Summer comes with a lot of excitement, but as far as your skin care is concerned, the season can also come with its fair share of downfalls: an extra greasy complexion, breakouts, and sunburns, to name a few. One issue many people struggle with on their body is thigh chafing, or “skin irritation that occurs when the skin on the inner thighs rub against each other or against clothing,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Ryan Turner, M.D. This skin annoyance can occur during physical activities as sweat and moisture exacerbates said friction, but you don’t have to be an enthusiastic exerciser to experience it, as hot, humid weather conditions are primarily responsible for making thigh chafing a real-life problem. And, not to mention, some things (like participating in strenuous activity or taking hot showers) can further aggravate your irritation.
Whether you anticipate thigh chafing becoming your summer-long skin care woe or are already suffering from the redness and inflammation it can cause, the good news is that there are several ways to prevent and treat it. Below, TZR spoke with dermatologists to learn what to look for in an anti-chafing product, how to develop a proper post-chafing routine, and when to seek medical attention.
What Is Thigh Chafing?
Generally speaking, chafing refers to irritation from friction of skin against ill-fitted clothing or rubbing of the two skin areas (in the case of thigh chafing, in between the thighs), says Dr. Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, M.D., board-certified dermatologist of Precision Skin Institute, who adds that other areas that are prone to summertime chafing are the groin, armpits, underneath the breasts, and buttock crease. Thigh chafing, in particular, is more common in the summer for a few reasons. For one, there’s increased humidity that can cause more friction where the skin on the thighs meet. You’re also more likely to wear clothing that’ll create skin-to-skin contact in the summer (think: dresses, shorts, and bathing suits), therefore creating more friction, which equals more chafing, says Dr. Turner.
The irritation can initially present itself as red, discolored skin that’s uncomfortable at best. But, in more severe cases, the skin will begin to get shiny and appear raw. You may also experience tenderness, itchiness, and burning in addition to a rough, scaly texture, says Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. If untreated, the area may develop bumps, mild swelling, or even blisters that can break and ooze, says board-certified dermatologist and founder of Sajic Skin Science, Dr. Dusan Sajic, M.D.
If your thigh chafing worsens without improvement, a trip to a board-certified dermatologist to rule out infection may be warranted. “A bacterial infection, which can cause pus, increased pain, or a fever, may cause the skin to develop into painful sores or scabs,” warns Dr. Sajic. Dr. Blyumin-Karasik also adds that persistent, severe cases of chafing can lead to long-lasting skin discolorations and scars, so it’s best to seek medical attention in these cases to avoid complications.
How To Prevent Thigh Chafing
To prevent the condition in the first place, anti-chafing products are a good place to start. “Anti-chafing sticks help create a frictionless surface so that when the skin rubs against each other, it is less likely to chafe,” explains board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive, Dr. Anar Mikailov, M.D. Some anti-chafing sticks contain anti-perspirant, which Dr. Mikailov says helps by limiting moisture in that area while acting as a barrier to reduce friction. If you’re concerned with odor in addition to chafing, you can opt for products that neutralize odor (like deodorants). Common ingredients you’ll find in an anti-chafing stick include waxes, oils, and moisturizers that help create a protective barrier to allow the skin to glide more easily, reducing the rubbing that causes chafing, says Dr. Turner.
Petroleum-based products can also be helpful in preventing thigh chafing, as they can help create a protective barrier on the skin's surface, says Dr. Turner. “When applied to areas prone to chafing, like the inner thighs, these balms help create a smooth surface which allows the skin to glide against itself more easily.” Not to mention, petroleum jelly also has moisturizing properties that can help keep the skin hydrated, which also decreases inflammation from chafing, Dr. Turner tells TZR.
As far as clothing goes, breathable material as well as sweat-wicking fabric will also aid in prevention, says Dr. Mikailov. “Consider fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex, which are known for their moisture-wicking properties,” says Dr. Turner. “Cotton is a good option, but it can retain moisture, so it might not be the best choice for extended physical activity like spending hours outside, biking, running, or playing tennis.”
How To Treat Thigh Chafing
So, you weren’t able to successfully prevent thigh chafing — no big deal. Our experts recommend a specific yet simple routine that consists of first washing the area with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser that’s free of any potentially irritating ingredients like chemical exfoliants. Then, gently pat the skin dry and apply an anti-inflammatory, highly moisturizing product on top. “Products containing aloe, green tea extracts, and niacinamide have natural anti-inflammatory properties and can be combined with ceramides and natural oils like jojoba to help restore the skin barrier,” notes Dr. Turner.
When dealing with thigh chafing, it’s a balancing act involving treating that raw, uncomfortable skin all while preventing it from getting worse. Dr. Mikailov says you’ll want to treat the skin like it’s wounded and avoid anything that can potentially irritate it even more such as fragrance, stripping soaps, and even hot water. A thick emollient works best here — look for one laced with ingredients like ceramides, coconut oil, or jojoba oil to promote healing and a stronger skin barrier, says Dr. Mikailov.
While your skin repairs itself, Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says you’ll want to avoid strenuous activity, which can agitate the chafing area, as well as scratching or rubbing the injured skin to avoid secondary wounds or infections. Finally, “avoid tight, constricting clothing to minimize heat and humidity in the area, which can further chafing breakouts,” says Blyumin-Karasik.