The more I have dabbled in running long distances, the more I learn just how surprisingly complicated the sport can be. Even if you stretch, train, hydrate, and eat properly, unexpected pains can arise from the increased distance. These pains may not make themselves known while you are actually putting in the miles, but as soon as you step into the shower and water hits the areas of skin rubbed raw, you realize the damage of what chafing has been done.
At one time I believed that my “figure” or weight was contributing to the dilemma of chafing. Not having the elite runner “look,” I imagined that chafing was not an issue that smaller runners dealt with. I have since come to understand that this problem can afflict any size and shape runner, and that it is simply a result of skin rubbing against skin (or fabric on skin) which is an entirely ubiquitous and simply a human experience.
As much as a sturdy exoskeleton would be my preferred solution to skin issues, ingenious people have developed more practical means for protecting our largest organ (the skin). By using these solutions, we can keep the after-run-burn where it belongs, only in our muscles.
Picture this: you are 20+ miles into a long run and you’re starting to feel some rubbing discomfort in the “panty line” vicinity. You are miles from any kind of assistance and the supplies you are carrying are minimal. You’re forced to get creative. Here are some of the worst of my (real-life) creative attempts to stop chafing.
1. Running Incorrectly
When a small rub or pain begins, it can be tempting to change your running form. I’ve found that running with a wider stance can stop inner thigh chafing, but this is not only unsustainable but potentially could lead to injury. Was not helpful with the chafing in this particular scenario. Probably would have been comic relief for any bystanders. 2/10
2. Going Commando
Not having experienced chafing in this area before, I became convinced that my undergarments were the root of my rubbing issue. In my slightly delirious state, I suddenly wondered if going commando would be the solution. It turns out that the issue the entire time was skin on skin rubbing, and nothing to do with the underwear. 1/10
3. Chapstick as Body Lube
The only potentially friction-reducing product I had with me was a minty chapstick. This seemed like a very smart solution when it came into my mind, but in reality, was painful on already raw skin. Could work in a pinch if you catch the chafing early enough? 3/10
4. The Sweatshirt-Sleeves-Tuck Trick
I had a wool mid-layer tied around my waist, and in a last-ditch effort to relieve the pain of chafing, I tucked the sleeves on each side against my skin where the pain was. Certainly not a long-term solution, but nonetheless this worked for the 4 or so miles until I got back to my crew’s vehicle. Wicking and reasonably comfortable. 4/10
Thigh, butt, under-arm, and under-bra chafing are all totally different animals and require different solutions. At the advice of internet friends and strangers, I began experimenting with real answers to the chafing dilemma. Here are some of the most useful responses to the dreaded running rub.
1. Classic Anti-Chafing Sticks and Goops:
There are dozens of types of topical preventatives for chafing, all with slight differences. This is by no means an inclusive list, but highlights a few products that friends endorse.
- Salty Britches is my top recommendation for anti-chafing goops, not only for its efficacy but also for their company ethos. They donate a tube to the US armed forces for every tube sold, their products are made in the US of A, and are never tested on animals… score!
- Squirrel’s Nut Butter (seems to have somewhat of a cult following) offers a vegan as well as “original” variety and comes in stick or tub form.
- Body Glide is a non-greasy formula that can be purchased in a deodorant-stick type form.
- This is the part where I mention that “men’s deodorant” has been a solution offered to me by a kind internet stranger. My husband’s brand was the only variety at my disposal. It smells excellent and contains antiperspirant, but might also be full of carcinogens.
DIY: There are plenty of friction-reducing compounds in our household that are not chemical-laden and may in fact prevent the chafe. After looking on a few websites for these commercial products it becomes clear that the contents are nothing you can’t get your hands on. It seems easy enough to craft your own anti-chafe remedy using coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter or any of the other ingredients listed on your favorite product’s website. This is an excellent way to be thrifty and makes the product highly-customizable. I would recommend trialing these homemade products with shorts that you are not afraid of staining, as these oils can leave their mark.
Verdict: I do not doubt that these products are effective in protecting the integrity of your skin, but the sticky sensation drew more of my attention to my thighs, which defeated the purpose for me with that issue. All helpful in their own ways, for certain chafe locations.
2. Non-Sticky Options:
Anti-chafing goops can feel sticky and unappealing. Powders are a dry alternative to anti-chafing woes.
- Anti Monkey Butt Powder is a bolstered baby powder (talcum + calamine) that reduces moisture and irritation. If you tend to sweat a lot, these products may clump and lose effectiveness (create a new source of chafing).
- Lush Silky Underwear Dusting Powder is a cornstarch and kaolin base with a touch of cocoa butter shavings to keep you smooth and dry. Lush’s website also touts the product’s aphrodisiac quality with jasmine and vetivert fragrance. There are reviews asking for this product to come in larger sizes. While this does get a lot of love and attention, I’ll just say that it certainly isn’t a low-cost solution.
DIY: There is conflicting information concerning the possible correlation of talc use on genitals and ovarian cancer, so perhaps cornstarch is a safer way to stay dry using an item you’re likely to have in your pantry.
Verdict: Powders provide the non-stick feeling I was seeking for thigh chafe specifically. Applying and wearing powders can come with a unique form of messiness, but I prioritize comfort over appearances for running. I have not yet tried powders for marathon (and beyond) distances, but feel hopeful that it is a worthy contender for the major types of chafing.
3. Properly Fitting Clothes:
It probably comes as no surprise that ill-fitting clothing is a major source of chafe pain. Seams in wrong places and inadequate skin coverage can all contribute to chafing.
- Wearing spandex shorts under work-out shorts has been my longest-used means of preventing chafing. Jockey makes “skimmies” which are lightweight, breathable, and inexpensive. They are also versatile- I have used them under running shorts and dresses alike, all without issue. Spanx has an assortment of biker shorts and activewear that serve the same purpose at a higher price range.
- Another solution of the “under-shorts” variety is shorts with built-in spandex. These tend to be pricier. Moxie shorts by Outdoor Research are one such example I can personally vouch for, although they are not in production anymore. Athleta and Patagonia are eco-conscious brands with well-made similar products.
- Boy shorts style underwear are supremely comfortable and can be useful for the “panty line” type chafing. Patagonia makes a high-quality version I personally recommend.
- It wouldn’t have occurred to me to get fitted for a sports bra, (as in, going to a proper bra shop and getting assistance to find the right size) but this could very well be the wisest of solutions for bra-related pains. As a bonus, a more supportive bra may relieve the back pain you’ve been ignoring for years.
Verdict: It is hard to beat a simple solution. Proper fit may seem like an obvious answer to chafing, but trying a new clothing style may make all the difference.
4. Kinesiology tape:
If you cannot afford to replace all of your sports bras, kinesiology tape is a life-saver. KT is normally used to support muscles and joints to prevent chronic pain during activity, but has proven to be useful in other applications. I place a strip of KT tape under my sports bra (and over the scar from past chafing horrors) and have ZERO chafing issues.
Verdict: This has been my holy grail for under-boob chafing prevention. A magic pill, of sorts. I would urge you to test in a small area if there is a chance you are sensitive or allergic to adhesives. No two runs are the same, just as no two people are the same. Experiment with using the resources available in your home or purchasing a few new items to learn which strategies combat chafing best for you. Being proactive in the care of your skin can save you pain, risk of infection, and keep you moving towards your hiking and running goals.