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How To Avoid Chafing While Running: Nipples, Thighs, and Other Problem Spots

Red11 Nipple Chafing

Bloody Nipples via Red11 Sport

It happens every Spring almost without fail – I’ll be out for a run and I start to feel a bit of discomfort under my shirt and/or between my thighs. If I’m lucky it’ll happen on a short run and the damage will be limited. If I’m unlucky I’ll be 5 miles from home when the discomfort begins, and will have no choice but to suffer through the remainder of the run. The worst of the pain happens in the shower afterward – the combination of soap and hot water conspire to cause agony, and I need bite my tongue to choke back the screams

What’s this problem I speak of? Chafing. It’s something I never have to deal with in winter, but once the warmth returns and I start sweating, so returns the chafe. Chafing is a common problem for runners, and it seems that where chafing is localized varies from person to person. For me, chafing tends to strike in two places: my nipples and my inner thighs (no holding back here!).

Nipple Chafe

Nipple chafe is extremely common for guys in summer. Once our shirts get wet, the rubbing of fabric against bare nipple starts to do its damage. The damage starts as a sting as the skin gets rubbed raw, and can progress to bleeding if allowed to continue. If you’ve ever watched the finish line of a warm-weather marathon you have likely seen men who have attempted to run without protection. Tell-tale red circles over the nipples are a dead giveaway, often with bloody streaks extending down toward the waist line. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid blood, but I’ve seen others in races who were not so lucky. I can only imagine the pain.

2014-05-26 16.17.06Fortunately, nipple chafe is actually very easy to avoid. I used to apply Body Glide prior to runs where I suspected nipple-chafe might be a problem, but stopped this practice when I realized that it was creating circular stains on my shirts that would not come out in the wash. I know some guys who use products like Nipguards or those little circular bandaids to protect their nipples. I’ve never used Nipguards, but they cost like $10 for 10 sets, and that can get costly. And I’ve found that circular bandaids are a bit too large and can thus stick to chest hair.

I’ve now adopted a far more effective method of protection – I cut up Band-Aids into little squares that are just about the size of my nipples. I prefer the Sport Strip style since they seem to stay put. This method is cheap, and it works very well. I can get 4 sets of nipple squares from one extra-large Band-Aid sport strip, and for a 30-count box that gives me 120 sets for about $3.50. I have not had them fall off on any run I have done so far.

As an added bonus, the Band-Aid trick is great for embarrassing your wife and kids. I’m sure they love it when I run to meet them at the pool in the summer and forget I’m wearing little square bandaids on my nipples when I jump in the water. People must think I’m nuts. But hey, my nipples don’t hurt!

Thigh Chafe

My other problem area is my inner thighs. Not the private areas, but lower down where my shorts rub between my legs with each step. I tend to have a narrow gait width and I think this is why I’m prone to this. Anyway, it only happens when my shorts are really sweaty and the salt in my sweat seems to be the culprit.

I’ve found two ways to combat thigh chafe. The first is to remove the liners from running shorts and substitute compression underwear that extends down the thigh instead. But sometimes even compression underwear can cause chafing.

The other approach is to use regular running shorts and apply some form of protective lubricant to the affected area. I used to use Body Glide, but lately have been having good success using samples of Hike-Goo and Red11 lubricants that were sent to me (Disclosure: both were free samples supplied for review purposes).

Hike-Goo in particular has been be very effective. It comes out of the tube as a sticky paste, but once applied seems to last a long time. It has prevented thigh chafe whenever I have used it. The one drawback is that it’s kind of messy and I feel like I waste a fair amount with each application since it’s easy to apply too much with the applicator mechanism that they use on their tubes. They also make a product called Run-Goo, not sure how that differs or why I was sent the Hike version. No matter, it works well.

Red11 Nipple CreamRed11 is marketed for nipple protection, but I have not used it for that since I worry about staining shirts (and the band-aid trick works so well). It has also worked well for use on the thighs. On the plus side, since it is an almost solid paste and comes in a tin, it’s easier to take only the amount that you need as compared to the Hike-Goo.

Other Chafe-Prone Areas

Personally, the only other area I have had chafing issues is (on rare occasions) under the waistline of my shorts. I’m not sure why it happens when it does (I only experience it a few times each summer), and I almost never notice it while running – I know it has happened when I’m in the shower and water hits the chafed spots. Lubricant typically helps here as well, and I always lube my waistline before long races. (As an aside, if you ever have the opportunity to crew an ultra, you will see runners applying lube all over the place!). I used to lubricate my toes as well, but now that I tend to only wear shoes that allow toe wiggle on longer runs this has ceased to be an issue.

I’m sure there are other areas that are problem spots for other people, and I’m sure women have stories to tell that might differ slightly from those of men. If you have any advice that is not covered here, feel free to leave a comment!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Great post, Pete! And a necessary one, too :-). I gave some advice here on this topic a while back: link to vagabondrunning.blogspot.com

  2. First woman to comment! I get thigh chafe, mostly from shorts riding up and thighs rubbing together. I’ve only ever tried body glide. It works well for thighs.

    I also have issues with sports bra chafe on long runs. The band, or anywhere else where seams can rub on skin. I’ve been known to lube up all over the top half. Also, I chafe under my armband (for my phone) on long runs. I think some of that is because I’m out of shape and I have some arm flab, but it can get pretty bad, even with protective lube.

    • I’m sure flab doesn’t help, but in shape or out, I’ve had the same issues & successes.

      • Found this post from Running around the Bend, and I’d echo the above, that flab isn’t the issue. It seems very random for me. My weight can be exactly the same, a pair of shorts I wore for a 20 miler 2 weeks ago with no problem, suddenly on a short 4 mile run, major chafing. Total mystery to me!

  3. leeapeea says:

    It’s marketed for cyclists, but Chamois Butt’r has been my go-to lube for a few years now. Stays put longer than Body Glide, easier to spread, and comes in little “single serve” packets for self-supported ultras where reapplication may be needed.

  4. I have used the NIP guard but they do become expensive. When I feel chafing I grab the front of my shirt, pull it over my face and place it behind my neck. That exposes my breast while keeping my shoulders and back covered. My breast have never gotten sunburned doing this probably because of slight forward lean. Maybe the running clothes manufacturers should just make breast-less shirts. I don’t know which would look more silly, a shirt without breast section or my shirt pulled back behind my head.

  5. Eugene van der merwe says:

    Good post Pete!
    Strange how experiences differ, I tend to suffer much more with nipple chafe in cold weather that in the heat.
    I also use small band-aid patches, but i’m quite forgetful about applying them, so now i apply a bit of friar’s balsam under each patch. This helps them stay put for a long time, sometimes a week or more. And yes, I realise wearing the same nipple plasters for a week at a time is a bit strange…

  6. So how do the band-aids stay put? It looks like you are only cutting the non-adhesive portion of the strip.

    On a totally unrealted note, what ever happened to the RunRadar concept?

    • I am cutting the adhesive portion, throw away the padded portion. As for RunRadar, it’s something I’d love to do, but time is lacking for all of us. Runblogger traffic has nearly doubled in the last year and it’s all I can do to manage this site alone.

      • That’s a great idea. And much cheaper than Nip Guards. But does it hurt to take out the Band-Aid pieces after the run. NipGuards are fairly easy and painless to take out after the workout.

  7. I started with Vaseline then discovered Body Glide. Used it for years with a pretty good success rate. Recently a fellow teammate and ultra runner recommended A&D Ointment. It’s pretty messy to apply but it does wonders.

  8. Extra bit of advice (for women mainly but, you never know) is to avoid underarm stubble. Yeowee! That’s a mistake you don’t make twice! Either shave the night before or let it grow out well in advance.

    I also tend to get chafing around the sports bra band but haven’t had much success with lube in this area. I’ve found that spending extra money on a high-quality bra is best. I can’t afford very many so I have a “special” bra for long/hot runs and cheap ones for the short runs.

  9. Michael says:

    This is kind of gross, but if you use the whole bandaid, some of those waterproof ones will stay on even when you take a shower. I’ve had them stay on almost two weeks, so I’m protected all that time. You can also use your Nipguards twice. Take them off after your run and put them back on the plastic sheet. They won’t stick as well the next day, but the weight of your shirt against your body keeps them on.

  10. HUGE fan of aquafor. I slather that stuff everywhere. For triathlon, I tend to use Brave Soldier; it’s thicker and less likely to be washed off during the swim.

  11. well being overweight doesn’t really help, so I’ve tried quite a few things.
    Bandaid doesn’t stick on the body for me. Neither does medical tape (and i even tried regular tape -OUCH) neither does vaseline or bodyglide (for me) on the nips, but as a cyclist also, i’ve found that Assos “buttcreme” works wonders for the nips as well. But for the really long runs it’s nipguards for me. That is the only thing staying put after 20k’s
    It also works well for the thighs, but usually i can cope with normal vaseline. (i do run in tights though and compression works a lot better for me than “regular” tights which might have something to do with that excess amount of skin slightly hanging)

    And Yes pain is good, it’s not until we can’t feel the pain anymore that we have to worry! – But is IS a bloody mess :-) have destroyed my share of shirts with blood from the nips. (i guess that’s why some of the female runners were smiling the way they were)

  12. It might not work for everybody, but I’ve found that wearing a compression top doesn’t result in chafing. I’ve been wearing the “Pro Combat”-branded shirts and singlets made by Nike for a little over a year now, and I’ve yet to experience any chafing with them on as either a base layer (when running in cold weather) or as the primary layer (when running in warm weather).

  13. Anyone had any luck using stick deodorant instead of a commercial lube like Body Glide? Guys at a group run were talking about it, but I’m a bit skeptical.

  14. I just found this on the hikegoo site:

    “Each of our protective foot creams is formulated for specific activities and footwear. The relative percentage of hard vs soft waxes in each product’s formulation enables it to perform optimally for that activity. The more hard wax, the longer the product stays on the skin’s surface and the slower it absorbs. HikeGoo has the most hard wax and will last in the harsh environment of a boot on an all-day climb. The higher percentage of soft waxes in the foot cream, the greater absorption and dry skin moisturization. SilkStep has the most soft waxes and is optimized for moisturization. WalkGoo is in-between HikeGoo and SilkStep.”

    So I’m guessing rungoo is between hike and walk?

    I never previously had issues with much chafing, but being pregnant over summer has meant that a lot more areas were rubbing all of a sudden! I tried Skin Sake, which was highly recommended but did nothing – the only product that worked was body glide.

  15. I originally used BodyGlide as well and stopped using it for the same reasons. Now I use TriSlide for all of my chafing-prevention needs and it works great. I love that it’s a spray and very easy to apply in any location.

  16. Man is this chaffing painful. Been the victim of all of these many a time and I think the inner thigh chaff on a run caused my current medial gastroc strain trying to run whilst avoiding the pain of the chaffing. Shirt comes straight off as soon as the nipples start getting sore.

    Another thing of note, guys make sure you have the right type of shorts to run in. I bought a nice comfortable medium length ‘training’ shorts that aren’t obviously made for running. They were great but one day, something different happened and the mesh type lining rubbed ‘somewhere else and before I realised, just like the nipple bleeding, I had something else bleeding on the tip. So painful especially in the shower afterwards. Took days to heal up. I learned my lesson to run in proper shorts.

  17. I recommend Micropore tape on nipples. It’s cheap, easy and quick to apply and get off afterwards.

  18. Canadian says:

    My problem is bra chafing on my back. It’s actually a major issues, causes me pain in the shiwer and then I develop actual scabs. I use lots if Body Glide but it doesn’t solve the problem. I went to a specialty bra store that put me into a 32F Panache Sport rather than the 34D Moving Comfort Fiona I had been wearing. It is good for about an hour and a half, but I still don’t have a solution for my 2+ hour long runs. Sometimes I tuck a bit of my shirt under the back of my bra, but that looks ridiculous and I have to keep shoving it back. It makes me wonder if I would be able to train for a marathon, as half marathon training is bad enough. Any suggestions, anyone?

    • If you are chafing where the bra hooks, you might consider a front-hook bra. I love Enell for running. I’m about a 32G in Panache, but fit in a size 1 Enell. I also have discovered Lynx Sportswear, which is pretty good. Also, make sure the band is snug enough. It shouldn’t move around at all when you run or jump.

      If you prefer the underwire sports bras, you could use a piece of terry cloth or another soft fabric and make a simple tube that could slip around the bra band and cover the clasp. Even velcro closure would work. It would stay in place better than your shirt and you can toss it in the wash.

    • I’m a 32G and I’ve had luck with Shock Absorber’s max control line. No chafing, and the double clasp system is really nice.

  19. This post couldn’t of come at a better time! Sharing with the fiancé! Thanks!!

  20. Andrew Lischuk says:

    I also get a pretty good chafe from my heart rate monitor to go with the nipple and waistline chafing. Going to have to find some extra large bandaids to cover that area since it’s gotten pretty deep during some longer races.

    • Same problem. I find BodyGlide on the heart rate strap works well (don’t put it on the bit where the signal has to get through).

  21. Nice post, Pete. Thanks for writing about a topic that probably doesn’t get enough attention. I’ve been using steri-strips for my nipples and works great – similar to band-aids. My wife had them left over from a surgery last year they’re easy to put on and off.

    I’m done with Body Glide. I have ruined so many shirts because of that stuff – never again.

  22. White cloth hockey tape is one of the simplest solutions for the nip problem. It’s cheap, comes in big rolls, and easily tears into squares that are big (or small) enough to do the job. No scissors required and it stays on when wet.

  23. I nipple chafe a lot and used the dot band aids. I now just have a roll of waterproof bandage tape and direct apply the tape to my nipples. The Johnson and Johnson brand tears easily with my hands, so no cutting. You can get different widths. I use 1″ wide and don’t worry about pulling some hair. It hasn’t been an issue.

    This is probably even cheaper than what you are doing, and pretty convenient.

    • I had tape once that worked really well, similar texture to the Sport Strip bandaids. Will need to look for the one you mention.

      • I have discovered Transpore tape by 3M. It is also a medical tape, it tears easily by hand. It has not been difficult to remove and has stayed on when wet. (bought mine online)

        For other bits that need lubrication, I have found that Sportslick works well and stays on very well even after it is wet. Just be prepared to wash and wipe your hands as it is also kind of a challenge to remove after applying.

        • Oh, also Transpore is pretty transparent. Good thing when forgetting to remove it before taking my kids to the pool. (have done it more than once when I was using bandaids)

  24. No way is that picture real… is that real? I have had bad chaffing on the nipples but not that bad. this reminds me of the brooks running super fans with their nipple taping stand. haha!

  25. I’m a little late to the party here. I use 2Toms SportShield. It’s a roll-on and it works better for me than body glide. It lasts for hours. I still need bandaids for anything over 8 or so miles, but the same goes for bodyglide.

  26. I use liquid band aid on the nips. Works like a charm.

    • Ditto on the liquid band aid and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to take it off before jumping in the pool.

  27. Saxx boxer briefs have saved me from inner thigh chafing enough times to justify the price. Check them out. During an ultra, everything can chafe and these briefs have a special pouch that helps. During my last 100, I had several unanticipated spots of chafing in the groin. Vaseline and lube just don’t cut it. It’s messy and requires frequent application.

    I’m planning in using them at TRT 100 in July to avoid a repeat.

  28. Instead of Nip Guard, I borrow my son’s superheroes bandages made by Nexcare. The assorted bandage package comes with a perfect small size square waterproof bandage that cover the nips nicely. For less than $2, you get 12 small bandage plus other sizes that are good for blisters for my big toe

  29. Nick Wojtasik says:

    So chafing is primarily fabric-on-skin in moist/wet areas? Not skin on skin?

    Just curious about this as I contemplate if persistence hunters had chafing problems… Do you think it would be eliminated if one were running naked or in, say, a kilt?

  30. My favorite thing to use is Bandelettes. They do a great job from keeping my thighs from rubbing together and causing chaffing, especially when I am running. Bandelettes (http://www.bandelettes.com ) come in my styles but be sure to measure your thighs properly for them to work.

  31. Try NipEaze :)

  32. Bag Balm. It’s originally designed for the bag of a milk cow to soften unders and prevent the 5 gallon bag between the cow’s legs from being rubbed raw. Used this stuff for years for a million other uses but running is where it really shines. This stuff works miracles and it medicated just in case it fails during that marathon ut yrust me it won’t. A triathlon runner was asked to do a review while wearing Bag Balm and despite running, swimming, and biking all those miles while wet it never failed. Best of all it’s only $1 an oz. Let’s see your running cream do that.

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