How to Prevent and Treat Chafed or Bloody Nipples

Solutions for a Painful Running Problem

Female runner running on urban footbridge at dawn
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Getting chafed or bleeding nipples when running or walking can be extremely painful. It's a common problem and men are more at risk for this common problem because women often wear sports bras that prevent friction. It can start out as a burning, stinging sensation and, when you look down, you may see blood on your shirt.

While this is not a good situation to find yourself in, there are ways to treat chafed nipples.

You will also find a few tips for preventing it in the future very helpful.

Causes

When you run or walk, your nipples are constantly rubbing the fabric of your shirt. At the same time, you are sweating and the water softens the skin, leaving it more prone to tearing. The salt in your sweat can crystallize and provide another source of irritation. Over the course of a workout or race (especially a long one), this sensitive area of your nipples can be rubbed to the point of bleeding.

It most frequently happens when a man runs in a cotton shirt because the fabric has a rough texture and cotton does not wick away sweat as fast as synthetics. Since many women choose to wear tight-fitting sports bras, nipple chafing usually isn't an issue.

Prevention

Some men learn the hard way just how painful bloody and chafed nipples can be. It's actually very easy to avoid the problem. You might find that you need to experiment with a few approaches or combine them to see which works best for you.

Lubrication: One of the best prevention efforts is to generously apply a lubricant like petroleum jelly or Body Glide to the nipple area before running or walking. Petroleum jelly can be difficult to wash out of clothing, so you may want to go with a dedicated anti-chafing product instead. Quite often, these are formulated to wash out of fabrics on the first try.

Cover Your Nipples: Some men also wear products such as Nip Guards, NipEaze, or adhesive bandages to protect their nipples. The problem is that some do not stick well after you start sweating, so you may have to try a few out to find the best option for you.

Clothing Choices: Quite often, the solution is a simple matter of choosing the right clothing. Rather than cotton shirts and bras, opt for a synthetic material, such as Dri-Fit, Coolmax, or polypropylene, especially on the layer closest to your body.

These are also sweat-wicking fabrics that will dry faster than cotton, which is important because wet skin can make chafing worse. You'll also want to avoid fabric that feels scratchy, even if it's supposed to wick away sweat.

If appropriate for the situation, men can also choose to go shirtless. However, be sure to use sunscreen to prevent a sunburn, especially on skin that is already sensitive.

It is also best to remove any nipple jewelry before your workout.

Treatment

If you're in the middle of a run or walk and start to feel pain in the nipple area, it's not too late to apply a lubricant. This will at least keep the chafing from getting worse.

Some runners carry a small tube of Aquaphor or Vaseline in their running belt or pocket so they're prepared for chafing issues.

If you're running a marathon or another race with medical aid stations along the course, they'll most likely have petroleum jelly on hand.

Sometimes, the nipples are more painful after you finish your run, especially once you take a shower and the hot water hits them. Make sure to clean chafed nipples with water and dry them thoroughly. After cleaning the area, apply A&D ointment or petroleum jelly. If your nipples are very painful, swollen, bleeding, or crusted, consult your health care provider, who may recommend a medicated ointment.

You may need to take a day or two off from your workout to give your nipples some time to heal from the chafing.

Continued friction will not only be painful, but it could lead to infection.

If your skin chafing doesn't improve after trying these steps, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. You may need a prescription-strength antibiotic ointment if the area is infected.

A Word From Verywell

Though it may be common, there's no need to let nipple chafing get in the way of your exercise routine. A little forethought to prevent the problem, even before the first signs, will help tremendously so you can keep as active as you want to be.

Source:

Helm MF, N. Helm T, F. Bergfeld W. Skin problems in the long-distance runner 2500 years after the battle of marathonInternational Journal of Dermatology. 2012;51(3):263–270. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05183.x.