Many a runner has told me that they can’t run in shorts due to thigh chafing. And anyone who has dealt with chafing while running fully understands that fear.
Nothing is worse that feeling that sting mid-way through a run and knowing there is almost nothing you can do about.
Well, it’s possibly worse when you step in to the shower and yelp as water hits a spot you didn’t realize had been rubbed raw. EIIKKKKKKK, if you’ve been there, you know. It’s the worst.
Running is supposed to be fun, so let’s talk about ways to avoid this painful issue and what to do if you’ve already got chafing rash or skin irritation from your workout.
What is Chafing?
Chafing is a skin irritation caused by skin rubbing against skin, fabric or another surface. The repeated friction leads to an inflamed area of skin.
Symptoms of chafing are hard to miss as the area is red, burning, stinging and if it continues bleeding or swelling.
Medically the skin-to-skin rubbing is called intertrigo, but runners who often experience inner thigh chafing refer to as chub rub. Personally, I dislike this terminology because it takes away from our muscled powerful legs that are working hard.
But it’s also not uncommon to find chafing under the armpits, along the seams of a sports bra or heart rate monitor. And gentlemen get to deal with an especially fun form called runner’s nipple.
Chafing is different than the rubbing that occurs in your running shoes, which can lead to blisters.
👉Checkout these tips to prevent running blisters.
What Causes Chafing?
As noted friction is the main cause of chafing, but there are a few specific things which could be contributing.
As someone who has extraordinarily large calves, it’s not uncommon for my calves to rub as I run.
Yup! Those bad boys are nothing but muscle, but my stride keeps my legs fairly close together and therefore rubbing can occur.
Most runners more commonly find this as inner thigh chafing or chafing in the groin area. It’s simply any area where the skin is more likely to touch repeatedly while we’re in motion and thus rubs together.
Running in the heat and humidity can indeed make chafing worse.
The dampness of your skin, combined with the salt of sweat, rub against your clothing an increase that chance of burning. I always assumed my damp skin just got more sensitive, but it’s actually the friction.
If your legs itch while running, then the weather could definitely be playing a role in your chafing issues as well.
While we might prefer a looser fit, if you’re having issues with chafing it’s time to look in to good running tights or a more fitted shirt. As the looser fabric moves around, it can result in irritation.
- Try more fitted running tights or shorts (love the Lululemon Base Pace with Pockets)
- Run in tighter fitting tanks or if you’re comfortable in a sports bra go for that
- Ensure that your hydration pack is snug to the body so it’s not bouncing around
One of the worst offenders for me used to be the seams along the side of a sports bra or the seams along the back of my compression tights.
Now I’m far pickier with what I choose and use the tips below to help those areas have less friction!
Though even decades in to running, it still happens! This is not a new runner problem, it’s a life long gotta work on it issue.
How to Stop Chafing While Running?
Knowing some of the causes, you probably have a good idea of how to prevent chafing, but let’s look at each option a bit more in depth.
1. Best Chafing Cream
Step one is to start using an anti-chafe treatment before all of your workouts. While these are often referred to as creams, you’ll find they come in a number of different forms from sticks that look like deodorant to powders.
These are all clear and will not stain clothing.
These will create a barrier between your skin, allowing things to glide past each other rather than rub.
The goals is to find one that contains wax, silicone, petroleum or lanolin.
A standard moisturizing lotion is great for your skin, but not enough to help create that barrier as you sweat.
For a full review of each of these, check out the next section of this article.
Having learned the important of these anti-chafing creams, I keep one near my gear, another in my trail running go bag and another in my suitcase so I always have it when I travel!
2. Moisture Wicking and Seamless Gear
As noted above we want to help our skin remain as dry as possible. If you sweat like me that’s not super dry, but there is a massive difference between a wet cotton shirt and a wicking one.
- Avoid cotton at all costs
- Checkout the location of seams under the armpits or tags
- This includes seams in your socks (why I like SwiftWick)
3. Dry Fit Running Underwear
Especially for those who deal with chafing in the groin area, the dry fit underwear can be a good solution.
I’ve done a whole article on finding good running underwear, so I won’t belabor the point…
But seriously, stop with the cotton.
4. Properly Fitting Gear
As you can see in my own photo above even your favorite gear can lead to issues on days where it’s hotter or simply not fitted correctly.
- Your hydration pack should be snug enough that it doesn’t bounce.
- Heart rate straps also need to be snug, so this is where I’ve found Rock Tape to really help protect the skin
- Shorts shouldn’t ride up or have enough fabric they are creating bulk in your inner thigh area
5. Maintain Good Hydration
Did you know that when you become dehydrated your sweat contains more salt? Fun fact. But also a reminder that yet again staying on top of your hydration can prevent a boatload of running issues.
Beyond the salt friction, the dryer your skin becomes the more it could rub on your clothing. It doesn’t have the same elasticity when dry and is yet another chafing factor.
What to Look for When Buying an Anti-Chafing Cream?
There are many different kinds of products on the market that can help with chafing, this includes powders, lotions, balms, creams, and, gels.
As with any product, the first thing to consider before purchasing is how you plan to use it. Consider the types of exercise you do most frequently, as well as the areas where you experience chafing when deciding which formula to use.
When shopping for powders, look for one that is talc-free and stays put on your skin. Although stick-based balms and salves are the most practical, this list also includes a few varieties that are excellent enough to come in tubes and tins.
These should contain key ingredients such as shea butter or cocoa butter, oils such as coconut oil, vitamin E, and aloe vera, and other ingredients such as dimethicone and zinc oxide. Plus, the formula should be non-greasy and thick enough that they don’t run.
Top 5 Chafing Creams for 2023
If you’re tired of using vaseline petroleum jelly as your chafing cream of choice, then here are my top five picks for the best chafing creams in different formulations for all types of athletes:
1. Chamois Butt’r Original Anti-Chafe Cream – Famous Among Cyclists
This anti-chafing cream is famous among cyclists and that’s why it’s even called ‘chamois’. If you didn’t know, cyclists wear chamois, which are bike shorts with a small cushion sewn into the crotch area, to alleviate the pressure caused by placing so much body weight on a thin bicycle seat.
The underbutt crease receives a significant amount of pressure, which, in addition, causes frictional effects on the skin.
Chamois Butt’r is a salve for cyclists that protects their undercarriage and acts as an anti-chafe cream to prevent saddle soreness. It’s a little sticky, with a texture similar to real dairy butter. It relies on shea butter and aloe vera to prevent chafing and soothe any skin irritations.
This cream is mineral oil-based and contains lanolin and aloe as ingredients. You’ll get a lot of use out of it, it’s simple and hygienic to apply from the tube, isn’t overly perfumed, and it lasts for a long time.
This cream is the pinnacle of high-quality, low-priced options, and there are also cooling and women-specific variants you can try out.
This cream is almost like part of a ritual for cyclists, it helps prevent chafing and can even be used in sensitive areas and for sensitive skin types. If you’re looking for a tried and tested anti-chafing cream, then this is your best bet.
2. Gold Bond Friction Defense Stick – My Personal Favorite
As a running coach, this is my personal favorite as it glides on so smoothly. It’s gentle enough to not cause any irritation but works well to make sure it gets the job done every single time. It’s an easy and inexpensive anti-chafe stick that works even for those that live in warmer and more humid areas.
This product is marketed for runners, but it’ll work for just about anyone including cyclists, swimmers, and gym lovers. If chafing is preventing you from heading out for a run or hitting the gym, then you’ll seriously love how convenient this one is to use thanks to its deodorant-like container.
Use this stick on any of your troublesome areas, including along your thighs, around the shoulder and bra lines, or even in more sensitive areas. It’s long-lasting and non-greasy and what’s best is that it has a dry satin finish which makes using it so much better than other anti-chafing creams and sticks on the market
So, if you’re looking for an anti-chafe stick that has gotten a stamp of approval from a running coach, then this is the one you need to get!
3. Squirrel’s Nut Butter – Popular Among Trail Runners
The Squirrel’s Nut Butter is incredibly popular among trail runners and for a good reason! It prevents chafing and blisters, and the easy waterproof application is long-lasting and multi-purpose!
You can even use it as a skin restoration on eczema, dry or cracked hands, feet, or even your face. Many people even use it for diaper rashes, razor burns, tattoo recovery, or as a post-shave moisturizer! So if you’re looking to spend on one cream that does it all, then this one has to be it!
It’s also great to use for post-race soothing. You can apply it before showering to avoid the burn and excruciating pain that comes with irritated skin and post-run showers. It’ll help your skin heal more quickly thanks to its hydrating natural ingredients such as coconut oil, cocoa butter, beeswax, and vitamin E.
The only issue I’ve personally faced with this one is getting it out of the jar and onto the body. But then again, it is incredibly popular among trail runners so you should totally try it if you’re looking for a multi-purpose anti-chafe cream.
4. Body Glide – Well-Known Anti-Chafing Stick
Body Glide is definitely the most well-known anti-chafe stick on the market! It’s a convenient, portable design and comes in a deodorant-shaped container which makes it easy to apply, much like the Gold Bond Friction Defense Stick.
Although it’s an opaque white color in the tube, it goes on really clear and doesn’t seem to leave any residue behind. As the name suggests, it glides smoothly on the skin. This anti-chafing stick fortunately has a fragrance-free formula, which makes it suitable for anyone who’s sensitive to scents.
This anti-chafe balm has a smooth, light feel and almost feels like chapstick for the thighs in terms of consistency and easily relieves discomfort. It doesn’t go sticky or powdery and is a great anti-chafe stick for anyone that’s looking for one that’s tried, tested, and recommended by thousands of people.
It’s a great one for general use as well; you can apply it on your thighs while wearing a dress and it’ll work just fine. The only thing I didn’t like was that the ‘her’ variation costs more for pretty much no reason. I’m not a fan of the shrink-it-and-pink-it tactic, so would recommend keeping an eye out for that!
5. SKIN Slick Spray – Good for Swimmers
The SKIN Slick Spray is a popular anti-chafe spray among swimmers thanks to its waterproof and sweatproof design that quite literally stays on the skin for hours! You can simply remove it by washing it off with soap and water, so staining and build-up on your clothes will definitely not be a problem with this one.
It also comes in a spray design, as the name suggests. This is great if you’re concerned about cross-contamination of germs from rubbing and using a stick day after day. It’s also pretty convenient to use, especially if using a spray is more your style.
A single spray application is enough to as like a second skin and a protective barrier to prevent chafing and blistering. It relies on an ingredient called dimethicone which is a silicon-based polymer that gives the formula a soft, smooth, slippery feel.
This anti-chafe spray is great for pretty much everyone and is safe to use on a number of different fabrics, including lycra (spandex), neoprene, and most other fabrics we normally wear. It works great for swimmers to put on tight tech suits and wet suits with ease.
Pick any of these five anti-chafing sticks and creams, and you’re going to be able to easily prevent chafing and enjoy your runs, swims, and bike rides without dreading being chaffed again. They all come in convenient packaging that you easily slip into your gym bag or running go bag to never have to experience chafing again!
How to Treat Chafing
While we tend to look at chafing as an annoyance, remember that this is now exposed skin in a moist sweaty environment, which means it could lead to an infection.
So if you’re already dealing with it, let’s look at a few ideas to help take care of your skin.
How to Treat Chafing During a Run?
Obviously on the run you are limited in your options. So the focus is on how can we reduce or eliminate the friction that is causing the pain.
- That could mean taking off your hydration pack or heart rate monitor
- Carrying an anti-chafe stick with you for emergencies.
- Another option that I’ve found useful over the years is to carry Rock Tape or Compeed blister pads in my pack (I put them in a ziplock so they don’t get wet).
If I can cover the area then that’s going to prevent further rubbing, which will allow me to finish the run and then fully deal with the situation at home.
Treating Chaffed Areas
Whether you are dealing with chafing in the groin area as a female or on your nipple’s as a guy or in where in between, the overall process it same!
1.Clean the Area
The first thing you want to do when you finish your run is clean the area. It’s not going to be pleasant, but you want to wash it with fresh water and light soaps, no harsh body scrubs.
After washing the area, it’s time to put on an ointment like Neosporin or Cerave healing ointment.
2. Keep it Loose
Then put on loose clothing to prevent any additional rubbing.
You may also find that initially it feels best to cover the area with a band-aid or gauze. However, don’t keep it covered continuously, we want the area to breath so it will begin healing.
3. Find Ways to Prevent Friction on the Next Run
Maybe you need to wear tights for a few runs or put on the aforementioned Rock Tape. But make sure you don’t simply allow that area to continue being rubbed on the next run or you could indeed be heading towards infection.
All right, now that we have covered all things chafing, I hope you have some ideas to put it behind you and run on pain free.
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