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Chafing often happens when you least expect it, causing distress and irritation on runs that are typically enjoyable. Ranging from mild to severe cases, failing to tackle the issue as it arises can cause infections without treatment. For this reason, it’s usually better to stop and deal with the problem before it grows.
I’ll never forget the first time I dealt with chafing. I was on a long run following the Appalachian Trail, and the air was thick with humidity. By the time I stopped to look at my irritated skin, it was already red and inflamed. After stubbornly fighting my way to the top of another peak, I gave in and asked my friend to lend me their maximum-strength butt paste, a popular household product used for infants with diaper rashes that old-school runners have adopted as their own.
They’d been using it for miles, swearing by its ability to soothe the chafe. I squished the contents of the tube into my palm and slathered the cream all over my hips and thighs. In seconds, parts of my body that were previously swampy and covered in salt were dry and cool. It was the perfect cure for the endurance chafe, drying my skin long enough to churn out a few more miles.
This was my first run-in with raw hips, but it wouldn’t be my last. Although I usually scraped by on short trail runs without any serious chafing, I continued to struggle with friction on longer days. I quickly found a stick of Body Glide and found that it wasn’t long-lasting enough for me to love it.
The burn haunted my dreams, driving me to find lasting solutions by trying everything, from coconut oil to soothe the burn after long days in the wilderness to deodorant when I’d forgotten the magic butt paste. Some solutions worked, while others only made the situation worse.
Here’s what you need to know to prevent desperate chafing mishaps:
Four Chafe Fails, and How to Avoid Them
Chafing is a condition of the skin that occurs with repeated skin on skin contact. The friction of the rubbing can cause small abrasions in the skin, worsening in effect with moisture and the wrong fabrics. The result of this type of rubbing is painful, and it’s often difficult to continue running once the chafe has begun.
Chafing happens at the worst possible time, leaving you desperate to find solutions. To manage the problem, you might start out by ignoring it. When that doesn’t help, you start to wonder if slathering a packet of goo on the problem area might provide enough relief until you can make it home. But the sting of the solution only worsens the pain, driving you to hate the sport that brings you joy. So don’t get caught doing these things if you want to avoid the worst run of your life.
Chafe Fail #1: Use Peppermint Chapstick
A few years after my Appalachian Trail run, I found myself jogging down the Colorado Trail when the chafe appeared. My thighs rubbed together, screaming in rage, but I was still ten miles away from my car. I pulled the material of my shorts over the chafed area, hoping that it would reduce the friction on my thighs. It kept creeping upwards, leaving my skin unprotected. Then, I changed my gait, attempting to reduce the skin-on-skin contact.
Finally, I pulled a little tube of chapstick out of my pocket and slathered it on my thighs. I figured it’d work like Body Glide, reducing the friction on my thighs. But then my skin started to tingle. The peppermint scent glided into my nostrils, and I knew I’d made a huge mistake. The faint burn turned into a raging fire, furthering my misery.
Do This Instead:
Try Body Glide. The first Body Glide was originally developed in 1996 by a surfer who got tired of the neoprene neck of his wetsuit rubbing against his skin. This irritation drove him to develop a plant-based product that would tackle the neck discomfort without damaging his suit.
Today, Body Glide can be found in most sports shops, giving runners access to an hour reprieve from chafing. It’s a great option for short, wet runs since it works effectively for about an hour before it needs to be re-applied. (Some testers found it lasted longer than an hour.)
Adopt Fancy European Products. If you’ve never heard of Chamois Crème, it’s time to give it a test. Not only does this solution help to reduce friction and rehydrate the skin, but it also lasts two to three times as long as products like Body Glide. This Swiss-based product was first released in the 1940s for cyclists, but due to its effectiveness, it has been adopted by endurance athletes across the world.
Invest in Butt Paste, Baking Products, or Anti-Monkey Butt Powder. Chafing occurs because of repeated skin-on-skin contact and moisture, causing small abrasions in the skin. Since babies experience the same type of rubbing from diapers, manufacturers have been searching for “diaper rash” solutions since disposable diapers first appeared on the shelves.
The first diaper rash creams were developed in the early 1900s, and they typically used some form of petroleum jelly. Desitin, the first widely used diaper cream, hit the shelves in 1919. About 20 years later, Johnson & Johnson started adding zinc to its own diaper rash cream to enhance its healing properties.
Today, babies and runners alike rely on products like Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, which helps to dry you out while creating an added barrier over the skin to reduce additional irritation and prevent moisture from accumulating in the area. And it takes just a small amount of the solution to begin to treat the problem.
Another potential chafing solution can be found in most household baking cabinets. Mothers and grandmothers have been using cornstarch on babie’s bottoms for decades. And now runners do, too. Cornstarch helps to reduce moisture in both food and on your skin, aiding in the treatment of your discomfort. Some research even suggests that cornstarch has antibacterial properties, which could prove helpful in the elimination of infections.
Finally, the Anti-Monkey Butt Powder is a beloved anti-chafing product because it helps to reduce moisture in the impacted area, but it also contains calamine to help the chafed skin begin to heal. While most anti-chafing products deliver short-term results, the Anti-Monkey Butt Powder is designed to provide relief long after you’ve applied it.
Pack Deodorant. This might sound silly but some runners find that applying a layer of deodorant to chafe-prone areas helps to reduce friction, resulting in less chafing. Although this strategy isn’t likely to produce long-lasting results, it may help runners in a pinch.
Chafe Fail #2: Wear Highly Absorbent Clothing Like Cotton
We’ve all heard the adage that “cotton is rotten.” When it comes to chafing, this concept certainly applies. Cotton can be a great material in dry environments because it’s airy and loose. But it can also absorb 24 to 27 times its own weight in fluid, which makes it a poor companion on humid or wet runs. And the more swampy your clothing becomes, the more likely you’ll end up with raw thighs and hips.
Do This Instead:
Use the Right Fabrics. Instead of wearing cotton, chafing-prone athletes often benefit from using moisture-wicking materials like wool, nylon, and polyester. These materials are naturally moisture wicking, which supports long-term dryness even on the longest trail runs. And fabrics like nylon and polyester can also enhance movement by reducing friction, leaving your skin feeling comfortable and fresh.
Chafe Fail #3: Choose Jean Shorts
While some looney toons might be confident enough to run a race while wearing jean shorts or canvas, most runners find that this type of attire is quick to cause chafing. As the skin moistens, it becomes soft and more pliable than usual. Regular rubbing from those cute cowboy shorts can then slice through the skin like warm butter.
Do This Instead:
Wear Protection. Every runner’s body is different, which means that no single fix will cure chafing for all. But many runners find that changing their clothing choice and testing it before their long runs helps to reduce chafing. Some of the most effective clothing types may include moisture-wicking clothes, anti-chafe bands that can be placed around chafe-prone areas of the body, and longer shorts with anti-slip technology. For example, the Janji Pace Short, comes with interior silicone grippers to keep the legs from sliding up as you run. Some runners also swear by nipple guards.
Get Creative with KT Tape. Although most of us think of Kinesiology Therapeutic Tape (KT Tape) as a tool that’s used for swelling and muscle support, it can serve another function. Those who experience bra or shorts chafing can apply a layer of KT Tape to the affected area, to reduce additional friction while they run. Since the material of your clothing is likely to just absorb butt paste and body glide, KT Tape may be a better solution in these situations.
Chafe Fail #4: Jump into a Body of Saltwater or a Hot Shower
Chafing rashes are basically a combination of abrasions and heat burns, which can create a lot of post-run discomfort. Without proper treatment, they may get infected, impacting your training regimen over the following weeks. Jumping into a saltwater or taking a steamy shower after your run will likely exacerbate the symptoms.
Do This Instead:
Take a Cold Shower. Apply substances like aloe vera, coconut oil, and rash creams to the affected area to provide additional relief after runs. And switch to cold showers to reduce skin irritation while the chafe begins to heal. This helps to minimize the pain while the body does its magic.
After a decade of trail running, I’ve found a few strategies that kick the burn when I start to feel it. I pack Butt Paste any time I know I’ll be out for a long day. But every once in a while, the chafe catches me unaware, leaving me wondering why I didn’t come prepared with one of these no-fuss chafing solutions, since I know it could save me from misery.