How to Treat and Prevent Chafing
Chafing is a common skin problem caused by any combination of friction, moisture, and irritating fabric. Prolonged rubbing on the skin makes your skin sting or burn, and you develop a mild, red rash. In severe cases, chafing will include swelling, bleeding, or crusting.
You’re more likely to develop chafing on body parts that rub against each other or your clothing. Chafing commonly occurs on the thighs and buttocks. The nipples, groin, feet, and armpits can also chafe.
Common causes of chaffing
Repeated rubbing, especially combined with moisture, makes skin more vulnerable to breaking down. Causes of chafing include:
- Endurance sports. Biking and running are two causes of chafing, along with other activities that combine sweat and repeated motions of the body. Athletes can develop chafing anywhere that clothing or skin rubs on skin.
- Being overweight.
- Nursing. Breastfeeding mothers can develop chafed nipples.
- Diapers. Prolonged exposure to urine or feces and not enough air flow can cause chafing on bottoms.
- Walking around in a skirt, especially in hot or humid weather. Without pants to protect your legs from rubbing, many people develop inner-thigh chafing when wearing a skirt.
- Ill-fitting clothes. You can chafe if your sleeves, bra strap, or waistband repeatedly rub on your skin in an irritating way.
Immediately stop any activity that begins to rub and irritate your skin. If your clothes are rubbing your skin in an uncomfortable way, change into something that’s more comfortable.
If you notice chafing beginning, gently pat the skin dry, and apply petroleum jelly to the affected area.
Treatments for chafing include:
- avoiding whatever caused the problem
- applying a soothing lotion, balm, or oil; look for fragrance-free products that repel moisture
- getting fresh air
- using a topical steroid, which should only be done if prescribed by a doctor
Chafing can heal within a couple of days if the problem is removed. If you can’t completely stop the activity that causes chafing, be sure to use protective measures while you’re doing that activity. You should also let the skin heal overnight by leaving the area exposed to air while you sleep. If there is abrasion or blistering on the skin surface, petroleum jelly and covering can be applied between cleanings until the skin heals over.
While your skin is recovering:
- Do not try to clean chaffed skin with hydrogen peroxide or iodine, as these chemicals can actually hinder the healing process. Instead, clean with mild soap and water or just a saline solution.
- Do not shower in extremely hot water or use harsh soaps, both of which make the skin overly dry and more susceptible to damage.
- Always pat skin dry. Rubbing will make chafing worse.
- Use ice or a cold pack for short amounts of time to relieve pain. Be sure to pat dry when you’re done.
Chafing breaks the skin’s protective barrier against germs and infection. If your chafing goes beyond mild redness and chapped skin, see a doctor. Signs that you need medical attention include:
Your doctor may prescribe a steroid to soothe skin and help it heal faster.