One of the most common issues runners tend to get is nipple chafing, often referred to as ‘runner’s nipple’ or ‘jogger’s nipple’. This may sound like a minor problem, but having chafed nipples can be quite painful and even lead to bleeding in severe cases.
In this post, I explain everything you need to know about runner’s nipple chafing, including what it is, why it happens, and how to prevent and treat it – I know the pain you’re going through because I used to get it when I first started running too.
I’ll also other common types of chafing from running, including thigh chafing (something Helen used to get quite a bit), armpit chafing, and butt chafing, which may be referred to by runners as ‘rub rash’, and the steps you can take to prevent and treat these other chafing issues.
Have you visited our Running 101 page yet? It features lots of other advice and gear recommendations for runners, such as tips for new runners, how to prevent cramps and side stitches, what causes common running injuries, and how to choose the right running shoes for you.
What causes runner’s nipple?
Nipple chafing occurs when the skin around the nipple rubs against clothing, causing irritation and pain.
Chafing is a common running issue that affects both men and women, from both casual joggers to long-distance runners including experienced runners who are training for a marathon or ultramarathon, and it is usually caused by one of two issues or a combination of both.
Running in inappropriate or poorly-fitting apparel
Friction from clothing is a common cause of nipple chafing, especially if the clothing is not made of a sweat-wicking, technical fabric so it’s not designed to move moisture from sweat effectively away from your body.
Running in cotton or polyester shirts, for example, causes chafing amongst men who don’t have the added layer of a sports bra between the fabric and their nipples, because cotton absorbs sweat and stays wet.
When I was new to running I used to get this because of bad t-shirt choices – if only I had known everything I do now about appropriate fabrics and materials for technical running apparel, at least I get to impart that knowledge to you now. 🙂
Sometimes, even sweat-wicking material can cause chafing if the material is on the rough side.
Improperly fitting clothing, such as sports bras or running shirts that are too tight or too loose, can also lead to nipple chafing.
Many female runners find their sports bra causes chafing because it’s a little too loose, or not supportive enough, leaving room for friction between the bra and their nipple.
Sweat and moisture
Sweat and moisture also contribute to nipple chafing, as they can create a damp environment that makes the skin more susceptible to irritation.
This can be made even worse once the sweat dries and leaves a rough, salty residue on your skin, which will make chafing worse as it increases the rubbing factor.
So, if you’re a heavy sweater, then you’re probably more susceptible to chafing compared to someone who doesn’t sweat as much, and this issue will be exacerbated if you’re also running in a non-technical or poorly-fitting shirt.
Sweaty runs in hot weather can make you more prone to the dreaded runner’s nipple chafing but cold weather running can cause chaffing too, as your nipples tend to protrude more in chilly conditions.
How to prevent nipple chafing
Here are some tried-and-proven strategies to prevent nipple chafing while running.
All of these strategies to prevent runner’s nipple are essentially ways to reduce friction between your skin and the fabric on your running shirt or sports bra.
Wear a proper-fitting, sweat-wicking sports bra or running shirt
Making sure you wear properly fitting clothing that’s designed for running is the first step to take. This will stop nipple chafing due to inappropriate clothing choices.
Sports bras and shirts that are too large, for example, will move excessively and create friction, which is one of the factors causing soreness.
Look for clothing made from soft, moisture-wicking materials (rather than cotton) that fit well and have no rough seams that can cause friction.
For men, I personally swear by Lululemon’s metal vent tech tees for comfort, moisture control, and a great fit. I have chosen these running shirts for over 5 years now and still haven’t found a better alternative.
Once you’ve bought a suitable running shirt, try wearing it on your next run and see if you’re still getting rubbing between your nipple and shirt.
Try lubricant products to reduce friction
If you’re still getting soreness in the nipple area, then you can try applying anti-chafing lubricant products like petroleum jelly (vaseline), bag balm, nipple balms, Body Glide, or powders, which can also help prevent chafing between clothing and the skin.
For those with particularly sensitive nipples, another strategy is to cover your nipples. You can buy nipple tape, wear band-aids or use nipple guards to provide a barrier between your skin and shirt or bra.
You should also consider taking tape or band-aids on your long runs in case you need to apply them in an emergency to stop any chafing from getting worse while you’re out running.
Other types of chafing from running
Although chafed and bloody nipples get all of the attention, many runners also experience other types of chafing that are caused by skin and skin rubbing together.
Common parts of the body where you may have experienced this type of chafing, especially on your long runs when the weather is warm and humid, are between your thighs, between your armpit and upper arm, or your butt.
These are all areas that are moving against each other as you run causing friction and a rub rash as you make your way along a long-distance run or race. Hair and stubble can make the friction even worse than smooth skin rubbing.
The key to preventing these types of run chafe is also to find ways to prevent, or at least minimize, the friction.
For armpit chafe, opting to wear a tee rather than a sleeveless vest shirt to run in, even in the hot summers, will prevent the skin-on-skin rub between your armpit and the underside of your arm.
Thigh chafing is a common issue for many distance runners. Back in the day, Helen once had it so bad while running an ultramarathon in short shorts in the heat that she finished the race with blood running down her legs.
Yes, you can bet that was sore, and understandably a bit embarrassing for her!
You can try using a lubricant or ointment to prevent friction from your thighs rubbing together as you run.
However, personally, she finds that wearing longer shorts or running tights is a more sustainable solution for longer runs, because if she’s training for a marathon, for example, she doesn’t want to have to stop running and reapply ointment mid-run.
For women, a cute alternative to tights or longer running shorts is to wear a running ‘skort’, which is a hybrid of a running skirt with longer, relatively tight-fitting running shorts built in.
Skirt Sports has a range of these skorts for runners, in different length options, which are a good option to try if you’re looking to eliminate thigh chafe. Helen’s personal favorite style from that brand is the Jaguar Skirt.
For men, my top pick for running shorts is Path Projects’ 2-layer system which encourages you to wear a breathable, close-fitting liner short which holds your junk in place, and has sweat-wicking, anti-stink properties, and on top of that layer, some lightweight shorts.
The best option to reduce butt chafe is to apply a lubricant or ointment, as well as making sure you are wearing good quality, well-fitting technical running shorts that will wick sweat – as mentioned above.
How to treat chafed nipples
Ok, so you’ve landed on this post and have read about how to prevent nipple chafing, but the issue is you’re sore and raw and want to know how to treat your jogger’s nipple, and quickly!
There are a few immediate steps you can take to reduce the pain and irritation.
Clean chafed nipples
Firstly, stop running and remove any clothing that is rubbing against your nipples. Then, gently clean the area with warm water and mild soap, and make sure the area is clean and dry.
Use antibiotic ointment
It is a good idea to consider using an antibiotic ointment suitable for treating cuts and grazes to help soothe the area and minimize the risk of it getting infected, just as you would if you had a graze from road rash, or if you were treating a burst running blister.
Neosporin, for example, is a popular ointment for cuts and grazes.
Prevent further rubbing until your skin has healed
Avoid any further friction or rubbing until the skin has fully healed. This will probably mean covering the area with a gauze bandage or large adhesive band-aid until it’s healed, just as you would with any other minor skin graze.
The healing process typically takes a few days, during which you should keep the affected area clean and dry, and avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing.
Obviously use common sense, and if you experience severe or prolonged nipple chafing, or the area is excessively sore or inflamed, consider whether you ought to seek advice from a medical professional.
Have you experienced nipple chafing? Leave us a comment with your experience and if you discovered other ways to help prevent it, we’d love to know about them! Catch you next time! 🙂