Chafing occurs when the skin rubs against something for a prolonged period. This can cause a rash that typically resolves when the chafing stops. Preventing chafing rash can include wearing loose, moisture-wicking clothes and using a barrier on the area.

A person can experience chafing on any part of the body that encounters friction. The resulting rash is often minor, but there are some possible complications.

In this article, we look at what causes chafing rash and how to treat it. We also look at how a person can prevent chafing from occurring.

A chafing rash occurs anywhere on the body where the skin is rubbing against clothing or other skin.

Mild chafing rashes tend not to be too painful, but more serious rashes could bleed, crust, or blister. Chafing can occur anywhere where there is friction, but some areas of the body are more prone to chafing than others.

Areas where chafing is most likely to happen are generally moist or generate friction. They include the:

  • buttocks
  • groin
  • thighs
  • feet
  • armpits
  • nipples

The direct cause of chafing is the skin is rubbing against something for a prolonged period. This could happen, for instance, when someone is walking and their inner thighs are rubbing together.

Common risk factors

Chafing is more likely to occur in particular areas of the body, and it tends to happen during physical activity, such as running.

Others causes of chafing include:

  • sweating
  • breastfeeding
  • wearing tight clothes
  • participating in an endurance sport, such as a marathon

Additionally, an infant or toddler wearing a diaper may experience chafing due to the added moisture and movement in the area.

Learn more about the types of diaper rash here.

Chafing causes a burning or stinging rash to occur where the skin is rubbing against something. The rash will not spread to other areas.

Possible complications of chafing rashes include:

  • bleeding
  • crusting
  • swelling

Bacteria could enter through the broken or damaged skin around a chafing rash and cause an infection. For that reason, a person should make sure that they take care of the rash and keep it clean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list several symptoms of a skin infection, which include:

  • warmth coming from the rash area
  • tenderness or pain
  • swelling

Chafing rashes will typically clear up within a few days if a person stops the activity causing the chafing or takes action to prevent further chafing.

Excessive moisture and skin friction may lead to skin breakdown. Patting the skin dry to remove excess moisture may prevent complications of chafing rash.

A person may also wish to consider applying shea butter lotion to the rash. A 2012 study found that shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties, which could make it a good option for people who want to soothe a chafing rash with cream.

For pain, a person can try applying aloe vera to the skin, as it may soothe sore skin and help prevent infections.

People have also traditionally used a range of other plant oils, including olive oil and coconut oil, to treat skin-related issues. Further research is necessary to confirm the benefits of each of these oils.

Unless the skin becomes infected, doctors do not have a standard way of treating chafing rash. A person should avoid the activity that caused the chafing. If they cannot avoid the activity, they should take steps to prevent further chafing from occurring.

If a person needs treatment, a doctor may prescribe or recommend a corticosteroid cream or ointment to help reduce the inflammation resulting from the rash.

It is not always possible to prevent chafing from occurring, but a person can take certain steps to reduce the risk.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, these steps include:

  • wearing clothing that fits properly and is moisture-wicking
  • protecting areas prone to irritation with soft bandages or powder to reduce rubbing
  • stopping activity immediately if irritation develops

Other steps a person can take to help prevent chafing include:

  • avoiding exercise in hot, humid weather
  • using an antiperspirant
  • removing wet clothing promptly
  • using nursing pads or bras to protect the nipples

Additionally, the findings of an older study suggest that a person can apply petroleum jelly to the skin to minimize friction and prevent chafing rash.

If a person develops a rash that spreads, it is likely not a chafing rash. A person should consider seeing their doctor if the rash does not go away within a few days of home treatment.

A person should also talk to their doctor if they suspect that their rash has become infected. A doctor can examine the rash and determine whether additional treatment is necessary.

A chafing rash is often a mild rash that occurs when skin rubs against clothing or other areas of skin. Many cases are mild and will go away when a person stops the activity causing the chafing.

A possible complication of chafing rash is a skin infection. A person should speak with their doctor if the rash is severe or they think that it has become infected.

At-home treatments for chafing rash include aloe vera and other soothing ointments. A person can take preventive steps to reduce the risk of a rash forming, such as wearing moisture-wicking clothing and applying petroleum jelly to areas prone to chafing.