What Is Chafing?

Overview

Chafing often occurs to the inner thighs when the skin is irritated by repetitive friction.
Chafing often occurs to the inner thighs when the skin is irritated by repetitive friction.

Anytime skin rubs against skin or fabric, the friction can cause redness, rawness, and an irritation called chafing. If it’s ever happened to you, you know it hurts. You probably also know that some areas of the body -- including the inner thighs, groin, or under the breasts -- are more prone to chafing. But, here’s the rub: Chafing can happen anywhere skin folds or body parts rub together or against clothing.

It’s a raw deal, but don’t despair. Here are some simple steps to take to help prevent it. And, if you do start to chafe, here are some easy ways to make it feel better.

How to Prevent Chafing

The best way to avoid chafing is to prevent body parts from rubbing against each other or against fabric. If that’s not possible, then you’ll need to find ways to reduce the friction that leads to chafing. Consider these tips for reducing or preventing chafing altogether:

1. Choose your clothing wisely. When you’re going to be physically active, wear moisture-wicking, synthetic clothing. These materials help keep you dry while you work out. Cotton soaks up sweat and leaves you soaked, too. That excess moisture makes skin more sensitive to friction.

Tight-fitting clothes that stay put in areas most likely to chafe, such as biking shorts and sports bras, may also help.

2. Keep cool. The more you sweat, the wetter you get. When it’s sweltering outside, get your exercise during cooler parts of the day or in an air-conditioned gym.

3. Reduce friction. Petroleum jelly or anti-chafing creams, gels, or balms can help reduce friction in areas where you know skin will rub against skin. Absorbent powders such as cornstarch or talc can also help.

4. Cover it up. Soft bandages, such as adhesive moleskin, offer a layer of protection. But, make sure you attach them well. Otherwise, they may start to slip and slide and make matters worse.

5. Wear shoes that fit. Chafing on your feet causes blisters. To avoid this, make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit properly along with moisture-wicking socks.

6. Stop if it hurts. If you feel your skin is chafing, stop what you are doing and try to make an adjustment.

How to Make It Feel Better

Chafing usually goes away on its own. To help it feel better in the meantime, keep the area clean, dry, and covered. A layer of petroleum jelly not only helps to prevent more chafing, but it can also make it feel better. Consider avoiding the activities that chafed your skin until you heal.

When to Call the Doctor

Chafing often happens to active people during exercise. But children, older folks, and people in the hospital often feel the burn too. When chafing is constant, it can lead to a condition called intertrigo.

In intertrigo, skin surfaces that rub together become inflamed and stay inflamed. The moist and damaged skin becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. So, people with intertrigo can get infections easily. People with diabetes and anyone with deep skinfolds, including babies, may be especially prone to this condition.

Prevent intertrigo using the same strategies that reduce chafing. If you are concerned about severe chafing or an infection, see a doctor. You may need topical or oral treatment with an antibiotic or antifungal medication.

References
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BMC Nursing: “Prevention and treatment of intertrigo in large skin folds of adults: a systematic review.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “How to prevent and treat blisters.”

Girlshealth.gov: “What to wear to work out.”

Myelitis.org: “Skin Health: Prevention and Treatment of Skin Breakdown.”

American Family Physician: “Intertrigo and Common Secondary Skin Infections.”
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