Don’t be embarrassed. Nipple chafing and raw skin aren’t just facts of life you’re forced to live with.
Eager-eyed and bushy-tailed, you’re ready to train for running your first marathon—perhaps without being fully aware of the various hazards involved. (Spoiler alert: dehydration is just the tip of the iceberg.)
Or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran, very familiar with the threat of nipple chafing, but still aren’t sure quite how to solve or prevent it.
Whoever you are, wherever you hail from, and whatever experience you have: you’ve made it to the right place. We’re here to help defend against the fretfully raw and bloody nipple which plagues way too many runners (especially males).
Click on a section below that piques your interest on chafed skin, or scroll down to explore the basics on running chafing, why it happens, and how to make it go away once and for all.
- What is chafing?
- What does chafing look like?
- What causes chafing?
- How to prevent chafing?
- How to get rid of chafing?
What is chafing?
Chafing of the skin is defined as “red, sore skin that has been irritated by something continuously rubbing against it”. Nipple chafing in particular—formally known as “fissures of the nipple”—is caused by irritation of one or both nipples due to friction from clothing.
Nipple chafing is most common amongst runners, who sometimes don’t even realize they’re ruining their favorite athletic shirt until it’s way too late. However, nipple chafing isn’t only exclusive to runners; surfers without rash guards experience the same, so too do breastfeeding women.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, protecting your body against elements such as heat and a variety of foreign invaders. But although it’s strong and flexible, it’s also delicate, composed of three layers (the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis) which—just like anything else—can breakdown when overworked.
It’s true that skin naturally sheds and regenerates itself constantly throughout the day and while you sleep, but excessive contact and repeated rubbing of the epidermis is painfully aggravating and annoying—especially while you’re trying to get a workout in.
Fun fact: The skin around your nipple (known as the areola) is especially thin, making it all the more sensitive to chafing and irritation.
Moisture makes matters worse, hence why nipple chafing is more pronounced when running in the rain or sweating under the hot sun.
As you perspire and the sweat evaporates, salt crystals form, thereby adding grit and increasing friction. If you’re thinking sand paper on the skin, you’re on the right track.
Wet/dry contact is more uncomfortable on your skin, and if you’re cold with hard nipples, run chafing is way more likely (and painful).
Common Chafing Locations
Painfully chafed skin can occur anywhere on your body with skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing contact, but your nipples, thighs, underarms, and groin are particularly vulnerable. Essentially anywhere on your body with crevices (the buttocks, under-breast region) is at high chafing risk.
If you have any rolls of fat or sagging skin (zero judgment here), you’re likely to experience chafing in those areas, especially when moisture from sweat gets trapped in there. But even super toned and trim elitist runners can experience chafed skin—especially if under-prepared.
Neglecting to wear the right long distance running apparel increases your risk of nipple chafing and running chafing. We’re not just talking about shirts here; sure, men can run shirtless and avoid the dreaded nipple chafe, but bra straps, backpacks, and heart rate monitors also create pressure that leads to running chafing.
What does chafing look like?
Raw, chafed skin takes its shape in many different forms—none of which are particularly pretty.
From minor rashes and redness to severe nipple fissures and cracks, running chafing varies in intensity based on how long and how abrasive the pronounced rubbing is.
You might have seen or experienced drastic nipple chafing mid-marathon or near the finish line, with men displaying trails of blood running down their chest to their bellies. Don’t laugh; sympathize.
In these severe cases, dudes aren’t particularly stoked on how nipple chafing looks—let alone how it feels. If we’re talking to you, cast your embarrassment aside and keep in mind that nipple chafing is just one of the less-than favorable byproducts of being a badass and pushing your body to the limit (ahem, need we mention runner’s diarrhea?).
Symptoms of Nipple Chafing
Whether you’re long distance training for a run or simply adding on a few extra miles to your morning jog, you can experience chafing ranging from a slight burning sensation to pain that stops you right in your tracks. The list of potential symptoms of running chafing and nipple fissures include:
- Soreness, tenderness, or redness
- Slight discomfort or intense pain
- Ruptured epidermis cracks or open sores
- Scabbing or an appeared “crustiness”
- Dry, chapped, chafe texture
- Skin that is oozing or bleeding
No matter how major or minor your nipple chafing symptoms present themselves, the sensation is never pleasant. Getting to the root cause of nipple chafing and learning how to prevent it is the name of the game.
What causes chafing?
As your shirt moves back and forth across your chest while running, it rubs against your delicate nipples and results in chafe skin. Gritty salt crystals increase the friction of running chafing, so cover them up with tape before heading off on a run to protect yourself from pain or bleeding.
The abrasive movement of your shirt causes nipple chafing but, as noted, chafe skin due to running isn’t exclusive to nipples, and it’s not a problem faced by just men. Ladies might be familiar with their sports bra strap rubbing their rib cage raw, while guys and gals alike may know the look of a freshly boiled lobster caused by inner-thigh chafing—regardless of whether you’re walking or running.
Alternative Nipple Chafing Causes
Nipple chafing is most common among male runners, but it doesn’t end there.
Friction caused by surf boards can create some boo-boos on your chest during your next Hawaiian vacation if you don’t pack a rash guard along.
Husbands may also sympathize with their breastfeeding wives once nipple chafing sets in when suckling and feeding the baby begins to hurt.
The bottom line: No one is above nipple chafing. It might sound like a funny injury and the sight of a bloodied shirt might be one to behold, but the pain is certainly no laughing matter.
How to prevent chafing?
Nipple chafing while running develops slowly—which explains why it’s more common amongst long distance runners and marathoners who rack up at least five miles or more. If you want to know how to prevent nipple chafing and keep your chest pain-free, follow these tips.
Nipple Chafing Prevention Tips
- Cover them. One simple solution to avoid nipple chafing is to just cover them up with Band-Aids, Nip Guards, or tape before taking off for training or racing.
- Petroleum jelly or Body Glide, when applied to hot spots, can help reduce friction.
- Dress right. Wear the proper running attire—especially when logging high mileage—with tight, moisture-wicking fabric.
- Stay dry. Wetness and chafing go hand in hand, so slap on some talcum powder or baby powder to absorb moisture on your run.
How to get rid of chafing?
If you didn’t prevent running chafing, it’s time to treat and sooth your sensitive skin. Here’s how.
Nipple Chafing Treatment
- Gently clean your chafed skin with water and dry it thoroughly.
- Avoid harsh chemicals that might aggravate or worsen your irritated area.
- Cover the chafed area with breathable gauze.
- If the area is infected, pick up and antibiotic ointment.
- See a doctor if you see no improvement from your self-care measures.
A chafed nipple scab should clear itself up within a week, but if you see no improvement from your self-care measures, it may be time to see a doctor.
From nipple chafing to runner’s knee, black toenails to nauseating exhaustion, intense running takes its toll on our bodies in all different ways.
Keep these strategies in mind to keep running chafing at bay and you’ll be well on your way to conquering your next race in comfort.