing:

1. Wash up: Shower as soon as possible after you finish your run, keeping the water lukewarm. Use antibacterial soap to ward off the bacteria that can creep into exposed skin and cause problems such as folliculitis, an often unsightly skin condition that dermatologist Tanya Kormeili, says is more common in athletes.

2. Soothe it: Pat – don’t rub – skin dry and apply a healing ointment such as Sudocrem. Creams such as this are antibacterial, as they contains zinc oxide.