What Causes Chafing and How Can I Prevent It?

Medically Reviewed By Jenneh Rishe, RN
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Chafing is when a mild rash develops in a spot where your skin was rubbing. It happens when there is a combination of moisture and friction. The friction is typically from skin-on-skin or skin-on-fabric contact.  Common areas for chafing include spots where skin rubs against skin, such as the thighs, breasts, and armpits. Other areas include spots where skin rubs against clothing, such as the buttocks, nipples, groin, and feet.

Treatment involves removing the source of friction and keeping your skin clean and dry. Usually, chafing clears up in a couple of days.

Read on to learn more about what causes chafing and tips on how to help prevent it. 

What causes chafing?

A person hiking while wearing shorts
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Your skin is the biggest organ of your body. It keeps all your internal organs protected from your environment, helps regulate your body temperature, and is important for your overall health. 

Skin is strong and flexible. However, overexposure to moisture starts to break down its strength. The medical field calls this “moisture-associated skin damage.” With the addition of friction, chafing is the first step of the skin’s breakdown process. 

Common causes of chafing include:

  • Athletics: People who participate in biking and running are more prone to chafing injuries. This is because of sweating combined with repeated body movements and rubbing against clothing.
  • Having overweight: People who have overweight are more prone to skin-on-skin rubbing combined with sweating.
  • Nursing: This causes nipples to be moister than usual. Combined with friction from nursing and bras, there is a high risk of chafing.
  • Wearing skirts: Walking around in a skirt in hot or humid weather can cause chafing on the thighs where they rub together.
  • Diapers: Diapers keep moisture against the skin. The moisture combined with the diaper rubbing against the skin can cause chafing.
  • Clothes or shoes not fitting well: Wearing clothes or shoes that pinch or rub in certain areas can cause chafing.

Read about the causes and symptoms of heat rash.

How can you prevent chafing?

Preventing chafing is possible. It is all about reducing moisture and friction.

Apply a barrier

If you know you will be in a situation where your skin is at risk of chafing, you may wish to apply a barrier.

Some creams, powders, and oils can provide protection for your skin and reduce friction. 

  • You can apply petroleum jelly to areas you know are vulnerable to chafing, such as your inner thighs.
  • Antiperspirants can help decrease sweating.
  • Applying a thin layer of deodorant to high risk areas can help add protection.
  • Creams, especially ones that contain zinc oxide, are great for skin health.
  • Anti-chafing sticks are available for purchase in most pharmacies.
  • Non-talcum powders can help decrease moisture. However, they can also clump up and increase the chafing risk.
  • A soft “second skin” bandage can help in areas such as your feet and nipples.
  • For chafing between skin folds or under breasts, use a zinc oxide-based paste applied to the skin.

Wear well-fitting clothing

Wear clothing that fits you well. Clothing that is too big or tight will rub and irritate. 

Avoid clothing with lots of seams and remove tags to decrease irritation.

If you are active, choose clothing that wicks moisture away from your skin. Look for synthetic fabrics that say “moisture-wicking.” Avoid wearing cotton, as it retains moisture and keeps your skin damp.

If you experience chafing on your inner thighs, choose legwear that helps prevent skin-on-skin friction, such as compression shorts.

Pay special attention to the fit of your shoes and ensure there is no rubbing on the heels or tops of your feet. Wear nylon or moisture-wicking socks to keep your feet dry. 

Stay hydrated

As you become dehydrated, your sweat becomes more concentrated with salt. Stay hydrated with water and other beverages that contain electrolytes if you are sweating

A hydrated person has pale yellow urine. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration

Keep clean and dry

Wash after exercise to clean off salty sweat. Allow your skin to dry completely. If you have tender areas on your skin, pat them with a towel rather than rubbing them, as rubbing can add more friction damage. 

After swimming, change out of your wet bathing suit to reduce the risk of wet fabric rubbing on your skin. 

The same goes for wet clothes. If your clothing becomes wet, such as if you get stuck in a rainstorm or wade through water, change out of the wet clothes and shoes as soon as possible. 

Care for your nipples while nursing

Avoid soaps and creams on your nipples while you nurse. Rinse with water only and gently pat dry. 

After nursing, allow your nipples to air dry. Some milk on them while they dry is safe, as breast milk helps with skin irritation and fighting infection.

Look for soft fabric nursing bras that do not irritate your nipples.

If you tend to leak milk, insert a cloth or disposable nursing pads into your bra. When they are damp, replace them with a dry pad. 

How do you treat chafing?

Chafed skin needs gentle treatment. Home remedies are typically all that is needed.

The first step is to remove the irritant that is causing the chafing. If this is not possible, follow the steps for prevention listed above. 

Second, clean the chafed area with water and gentle soap. Avoid cleaning with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, as this can cause further damage. Pat the skin dry and avoid rubbing, as this can add to the injury. 

At-home remedies for relief

After the skin is clean and dry, you can use some of the following at-home remedies to aid in healing. 

Petroleum jelly

The dermatologists at the American Academy of Dermatology Association claim that petroleum jelly is good for helping prevent chafing and helping chafed skin heal. 

Simply apply petroleum jelly to the chafed area a couple of times a day for best results. 

Plant oils

According to research, the following oils can decrease inflammation and increase wound healing: 

  • olive
  • coconut
  • jojoba
  • argan

The oil may need applying multiple times throughout the day for optimal healing. 

If you are concerned about the oil getting on your clothes, cover the area with a bandage. When possible, let the chafed area air dry.

Aloe vera

The aloe vera plant has long been known as a medicinal plant used for its healing effects on the skin. 

According to research, applying aloe vera helps the skin:

  • decrease inflammation
  • fight against bacterial and viral infections
  • create a barrier
  • retain moisture
  • improve wound healing

Medical treatments

If you find your chafing is not getting better after a few days, seek medical attention from your doctor.

Signs it may not be healing include:

  • bleeding
  • skin discoloration
  • the area crusting over
  • a foul smell

Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream to help your skin heal. 

Learn when to contact a doctor about a rash.

What is chafing?

Chafing is when your skin has begun to break down due to moisture and friction. It is the first break in your skin’s integrity. If not stopped, the chafing could turn into a bigger wound. 

Typically, the top layer of skin is strong, flexible, and able to handle some friction. However, when moisture such as sweat combines with consistent friction against other skin or clothing, the skin begins to break down.


Mild symptoms include:

  • a stinging or burning sensation
  • discoloration
  • mild rash

More severe symptoms include:

  • bleeding
  • blistering
  • a change in skin color
  • crusting
  • swelling


Chafing is a common skin problem resulting from moisture and friction against the skin. It typically looks similar to a mild rash and may sting or burn.

Common areas include the thighs, breasts, and armpits. To treat chafing, protect the skin from further friction, keep it clean and dry, and apply some wound healing products if needed. Typically, the rash will clear up after a couple of days.

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Medical Reviewer: Jenneh Rishe, RN
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 26
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.