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Chafing - The Complete Guide for Athletes

Chafing, a frequently underestimated issue, arises from friction between skin surfaces or clothing during repetitive motion. This friction can lead to painful irritation, redness, and even skin breakdown

Common in areas like nipplesthighs, underarms, and between buttocks, chafing affects athletes, those with active lifestyles, and people in humid conditions. Its discomfort can range from mild annoyance to excruciating pain, hindering daily activities and exercise.


Acknowledging chafing's impact is vital; understanding preventive measures such as wearing moisture-wicking clothing, applying anti-chafing balms, and maintaining proper hygiene can alleviate the problem. By recognizing and addressing chafing, individuals can ensure greater comfort, mobility, and overall well-being.


What is chafing?

Chafing refers to the irritation and soreness resulting from repetitive friction between skin surfaces or clothing, often leading to discomfort, redness, and in some cases, skin damage.



What does chafing look like?



You can divide the look between early or mild chafing to late or complicated friction burn.
Initial stages are marked by redness and tenderness in affected areas, accompanied by a sensation of burning or itching.
If chafing isn’t addressed it will become worse, leading to more inflammation which causes blisters and the skin to slough off and present a superficial ulcer. The surrounding skin can be red (redness translates into an inflammatory process) and if you don’t protect the skin it can become worse.
In more severe cases, repeated friction can lead to an infection.




Mild symptoms



Early-stage chafing presents with subtle yet identifiable symptoms. Slight to moderate redness emerges on the affected skin areas and becomes extra sensitive to anything that touches the skin.


 Inside your skin what is happening is that an aggressor in this instance your clothes or skin-to-skin contact is damaging the superficial layers of your skin and a series of inflammatory responses are activating.


A distinctive burning or tingling sensation is commonly felt, signifying irritation beneath the surface. Discomfort might be noticed when moving, exercising, or even during regular activities. 


These initial signs of chafing are crucial cues to take proactive measures, such as adjusting clothing, applying barriers (creams or physical), or employing preventive strategies like breathable fabrics. 


Addressing chafing at this stage can prevent progression to more pronounced discomfort or skin damage, ensuring better skin health and overall well-being.




Severe symptoms



As chafing advances, more severe symptoms become apparent, indicating heightened skin distress , and deeper layers of the skin become affected. 

Prolonged friction can escalate redness aka inflammation, causing swelling in the affected areas. Intense irritation might lead to skin breakdown, resulting in small open sores that can bleed and ooze fluid. 

 These wounds can eventually crust over, moving painful and increasing susceptibility to infection. 


The discomfort intensifies, often accompanied by a persistent stinging or burning sensation. These severe symptoms of chafing demand immediate attention. 

Medical intervention, along with keeping the affected area clean and dry, becomes imperative to prevent complications and promote healing. 

You can read more about chafing in this Cleveland Clinic article.



What causes chafing?



Chafing is primarily caused by repetitive friction between skin surfaces or skin and clothing. Factors like vigorous physical activity, moisture from sweat or humidity, tight or rough fabrics, and unhealthy body weight can exacerbate chafing.


High-impact activities like running, cycling, or sports often lead to increased friction, while humid environments worsen the skin's susceptibility. 


Ill-fitting clothing and seams that rub against the skin also contribute. Understanding these triggers allows individuals to take preventive measures, such as wearing moisture-wicking attire, applying protective balms, and practicing good hygiene, to minimize the likelihood of chafing.



Sweat and moisture 

Wet skin weakens its inherent ability to resist friction, making it more susceptible to chafing. Moisture from sweat or external sources reduces the skin's protective barrier, increasing the likelihood of irritation and discomfort when it comes into contact with clothing or other skin surfaces.


Heat and humidity

Elevated heat and humidity trigger increased sweating as the body's natural cooling response. However, excessive sweat accumulation in skin folds or between body parts can create a moist environment.

This excess moisture weakens the skin's defense against friction, fostering the conditions for chafing to develop due to the heightened interaction between wet skin surfaces or damp skin and clothing.


Exercise (Friction)

Continuous movement contributes significantly to chafing by creating repetitive friction between skin surfaces or clothing. In regions where body parts or clothing frequently come into contact, like thighs, underarms, or buttocks, the back-and-forth motion exacerbates the rubbing effect.


This consistent friction gradually wears down the skin's protective layers, leading to discomfort, redness, and irritation, eventually manifesting as chafing.



Ill-fitting or rough-textured clothing intensifies chafing by introducing additional sources of friction against the skin. Improperly sized garments can cause the fabric to rub against vulnerable areas, while rough textures aggravate irritation. Such clothing not only fails to provide a protective barrier but amplifies the abrasive effect, increasing the likelihood and severity of chafing.


Shaving or hair removal

Improper hair removal that leaves small abrasions can be more prone to the side effects of friction and humidity.

This vulnerability highlights the importance of taking precautions. If you're planning on running a marathon, shave or wax a couple of days beforehand so your skin barrier is intact.


Body weight

Weight can impact chafing by affecting the areas and severity of friction. 

Heavier individuals may experience chafing in skin folds or areas where skin-to-skin contact is frequent due to increased pressure and moisture retention. 

But don’t worry you’re on the right path by pursuing an active lifestyle. You need to clean and pat dry all the places where humidity might accumulate and use a protective cream that is going to protect your skin from friction and humidity.


Typical Areas Affected by Chafing During Exercise


Chafing during exercise often affects areas prone to friction, like the inner thighs, underarms, groin, and bra area, especially the nipples. These regions experience increased movement and rubbing due to physical activity. 


Sweat exacerbates the issue by creating a moist environment. Think of excess moisture as the perfect environment for your skin barrier to be breached.


Neck chafing

Neck chafing during exercise can occur when the skin of the neck repeatedly rubs against clothing, such as shirts with collars or sports equipment like helmets or straps.

Sweat dripping from your scalps adds moisture, further intensifying friction. Continuous movement amplifies the problem, potentially leading to irritation, redness, and discomfort. 

Choosing moisture-wicking fabrics and ensuring a comfortable gear fit can help prevent neck chafing and promote a more pleasant workout. You can always use a body block to fight friction and continue to use your favorite sports clothes. 


Shoulder chafing

Shoulder chafing during exercise arises from the interaction between the skin and clothing, especially where straps or seams come into contact. 

This is common when wearing backpacks, harnesses, or tight-fitting sports bras. The repetitive movement and sweat generated during physical activity increase friction, potentially causing redness, irritation, and soreness on the shoulders. 


Underarm chafing

Underarm chafing during exercise emerges as the arms move repetitively, causing friction between the skin and clothing. Moisture from sweat compounds the problem by softening the skin's protective barrier. 

This friction, combined with dampness, can lead to irritation, redness, and discomfort in the sensitive underarm area.

Selecting moisture-wicking clothing and applying lubricants can help prevent underarm chafing, enabling a more enjoyable and pain-free workout session.


Nipple chafing (Jogger's nipple)

Nipple chafing, also known as jogger's nipple, occurs during exercise when repetitive motion from your arms makes your t-shirt or bra constantly rub against your nipples. Nipples are extremely sensitive, so they can bleed easily with all the friction from a long run or hike.

To prevent this condition you only need to use a cream that creates a barrier between your skin and the clothes. 

To find more about this topic, read our post on: Jogger's Nipple (Nipple Chafing) & How to Prevent It.  


Under the breasts chafing

Chafing under the breasts can arise during exercise due to skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing friction in the chest area. 

This area is prone to chafing as humidity accumulates in the skin folds and makes it more susceptible to chafing.

Wearing well-fitting, breathable sports bras and using absorbent materials or powders can help reduce moisture and minimize chafing, ensuring a more comfortable workout experience.


Groin Area chafing

Groin area chafing is a common area for friction burn because of its high humidity and increased rubbing during any exercise. Continuous movement, sweat, and friction in this sensitive area can lead to skin irritation, redness, and discomfort.

Cotton underwear is the best to prevent this skin condition and to shower after every workout.

You can find more information on why to shower after a workout in our blog posts: Showering after workout - Essential for Skin and How to Choose the Best Acne Body Wash to learn more. 


Butt chafing

Butt area chafing during exercise arises when skin friction occurs between the butt cheeks or between the buttocks and clothing. Moisture from sweat contributes to the problem by softening the skin's protective barrier. 

This can result in irritation, redness, and discomfort. Choosing moisture-wicking fabrics, well-fitting attire, and using protective creams can help prevent butt area chafing, making workouts more enjoyable and pain-free.


To read more about this topic, read our blog post: Butt Chaffing & How to Prevent It


Thigh chafing (Chub Rub) 

Thigh chafing, also known as chub rub, occurs during exercise when the inner thighs experience repeated friction against each other with every step that you take. This interaction, coupled with sweat, weakens the skin's defense, causing irritation, redness, and discomfort. Opting for well-fitting, moisture-wicking clothing, and using protective balms can help prevent thigh chafing, ensuring a more comfortable and hassle-free workout session. There is more information on this topic in the blog post: Chub Rub (Thigh Chafing) & How to Prevent It


Feet chafing

Feet chafing can occur during exercise due to the constant rubbing of feet against socks, shoes, or each other. The combination of friction and sweat can lead to skin irritation, blisters, and discomfort. Choosing moisture-wicking socks, well-fitting footwear, and using anti-friction products can help prevent foot chafing, ensuring a pain-free and enjoyable exercise experience.



How to prevent chafing? 


Chafing prevention is crucial for a comfortable exercise experience. Here are some effective tips to avoid chafing:

1. Choose the Right Clothing

Opt for moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics that reduce friction and wick away sweat, helping to keep the skin dry. Wear well-fitting clothing to minimize excess fabric that could cause friction. Avoid overly tight or loose apparel.



2. Lubrication

Apply a suitable anti-chafing balm or cream to areas prone to friction, forming a protective barrier that reduces skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing rubbing. Avanza Skin’s a body block to fight friction creates a protective barrier to minimize friction and prevent chafing.


3. Layering

Use layers to minimize direct contact between skin and clothing. This can reduce friction and wick away moisture effectively.


4. Moisture Management

Keep the skin dry by using moisture-wicking fabrics and changing out wet clothes promptly after exercising.


5. Hygiene

Cleanse and dry the skin thoroughly after exercising. Avoid rubbing your skin with a bath sponge and pat dry with your towel. 


6. Footwear 

Wear well-fitting, moisture-wicking socks, and properly fitting shoes to prevent foot chafing and blisters.


7. Bandages

Cover areas that have been affected by chafing to avoid severe chafing. It is always better to prevent chafing than to treat it. Use a body block to fight friction to create a protective barrier and continue enjoying your workout.


8. Breathable Undergarments 

Choose moisture-wicking undergarments that provide a comfortable layer between the skin and outer clothing.


9. Anti-Chafing Shorts

Consider wearing compression shorts or shorts with longer inseams to reduce friction between thighs.


10. Stay Hydrated

Proper hydration helps maintain skin health, reducing the risk of irritation.


11. Breaks and Adjustments

Take short breaks during extended activities to adjust clothing and reduce accumulated friction or reapply your protective cream.


12. Gradual Intensity

If you're new to exercise, gradually increase intensity and duration to give your skin time to adapt and toughen.






By implementing these preventive measures, individuals can minimize the risk of chafing and enjoy a more comfortable and rewarding exercise routine.

How to treat chafing?


Soothing and healing chafed skin requires careful attention. 

Start by gently cleansing the affected area with syndet soap and water to remove dirt, bacteria, and sweat. an after workout body wash gently removes build-up without stripping your skin of its protective barrier.

Pat the skin dry, do not rub, and be sure to dry all your body, including skin folds, groin, or in between toes (areas with high humidity and propensity to chafe.

Applying to dry skin a body block to fight friction will moisturize and protect the sensitive skin from further harm.

Avoid tight clothing and let the skin breathe whenever possible.






If the chafed skin is broken or shows signs of infection, seek medical attention promptly. As Dr. Debra Jaliman says in this article, you may need an antibiotic ointment if the area becomes infected.





Athletes should use an anti-chafing balm to avoid irritation, raw skin, and/or blisters. Remember it is always easier to prevent chafing than to treat it. Prevention keeps you moving and enables you to exercise more.

Avanza Skin’s a body block to fight friction creates a protective barrier to minimize friction and prevent chafing with a no-mess application. Based on coconut oil, it creates a thin layer that protects the skin from friction. 

Avanza Skin has products to prevent and treat chafing. Find the right products that meet your skin and hair needs - in less than a minute. Take our quiz to find out!