For runners, feet and legs are often the parts of the body that get injured. Sometimes, the injuries can extend to the ankles, shins, knees, and even hips.
But there’s one part of the body that can be prone to injury that is often overlooked. And it can be excruciating – the nipples.
A quick internet image search for nipple chafing will provide a plethora of images that can’t be unseen. Most experienced runners know the feeling well enough to take avoiding the problem very seriously. Unfortunately, once you feel it, it’s the kind of thing that makes you want to take a week off from running to avoid having the same burning pain again.
Today we’re discussing what causes nipple chafing, how to prevent it, and some tips for treating it, whether in the middle of a run or afterward.
What causes nipple chafing?
A study discovered that 35.7 percent of runners who ran 40 miles or more a week were experiencing chafed nipples, compared to 3.6 percent of runners who ran 15 miles or less in a week.
Nipple chafing is caused from the friction of the fabric of your shirt or bra rubbing against your nipples while you run. Your sweat can make it worse, as it softens the skin, making it easier to tear. The salt from your sweat can harden and become gritty, which causes further irritation to already sensitive nipples.
Nipple chafing can also be caused by wearing a shirt that’s made from a rough texture, or that isn’t made from synthetic materials. Synthetic materials help to evaporate sweat from the body more quickly, whereas material like cotton doesn’t allow for the moisture to evaporate quickly.
Both men and women can suffer nipple chafing, and women can also experience chafing around the ribs where their sports bra strap sits. You may not even realize that your nipples are chafing until it’s too late and you’re experiencing the following:
- Pain, burning sensation, or discomfort
- Dry appearance
- Cracked or torn skin
- Nipples that are bleeding or oozing
Treatment during a run or race
If you notice any of the above symptoms on your run, you should stop and treat quickly to prevent further damage and pain. You should carry a small bottle of lubricant with you, so that when your nipples start to burn you can apply the lubricant immediately.
If you don’t have lubricant and you’re a man, you can take your shirt off and continue to run. However, if you have a running belt, this could cause chafing around your hips and lower back.
If you’re running in a race, stop and ask at the medical station for some lubricant. The best advice for women is to run in a tight-fitting, seamless sports bra.
How to treat post-run
Once you’ve finished your run, wash your nipples with soap or an antibacterial wash to prevent any infections. Make sure the soap you use doesn’t have any chemicals or fragrances that could irritate the skin.
Gently pat the skin dry until you’ve removed all moisture, and then apply an ointment like A&D or a hydrocortisone cream like CeraVe Hydrocortisone Cream 1%. You may need to get a medicated or prescription-strength antibiotic cream if your nipples are:
- Very painful
If you’re not getting any relief, or your nipples seem to be getting worse, then you should go and see your doctor. Give your nipples a break from your workout for a few days so that they have sufficient time to heal. Even if you want to use a nipple cap, you don’t want to risk chafing them again mid-run.
While it may not always work, you can take steps to prevent nipple chafing.
The first thing you should start with is wearing a shirt that’s not too large or made from a rough material. Women should wear tight-fitting, seamless bras made from a soft material.
Choose materials that will help draw moisture away from your skin and help keep you dry as you run. This will also help to prevent irritation to the nipple area.
Lubricate your nipples before heading out as well. If you’re using nipple covers, make sure that they stick to your skin and that they’ll stay in place. If you have a very hairy chest, you have to see if you can get the nipple cover to stick to as much skin as possible.
Look at the type of adhesives being used with tape and nipple covers. You don’t want it to be too hard to remove. You also don’t want to possibly have an allergic reaction to the adhesive, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Nipple chafing is enough of a problem that many manufacturers have created products to help prevent this from occurring.
While home remedies and precautions can often work, these products are often easier and more effective than doing something on your own.
Here are our favorite products…
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Bodyglide Body The Original
You apply NipGuards directly to your skin, and you’ll find that the hollow circle fits comfortably over the nipple. It’s made from medical-grade adhesive and polyfoam, and you’ll find that you can use them in all weather conditions, including high humidity.
NipGuards are used by triathletes too, as they’re water-resistant and sweat-proof. You’ll find NipGuards at most endurance competitions, ultra marathons and 10ks. While some runners may find the visible octagonal shape of the NipGuard to be somewhat embarrassing, it’s a small price to pay to prevent jogger’s nipple.
- Can be used in all weather conditions
- Water and sweat-proof
- Hollow circle center with 1.5cm diameter
- Made from medical grade adhesive and polyfoam
- Some people may feel a bit embarrassed as people may notice the octagonal nipples under your shirt
These nipple covers come in two different sizes for you to choose from: Regular, which measures ¾ inch in diameter, or the Extra, which is one inch. You’ll find that these transparent stickers won’t come off even if you sweat heavily, as they become one with your nipple.
If you have sensitive skin, you won’t have to worry about irritation from the adhesive, as it’s latex-free. They’re quick and easy to apply and you’ll find that they peel away gently when you remove them.
You’ll find them to be discreet as they’re transparent and hardly leave a bump once you’ve put them on. They do tend to run a bit small, so you may want to get the Extra size to make sure your nipple will be covered.
- Latex-free adhesive covers
- Can choose from two sizes for a comfortable fit
- Sweat and water-resistant
- Easy to apply and gentle to remove
- Get them a size up, as they do run small
Best for Painless Removal
These transparent and discrete nipple covers are easy to apply and are an inch in diameter. You’ll find that these will remain in place even when conditions are humid, hot and you’re dripping with sweat.
The silicone adhesive allows for painless removal, even if you have a hairy chest. If you do, you may have to clean the area around your nipple before applying them.
- Discreet protection
- Silicone adhesive
- 1 inch in diameter
- Waterproof and sweat-proof
- You need to make sure that the NipStrips make contact with your skin if you have a hairy chest. Otherwise you could find that they fall off
Top for Multi-day Use
4. Pro-Tec Athletics Liquicell Nipple Protectors
These “liquid bandages” are small, easy to use, and come in a pack of 8.
They are membrane-thin, see-through stickers that are filled with liquid, which keeps the shirt or bra slightly away from your skin and prevents that constant rubbing that leads to pain and discomfort.
The adhesive is medical-grade, so there should be no chance of an allergic reaction or causing worse problems when you pull it off after your run. If your chest is particularly hairy, you may have trouble getting these to stick properly. If you’re serious about reducing nipple chafing, you may need to shave so you can make use of products such as these. Otherwise, a high-quality lubricant would be the way to go.
Using these nipple protectors may be a more attractive option than others as they’re very low-profile and discreet and can’t be seen at all under a shirt. They’re an oval shape and measure 1.75 inches by 1 inch, so they should cover every part you need them to.
As long as they’re still stuck to you, they’ll continue to work and protect your nipples for miles on end. They are a little expensive, but considering how effective they are, it’s worth it.
- LiquiCell® Bandage
- Medical-grade skin adhesive
- Has a low profile
- 1.75-inch x 1-inch in size
- If you have a hairy chest, you may find that these could fall off after a couple of miles
Best Anti-chafing Balm
5. Bodyglide Body The Original
It is very much worthwhile having BodyGlide Anti-Chafing Balm and applying it before you run. It’s a simple preventative measure to get ahead of any potential nipple chafing problems.
It’s free from allergens and made with plant-based ingredients, so it’s suitable to be applied to even the most sensitive of areas.
Just roll it onto any area of your body where you are prone to chafing, including the nipples. It’s non-greasy, non-messy, and free from anything toxic so once you’ve applied it, you won’t even know it’s there. It’s water and sweat-resistant so you won’t need to worry about reapplying for a while.
There is also no fragrance, so there’s very little to cause a bad reaction. It doesn’t clog the pores or stain clothing, so you can wear it anywhere and any time. There’s also no chance of it leaking in a gym bag or backpack, which makes it a very convenient choice.
- Made with allergen-free, plant-derived ingredients
- Sweat and water-resistant
- Lets your skin breathe
- Some people may find that it feels sticky once it’s been applied to the skin