Preventing Chafed Nipples During Exercise or Running

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Getting chafed nipples when running can be extremely painful. It's a common problem, and men are more at risk because they don't often wear sports bras that prevent friction. One study found that 36% of people who ran more than 65 kilometers (40 miles) per week experienced "runner's nipple."

Nipple chafing start out as a burning, stinging sensation and can eventually lead to pain, irritation, and bleeding. It's fairly easy to prevent, as long as you plan ahead.

Causes of Chafed Nipples

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 can be rubbed to the point of bleeding.

Chafing most frequently happens when running in a cotton shirt because the fabric has a rougher texture than alternatives and does not wick away sweat as fast as synthetics do. Since many women choose to wear tight-fitting sports bras, nipple chafing usually isn't an issue for them.

Prevention

You might find that you need to experiment with a few approaches, or combine them, to determine which works best for you.

Lubrication

Generously apply a lubricant like petroleum jelly or Body Glide to the nipple area before exercise. Petroleum jelly can be difficult to wash out of clothing, so you may want to go with a dedicated anti-chafing product instead. These products are typically formulated to wash out of fabrics.

Tape or Nipple Covers

Some people 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 to find the best option for you. These can also be tricky and even painful to remove after exercise.

Clothing

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 fabrics are smoother than cotton and sweat-wicking, which is important because wet skin can make chafing worse. You'll also want to avoid fabric that feels scratchy, even if it's designed to be sweat-wicking.

If appropriate for the situation, men can also choose to go shirtless. However, be sure to use sunscreen to prevent sunburn when outside, 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. Doing so 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.

After Your Run

Sometimes, the nipples are more painful after you stop running, especially once you take a shower and the hot water hits them. Make sure to clean chafed nipples with gentle soap and water and dry them thoroughly. After cleaning the area, apply A&D ointment or petroleum jelly.

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 could lead to infection.

If your nipples are very painful, hot, swollen, bleeding, or crusted, or don't heal with simple home treatment, consult your health care provider. You may need a medicated ointment, or even 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 you stay as active as you want to be.

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  1. Purim KS, Leite N. Sports-related dermatoses among road runners in Southern Brazil. An Bras Dermatol. 2014;89(4):587-92. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142792

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