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Chafing is one of those skin concerns that almost everyone and their mother has experienced at some point. It can happen to anyone — no matter how tough or sensitive your skin might be. Put simply: Chafing refers to irritation (i.e. redness, dryness, and even blistering) caused by a chronic friction of the skin, like when your legs rub together while you’re walking, or when your bra strap digs into your skin.
“Chafing can be due to anything that causes friction on the skin, such as running, walking, and dancing,” says dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City, Melissa Levin. In regards to the most common areas where chafing occurs, Levin says the inner thighs, armpits, under the breasts, and nipples are at the top of the list as they’re generally sensitive spots that are most susceptible to friction. (For instance, people’s thighs tend to rub together when running, or even walking, and clothes are constantly rubbing against nipples.)
“Any repeated skin-on-skin or fabric-on-skin contact can lead to dryness, irritation, blistering, or the break down of the skin in these places,” explains Levin. Note that she says chafing can happen not only when the skin rubs together repeatedly, but also when clothes — such as a bra, bathing suit, or waistline — scratch against the skin, too. In most cases, chafing looks like red, raw skin that’s chapped and in desperate need of moisture. Sometimes, it even bleeds.
Now, for some good news: There are several ways to prevent chafing, and all of them are easy and painless. For instance, Levin says one way you can avoid chafing is by creating a barrier between the skin and whatever clothing you’re wearing. “I would recommend using a product that contains an ingredient like petrolatum because it will create a layer of protection on the skin,” she says. Additionally, she advises wearing clothing that is seamless, tagless, and made of synthetic materials, as this can help to minimize friction and subsequent irritation.
Another way to avoid this common skin condition is by keeping the skin as dry as possible — especially when working out as dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology, Sejal Shah, says, sweating can increase the chances of chafing. “Try using sweat-absorbing powders and wear clothes made of moisture-wicking fabric and without seams to minimize the chance of rubbing,” she suggests.
So, let’s say by some chance you do get a chafe burn — what should you do about it? According to Levin, you need to keep the area nourished and hydrated constantly until it heals. “You should start by cleansing with lukewarm water and then apply a barrier ointment or zinc oxide cream multiple times a day until it’s gone,” she says. Additionally, if you are able to hold off on whatever movement causes the chafing, doing so will help prevent it from getting any worse. If you experience chafing from activities you can’t avoid, like walking around, just do your best to care for the affected area while you live your life.