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Chafing happens when skin meets skin or fabric, and it can happen to anyone. From moisture-wicking fabric to ointments, there are things you can do for relief and prevention.
From mild to severe, chafing can be a real pain
As heat waves quickly approach, there’s a long-experienced, nuanced combination of sweltering humidity, sweat, and friction going on around some of our most sensitive areas.
Yep, we’re talking about chafing — a word that somehow even sounds uncomfortable!
You may be familiar with chafing already. The spectrum can include anything from the painful or uncomfortable result of friction from skin or clothing to more serious welts and rashes. Personally, I describe it as the sensational combination of walking on a bad blister with sand in your shoes.
Chafing can occur anywhere on your body, too, but you’re most likely to experience it around the:
- nipple area
Ever had to walk, bike, or roll pretty much any distance after being in a body of water while still damp from said water? Then chafing is most likely already an acquaintance of yours. In fact, if you do any form of movement frequently enough, she’s probably an old friend by now.
Even if you don’t hit the beach, activities from long, heated walks to wheelchair rides can still cause clothing-induced chafing. Certain fabrics, such as polyester or rayon, rubbing against sensitive skin areas can be another common cause.
No matter what you resonate with above, this article is for you: A bevy of chafing resources, tips, and tricks. Even if you’ve somehow escaped this hell on earth thus far, you never know when you might need the wisdom behind reducing moisture and friction in sensitive areas.
Overnight relief to chafing
- Apply a restorative ointment before bedtime. There are many simple and soothing ointment options, such as Vaseline or A&D. Even baby’s diaper rash creams have worked well for some. Using it before bedtime will help it work overnight.
- Avoid touching or rubbing the skin in that area.
- Hold off on scented lotions, soaps, or products with “actives,” like glycolic acid.
- Let fresh air cool down the area, or use an ice pack.
How to treat with creams or lotion
- Wash the affected area.
- Gently use unscented cleanser, then rinse with water. Carefully pat-dry the area with a clean towel.
- Apply ointment of choice, or use a natural product like aloe vera, a vegetable oil, or CBD shea butter.
Please know that all of the following points are suggestions and invitations for you to explore. Nothing is ever one-size-fits-all. No one but you will know the best option for your body!
Stay dry and friction-free with the right clothing
Although this isn’t a guide on how to dress, certain clothes can mitigate chafing.
Think “moisture-wicking” fabric: For everyday needs, I’ve found that breathable cotton and fabrics, whether it’s shirts, pants, dresses, or bras and undies, feel best against my body and sensitive skin. This allows for any sweat or dampness to dry off without increasing friction.
According to REI, “A moisture-wicking fabric has two jobs: one is quickly moving (wicking) sweat to the fabric’s outer surface and the other is drying rapidly so that your sweat doesn’t saturate the fabric.”
It’s also helpful to think outside the box with your clothing. For skin-to-skin chafing, the clothes just need to put barrier between your skin. For example: Your outerwear doesn’t have to be moisture-wicking. Wear those shorts or boxers underneath your dress and pants.
Think about the clothing cut: Seams can fold and dig into your skin. For example, bra underwire could dig into your sides and rub until redness arrives. Consider clothes with nontraditional seams if this is a culprit.
Think about the activity: A lot of “workout gear” and leggings can be form-fitting formulas for chafing, depending upon the activity you’re engaging in. To avoid this, adopt the fabric tip mentioned earlier, as looser clothing or moisture-wicking fabrics can help regulate body temperature without the sticky feeling. (So can deo and anti-chafe sticks, but more on that later!)
My Downward Dog pose and I can both attest to how the right clothing has been especially helpful, as well as allowing myself to wear more nontraditional yoga clothing styles (such as high-waisted harem pants). My tennis strokes, however, require shirts with more coverage under my pits, and my thighs require spandex shorts.
Think about carrying backups: Having backups while on the go allows you to change as soon as discomfort arises. Simply switching out clothes can be helpful for chafing issues and any anxiety you may experience about it. Another backup option that’s helped me is thinking about dressing in layers. Anything that needs to come off can when needed.
Anti-chafing products to invest in
Deodorant (yes!): My personal favorite brand is Megababe. Their Rosy Pits ($18) has been the first deodorant to not hurt my sensitive skin and helps with armpit chafing.
Tom’s of Maine ($16) natural deodorant is also a wonderful resource. It comes in scents like lavender and apricot as well as unscented.
Another longtime favorite natural brand of mine is Dr. Hauschka ($24), a beloved organic and natural skin care brand. They carry sage mint and rose deodorant, which are aluminum-free and low in alcohol.
Talclike powder: But not talc, for those concerned. Megababe offers Bust Dust ($16), an all-natural (like all of their products) non-talc powder that can be sprinkled on sensitive areas under the breasts.
Burt’s Bees Baby Dusting Powder ($8.99) is also an inexpensive option that’s good enough for babies (so likely good enough for fickle skin). Lush offers the aptly named Silky Underwear ($10.95), which has moisture-absorbing cornstarch and kaolin, along with moisturizing cocoa butter, for a velvety finish on the skin.
Also, you can go full-on DIY and use cornstarch. But be careful of cross-contamination with at-home products.
Specialized anti-chafe gear: Many natural brands offer anti-chafing sticks. They come in a small enough size to pop in your bag and discreetly rub on throughout your day as needed.
Ivyverdure ($16.50) is a beautifully scented vegan and organic option from the United Kingdom. Reviewers have mentioned it’s gentle enough to reapply over already chafed skin.
If you’re looking for more of a local pharmacy option, I recently discovered the existence of Gold Bond’s Friction Defense ($6.25), a classic brand that can work for bodies of all sizes.
Anything that increases moisture and friction in your most sensitive areas is going to be a pain. Allow yourself to meet the needs of these areas, despite any resistance or embarrassment that arises, and seek relieving resources like the ones noted above.
Note: Think about your detergent! I’ve found that washing my clothing in all-natural and unscented laundry detergent has also greatly helped protect my most sensitive areas by preventing potential allergic rashes.
Remember that just because something hasn’t been deemed socially acceptable to discuss publicly or hasn’t been represented in mainstream media doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be — or that there aren’t so many people just like you experiencing the same pain as well.
Often, when one exists in a marginalized body, the experience of shame may arise around any visceral bodily experience: for example, those with fat bodies being made fun of for skin conditions and having them blamed on their weight, or Black individuals experiencing the other side of chafing as discoloration or scars.
No matter the size of your body, you might find some internalized fatphobia has surfaced while reading this article. This is understandable! Due to the fatphobic myth surrounding chafing in general, it’s important to honor that not only big or fat bodies experience chafing. While the fat-activist community has lovingly coined the term “chub rub,” if you have thighs, nipples, mastectomy scars, a groin area, or underarms, you can experience this uncomfortable phenomenon.
Thanks to movements spearheaded by women of color, such as fat activism and body positivity, these painful experiences have now become more acceptable to talk about.
Normalizing chafing by talking about it with people you trust and sharing articles, such as this one (wink wink) are truly building blocks to an actually more body-positive society as a whole. Open communication is how we find and create more solutions to shift from survival to thrival.