How to avoid summertime chafing

Let the bane of athletes visit you no more.

Skin chafing torments athletes year round, but it’s particularly loathsome in summer. It afflicts runners, hikers, cyclists, swimmers and surfers. “Moisture and anything ‘sticky’ that makes friction worse takes a bigger toll on the skin and, subsequently, causes tissue breakdown,” says Tanya Kormeili, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of California at Los Angeles. Painful chafing can take around a week to heal, so preventing it is key in keeping workouts comfortable. Here are the do's and don'ts:

Don't wear cotton.Cotton absorbs sweat, so when a cotton garment is damp, it can rub skin raw. (Any guy who's ended a marathon—or 5K—with two blood spots on his shirt can attest to that.) Wear tops that are soft, loose-fitting and free of tags, says Matt Tanneberg, C.S.C.S., a sports chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist in Phoenix. Synthetic “tech” materials designed to be lightweight, quick-drying and wick away moisture, such as Lycra or Coolmax, perform better than cotton. Avoid tops and bottoms made from rayon, viscose and bamboo, which contain wood fibers and can be just as bad as cotton when it comes to chafing.

Do stay taught.Close-fitting, slippery clothing (such as compression shorts) can minimize the friction that causes chafing, says Kormeili. Scrutinize the fit of sports bras, as ones that are too loose or too tight can cause friction. Even bras that fit perfectly, however, can chafe, cutting into underarm skin and across the ribs. So apply some lubricant, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor, to the places where skin meets fabric. This also applies to nipples, upper thighs and bikini lines for swimmers.

Don't double-up.Yesterday's clothes contained dried sweat, which is basically a layer of salt and an irritant to the skin. Put on a clean sports bra, shirt, etc., for every workout, even if you're on a multi-day backpacking trip and don't have access to a shower.

Don't ignore past mistakes.If you're sporting some painful chafed spots, Tannenberg says, use Neosporin on the affected area every night until the skin heals: “It creates the same lubrication as Vaseline, but also speeds up the healing process.”

Do get zapped.Stubble in armpits can create painful friction, and razor burn and ingrown hairs can increase irritation in areas where sportswear rubs against red bumpy skin, particularly along the bikini line. “Athletic people who have issues with ingrown hairs can suffer serious irritation,” says Kelly Rheel, co-owner of Flash Lab Laser Suite in Manhattan. Laser hair removal can eliminate stubble, ingrown hairs and skin trauma to keep you comfortable and abrasion-free.