What is chafing?
The medical definition of chafing is a skin irritation that happens when your skin rubs against another part of your skin. It can also occur when your skin rubs against clothing or another material. Repeated friction causes the condition, but moisture can make it worse. Chafing commonly occurs in warm, moist areas such as your inner thighs, groin, buttocks, armpits and under your breasts. The condition can be painful but it’s usually mild and easily treatable.
Where can chafing occur?
Chafing can happen anywhere you have skin folds, but it can also occur where any parts of your body rub together or against clothing.
Breast and nipple chafing
The areas between and under your breasts are common areas of chafing. You may experience skin-on-skin or skin-on-clothing friction. Nipple chafing is common among people who breastfeed (chestfeed), as well as among athletes.
The combination of dry skin, sweat and friction can cause chafing under your arms. This type of chafing is common among athletes, people with obesity and people who work in hot, humid environments.
Thigh chafing occurs when your inner thighs rub against each other through skin-to-skin contact or through your clothing. Chafing thighs may be worse in hot weather. People of all shapes and sizes may experience this type of chafing.
A combination of friction and moisture causes chafing around your groin area, including your penis or your vaginal area. Your skin around this area is very sensitive, and therefore, easily irritated.
You can think of buttock chafing kind of like a baby’s diaper rash. This type of chafing can affect the area between your butt cheeks. It may also affect the area along the bottom part of your buttocks where it meets your upper legs.
Foot or feet chafing typically occurs due to blisters. Blisters are areas of raised skin that bubble and form due to repeated rubbing and pressure. They occur most often when your skin is sweaty and slipping around. That’s why you may get more blisters in the summertime or while exercising.
Symptoms and Causes
What does chafing look like?
Chafing can affect many areas of your body, and symptoms can be mild or severe.
Mild symptoms of chafing may be unnoticeable initially. You may only notice the condition when you feel your skin rub against another area. Mild symptoms may include:
- Red rash.
- Raised bumps.
- Hot feeling on and around the affected area.
- Stinging or burning sensation.
- Excessive irritation.
- Tender skin.
- Flaky, dry skin.
If you don’t stop the activity that caused the chafing, symptoms may get worse. Severe symptoms may include:
- Welts on all layers of your skin.
- Muscle pain.
- Swelling on and around the affected area.
- Cracked and broken skin.
- Blisters or sores.
- Secondary skin infections.
What causes chafing?
Your skin can withstand only so much friction. When it repeatedly rubs against other parts of your body, clothing or other surfaces, chafing may occur. When combined with moisture, your skin becomes even more susceptible to damage. Causes of chafing may include:
- Exercise: Repetitive motions like those made through intense exercises such as running or biking can cause friction against your skin or clothes. Sweat combined with friction can lead to a worsening condition.
- Clothes: Poorly fitting, restrictive clothing can rub your skin in uncomfortable ways. In addition, certain fabrics can cause irritation. Wet clothing can bunch up or stick to your skin as well, which causes friction.
- Shoes: Shoes that are too tight or too big can rub against your feet. This can cause blisters and make it uncomfortable to walk.
- Body weight: People with obesity have more skin folds, which are common areas where chafing occurs.
- Breastfeeding (chestfeeding): If you breastfeed (chestfeed) your infant, the process can irritate your nipples and lead to chafing. In addition, nursing pads and bras can also cause friction.
- Diapers: If your baby sits in a wet or dirty diaper for a long period of time, they can develop a kind of chafing called diaper dermatitis.
- Weather: Hot and humid weather can cause excess sweating (hyperhidrosis). This can lead to inflammation and rashes on certain areas of your body.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is chafing diagnosed?
You usually don’t need to see your healthcare provider for mild cases of chafing, and you can probably diagnose the condition yourself at home. The condition is easy to distinguish from other rashes because of the location on your body. The rash also comes on slowly and may gradually worsen as more skin chafes.
Management and Treatment
How is chafing treated?
Chafing treatment typically includes home remedies for mild cases. To help stop chafing, discontinue whatever activity caused the condition. If you don’t avoid the situation that caused the infection, you’ll make your symptoms worse. By simply eliminating the irritant, you should be able to get rid of chafing.
To heal chafing at home, first, clean the affected area completely with mild soap and water. After you’ve cleaned and dried the infected area, apply an aloe vera gel. Aloe vera may help relieve any pain and prevent further infection. Then, apply a layer of petroleum jelly to help heal irritation and prevent the chafing from getting any worse. To treat chafing in your groin area, you may try applying cornstarch to help absorb excess moisture.
Chafing may not heal overnight, but you should be able to get rid of it within a few days. Avoid the activity that caused the chafing and wear well-fitting clothing until your skin heals.
You should see your healthcare provider for medical treatment of chafing if the condition worsens or gets infected. In certain cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical antibiotic or corticosteroid.
How can I prevent chafing?
There are many steps you can take to prevent chafing. These steps include:
- If something starts hurting and feels like it’s chafing your skin, stop what you’re doing. Continuing may worsen the condition.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. Check labels, and make sure to wear 100% cotton fabric. Cotton soaks up moisture and sweat. Seams and tags can also cause irritation. Keep your clothing clean and dry. Dried sweat, dirt and other debris can cause irritation.
- Use petroleum jelly, an anti-chafing cream or an anti-chafing stick to prevent chafing in easily irritated areas. This tip may be especially useful to help prevent and stop thigh chafing.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks to protect your feet from blisters. Also, wear properly fitting shoes.
- Apply soft, flexible bandages to areas such as your feet or nipples, which are especially prone to chafing.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have chafed skin?
Chafing is an annoying skin condition, but most of the time, it’s harmless. Stop or avoid activities that cause chafing, and use the tips above to prevent the condition.
If you do experience chafing, clean the area and apply a lubricant to protect and heal your skin. Within a few days, the wound should heal. If the condition worsens, see your healthcare provider.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Mild cases of chafing can get worse if you don’t stop whatever caused the condition and treat it. If you experience worsening symptoms such as discoloration or crusting, see your healthcare provider. You may need an antibiotic or antifungal medication. You may need to wrap blisters or sores to ensure they don’t pop or burst. If you don’t seek treatment, you could develop complications such as:
- Intertrigo: Intertrigo is a kind of dermatitis caused by skin folds rubbing up against each other in warm, moist areas. Intertrigo is more severe than chafing. It can cause an oozing rash and lead to yeast or bacterial infections.
- Infection: Severe chafing can cause severe damage to your skin, including open wounds. These sores can leave your body exposed to further infection.
- Friction burns: A friction burn is a severe type of chafing that can occur when your skin is scraped off through contact with another surface. Friction burns may increase your risk for an infection.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chafing is an annoying condition that can happen to anyone. The best treatment for the condition is prevention. Wear properly fitting clothing, avoid activities that you know cause chafing and use an anti-chafing stick or cream. If you develop the condition, you should be able to easily treat it with aloe vera and petroleum jelly. If the condition worsens, see your healthcare provider for further treatment.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy