Prevent Nipple Chafing During Exercise

Male friends running together in a park
FG Trade / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Runner's nipple, also known as jogger's nipple, can be extremely painful. Nipple chafing is a common problem among runners, especially for those who don't often wear a sports bra, which can help to prevent friction. For instance, one study found that 36% of people who ran more than 40 miles (65 kilometers) per week experienced chafed nipples.

Though it may be common, there's no need to let nipple chafing get in the way of your exercise routine. With a little planning in advance, you can take precautions to avoid this unpleasant condition, even before the first signs. Learn about the symptoms and causes of nipple chafing and what you can do to prevent it so you can stay active and enjoy your workout.

Symptoms of Nipple Chafing

Nipple chafing starts out as an uncomfortable burning, stinging sensation and can eventually lead to pain, irritation, and bleeding, which can make exercise seem unbearable at times. Common symptoms of nipple chafing include:

  • Redness
  • Irritated, chapped, flaking skin
  • Burning or stinging
  • Pain ranging from minor tenderness to intense
  • Bleeding
  • Open sores or scabs

Causes of Nipple Chafing

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. When the salt in your sweat starts to crystallize it can cause 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.

Alternatively, nipple chafing can occur in colder weather, when nipples are more likely to be erect. Not dressing properly for cold weather running is often a cause.

Chafing most frequently happens when wearing a cotton shirt because the fabric has a rougher texture and does not wick away sweat as fast as synthetics do. Nipple chafing is not usually an issue for people who wear tight-fitting sports bras.

Prevent Nipple Chafing

You might find that you need to experiment with a few approaches or combine them to determine what works best for you. Try these strategies during your long training sessions, especially if you're preparing for a big event like a marathon or multi-day walking trek.

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. You can also try medical tape or kinesiology tape. The problem is that some products 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 are 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, you 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.

Treat Chafed Nipples

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 people carry a small tube of Aquaphor or Vaseline in their running belt or pocket so they're prepared for chafing issues. If you're new to running or are just starting to run longer distances, you may consider keeping something on hand. Similarly, walkers should also take precautions. For those who run marathons or run or walk other races, there are often medical aid stations along the course that are likely to have petroleum jelly at the ready.

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 and cover with breathable gauze so that you will be more comfortable wearing a shirt.

You may need to take a day or two off from your workouts to give your nipples some time to heal from the chafing. Continued friction will not only be painful but could also lead to infection.

If Chafing Doesn't Improve

If your nipples are very painful, hot, swollen, bleeding, or crusted, or don't heal with simple home treatment, consult your healthcare provider. You may need a medicated ointment, or even a prescription-strength antibiotic ointment if the area is infected.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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

Additional Reading