Chafing: Tips for prevention and relief.
Your skin is a complex, collagen-rich organ that can withstand a reasonable amount of friction. But many things in daily life can cause repetitive rubbing that leads to chafing.
Chafing is a common skin problem that can happen anywhere on your body. It could be caused by your clothes or shoes, or it could be two areas of skin rubbing together, like the inner thighs or underarms. If you have sensitive or dry skin you can be more prone to chafing, but factors including sweat, humid weather and winter conditions can all play a part, so it can affect anyone.
The science and symptoms of chafing
Friction from repetitive rubbing causes tiny tears in the epidermis, the top layer of your skin. This layer usually provides effective protection for the dermis, the layer below it. But once the dermis is injured and exposed, the skin can become irritated, red and uncomfortable.
The symptoms of chafing range from mild soreness to painful raw red patches and blistered skin. By taking action once chafing starts, you can help it heal and hopefully prevent it from happening again.
Common causes of chafing
- Clothes and shoes that don’t fit properly – either too tight or too loose, or with prominent seams
- Activities that involve repetitive movements like running or cycling
- Sweating while exercising or during hot weather
- Cotton clothing – cotton stays wet and doesn’t wick moisture away from the body
- Winter weather – cold conditions can dry your skin out and make you more prone to chafing
- Body shape – any skin that rubs together can become chafed
Looking after chafed skin
If you’re experiencing chafing, it’s important it keep the area clean. A daily wash or shower in lukewarm water will help, using a gentle antibacterial soap to prevent any bacteria from taking hold.
After washing, gently pat the skin dry to avoid damaging it further. If you can, give yourself some air drying time to give your skin time to breathe and make sure every last trace of moisture is gone.
Lastly, but importantly, apply a barrier cream, medicated powder or healing ointment to soothe and protect the area.
Top tips for avoiding chafing while walking, running or exercising
The key to avoiding chafing is to minimise friction on your skin. Follow these tips to lessen your risk of chafing whenever you exercise:
- Wear the right gear – synthetic moisture wicking fabrics are best, taking sweat away from the skin. A good fit is essential too, so avoid anything too tight or too loose.
- Invest in your feet – once your circulation gets going, your feet can swell. Choose well fitting trainers that are flexible enough to allow for slight changes in your feet, and wear specially designed running socks made from technical materials.
- Be prepared with a good cream - if you know you have areas of skin that rub together, apply a lotion or barrier cream before exercising to help the surfaces glide instead of rub.
- Cover problem areas – nipples can be a painful chafing hotspot for runners. Bras usually do the job for women but men might resort to wearing plasters or specially made nipple guards.
Chafing and the changing seasons
You might find you’re more susceptible to chafing in summer or winter. The hot weather of the summer months naturally leads to more perspiration, and it’s this moisture combined with friction from rubbing that can lead to chafing. In cold conditions, dry skin can become a problem – and as a rougher surface, dry skin has a greater tendency to become chafed.
So what can you do to avoid seasonal chafing? In summer, the right clothes can make all the difference. Steer clear of clothes that are too tight, especially around straps and seams. Loose clothes can also rub your skin, so go for clothes that fit well.
When it’s time to bring out the winter gear again, the trick is to prevent skin from getting too dry. Daily moisturising with a gentle cream can help, and wash or shower in warm, rather than hot water. Finally, keep your hands covered with gloves on cold days to protect your skin from the elements.