Chafing is irritation resulting from prolonged and/or repeated friction on the skin. Many athletes contend with this uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful condition, and swimmers are certainly not exempt. In fact, they’re susceptible to chafing from three sources: a swimsuit or other swim gear rubbing against the skin, skin rubbing against other skin, and hair rubbing against skin.
For regular swimmers, the problem can get so bad that they have raw, bleeding, open wounds on their skin. And this isn’t just painful and distracting; it also creates a risk of secondary infections—especially for open-water swimmers who aren’t in chlorinated water.
Below are some essential tips to prevent chafing for swimmers. Use them to avoid developing chafed areas or to keep a mildly chafed area from getting worse. Without intervention, this irritation continues to worsen.
How to Prevent Chafing for Swimmers
- Wear swimsuits, goggles, caps, and fins that fit properly—meaning not too tight and not loose enough to rub against your skin while you’re swimming; check out these tips for choosing the right swim goggles, for choosing the right swim cap, and for choosing the right swim fins
- Shave closely before swimming; men’s facial stubble rubbing against their shoulder during a swim is a common cause of hair-on-skin chaffing
- Perfect your swim techniques to minimize body parts rubbing against each other; for example, work on mechanics to minimize inner thigh friction during crossover kicks
- Apply a skin lubricant in places where your swimwear rubs against your body, and wherever you experience skin-on-skin friction; petroleum jelly works well for shorter swims, while lanolin provides better protection for a longer period, and there are commercial products sold for this exact purpose
- You can’t really over-lubricate your skin during a swim, so don’t hesitate to apply your chosen product everywhere your swimsuit makes contact with your body
- Put waterproof medical tape or kinesiology tape on your skin where your swimsuit creates friction and irritation
- Many swimmers find that swimsuits made from Lycra rather than polyester are less irritating over time in the water (though they’re also generally less durable)
- Stay well hydrated so you’re able to sweat more, as sweat helps lubricate your skin
- Don’t let sweat sit on your skin after your swim though, as the tiny salt crystals can contribute to chafe wounds; shower promptly or clean yourself off with Summer Solution Swim Wipes
How to Treat Chafe Wounds
If you have chafing, care for it as you would any other skin wound. Keep it dry and clean and apply a topical antibiotic according to package directions. Avoid further friction around the site and, if necessary, use an over-the-counter pain medication to take the edge off the irritation or stinging. If the chafing is really bad, if it won’t seem to heal, if it won’t stop bleeding, or if it shows signs of infection (such as swelling, discharge, or discoloration), see your doctor.