It’s time to talk about something a little sensitive…literally. Butt chafing: we’ve all experienced it, and yet barely talk about it, despite it being a reality for many athletes and outdoor enthusiasts during warmer months. Chafing is painful, sticky, and can leave you feeling unable to enjoy the simple things in life, and if left untreated, can even become infected and cause serious discomfort. In this guide, we’re going to discuss everything you can do to treat chafing when it happens and give you a few tips for preventing chafing before it even begins.
What Is Chafing?
Chafing occurs when an area of the skin is exposed to prolonged rubbing, particularly against other areas of the body, or against rough, non-breathable fabric. Most people have experienced chafing in some form or another, especially if they have ever worn a skirt, a tank top, or a pair of shorts in the summer. Heat and sweat help to make the skin stickier, which further aggravates the rubbing. As the skin is rubbed, layers of protective surface skin cells are rubbed raw, leaving the area red, painful, swollen, or worse.
Common Chafing Areas
While this article will be focusing specifically on the butt area, every area of the body can experience chafing. Most commonly, chafing occurs on the following parts of the body:
- Neck & Shoulders: Sports bra straps, swimsuit straps, tight shirt necks, backpack straps, and tight-fitting life-jackets can cause rubbing.
- Armpits & Lower Chest: Tight bras, and ill-fitting non-breathable shirts can create friction in the armpit and lower chest/underboob area. Additionally, your arms rubbing against your armpits or breast tissue rubbing the underboob area can cause chafing.
- Nipples: If you run with just a single shirt layer on, you may experience nipple chafing from the movement of your nipples rubbing against the fabric of your shirt. A sports bra or well-fitting athletic running shirt can help to prevent this.
- Groin: The groin area experiences a lot of movement, which means it is prime real estate for chafing. Cotton undergarments in particular can aggravate this issue since they absorb moisture, which makes them stick to the skin and rub with more intensity.
- Inner Thighs: No matter how thick your thighs are, they can rub against one another, become sweaty, and chafe! The inner thighs are the most common area where chafing occurs and often occurs in conjunction with butt chafing.
- Feet: Runners in particular experience foot chafing, since the feet are particularly prone to sweating. In tight shoes and socks, your feet experience a lot of friction, which can leave them sore, raw, and blistered.
What Causes Butt Chafing?
Butt chafing is one of the more uncomfortable types of chafing, sometimes referred to as ‘monkey butt’ for the bright red hue this particular issue can give your cheeks down below. Butt chafing is caused by the cheeks rubbing together or from the skin rubbing against undergarments, pants, or shorts. Most frequently, butt chafing occurs when an individual is running, hiking, or biking, since these activities involve repeated leg and hip movement, which in turn moves the fleshier parts of the butt to rub together. Add heat and sweat to the occasion, and you have the perfect recipe to rub your buttcheeks raw.
While chafing can simply be caused by skin rubbing on skin, wearing the wrong clothing – like non-breathable fabrics and tight-fitting elastics – can create additional friction, sweat, and heat. Although your grandparents may swear by nature fiber clothing only, natural fibers are typically extremely absorbent and insolating, meaning they’ll collect sweat and become rougher over time and with more rubbing.
Side Effects & Symptoms of Butt Chafing
Remember how we referred to butt chafing as ‘monkey butt’ earlier? Well, that’s because ‘monkey butt’ is one of the most common symptoms of butt chafing. Some species of monkeys, like baboons, have red (and even blue!) rear ends which are often displayed in various natural behaviors and social rituals. When humans experience butt chafing, it can create a red, swollen, sticky patch of skin that resembles the bright red butt of a monkey – hence: monkey butt!
Knowing whether or not you are experiencing but chafing isn’t difficult, since all you’ll need to look for are a few telltale signs:
- Redness between the cheeks
- Itchy and painful bumps or rash (heat rash)
- Swelling and tenderness
- Slightly shiny skin
- Constant, throbbing, or aching pain
Unfortunately, chafing usually doesn’t begin to impact your hike, run, or bike ride until you are already well into the trek, which means it is nearly impossible to stop and fix a chafing issue immediately. Once butt chafing has begun, it can be very difficult to resolve without resting and allowing the body to heal, and continue to hike, run, or bike will only make the problem worse. The best thing to do is to return to your vehicle, home, or campsite as quickly as possible to begin addressing the chafing before it becomes a larger problem.
In some cases where people are unable to address a chafing issue and the area continues to be aggravated, more serious side-effects can occur. Chafed skin can go from raw and red to bloody with prolonged friction, and in some cases, welts, blisters, and permanent scarring can occur if the problem is not treated. In the most severe cases, untreated chafing can lead to an infection, which will require far more extensive treatment and recovery time and can permanently damage the skin.
How To Prevent Butt Chafing
The best way to ensure your hike, bike ride, or run will be comfortable and butt-pain-free is to take steps ahead of time to prevent chafing from ever occurring. Once chafing starts, you need to stop what you are doing, which means that you’ll need to take preventive measures if you plan on completing your workout. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways athletes can protect their cheeks from rubbing raw, and most of the time, prevention is as easy as changing your routine just a little. Here are a few techniques to help you prevent butt chafing:
As mentioned, natural fabrics like cotton and wool are highly absorbent and can soak up your sweat like a sponge. Wet fabrics create more friction, which in turn creates more opportunities for chafing, which is why choosing a fabric that won’t hold moisture is so important for protecting your skin from chafing. In addition to wool and cotton, you should also avoid wearing garments made from rayon, viscose, and other synthetic fabrics that contain wool fibers, since these may also be absorbent.
Moisture-wicking fabrics and clothing designed specifically for enhanced airflow are ideal for preventing chafing since they won’t become damp or stick tightly to the skin. Additionally, undergarments should be made to provide enough coverage that they prevent excessive skin on skin contact without being baggy or creating more friction. Some of the best anti-chafe underwear currently available include:
- Runwear Women’s Running Boy Shorts – $30-$35 from Runwear or Amazon
- Under Armour Men’s UA Tech 6” Boxerjock – $15-$30 from Under Armour or Amazon
- Saxx Kinetic HD Boxer Brief – $38 from Saxx or Amazon
If you do not like to wear a traditional undergarment while exercising, compression shorts make a great substitute to help prevent rubbing and chafing. Whether you choose to wear traditional underwear or compression shorts, an additional slip layer over this first layer can help to increase glide and reduce friction. Soft, silky, breathable fabrics are ideal for this job since they glide comfortably over the skin and provide plenty of airflow for your butt!
- Lululemon Tracker Short V 4” Women’s Running Shorts – $58 from Lululemon
- Athleta Mesh Racer 4” Women’s Running Short – $49 from Athleta
- Brooks Men’s 5” Sherpa Short – $32 from Brooks
Topical Anti-Chafing Products
If a simple change in clothing doesn’t do the trick to rid your butt of painful rubbing, applying anti-chafing products to your butt region can help to keep chafing at bay. In general, anti-chafing products can be broken down into two categories:
Anti-chafing powders help to wick away excess moisture while creating a smooth, frictionless layer on top of the skin to prevent rubbing. Anti-chafing powders are finely milled to enhance glide, and designed not to absorb moisture to prevent them from clumping. Anti-chafing powders can easily be applied between the butt cheeks and on the cheeks themselves, just like you would powder a baby after changing them! Simple DIY solutions like baby powder or cornstarch work well to prevent chafing in a pinch, but if you want something with a little more power, try one of these popular anti-chafing powders:
- Anti Monkey Butt Powder for Men – $4.96 from Amazon
- Anti Monkey Butt Powder for Women – $5.99 from Amazon
- Lush Silky Underwear Dusting Powder – $11.95 from Lush
- Gold Bond Medicated Powder – $4.49 from Amazon
Oils, Creams, & Balms
Oils, creams, and lubricating balms work to reduce hotspots, moisturize the skin for reduced friction, and provide a smooth barrier on the skin to protect it against rubbing. Anti-chafing oils, creams, and balms not only help to prevent chafing but can also soothe chafing once it begins or help it to heal more quickly. A good chafing oil, cream, or balm will include moisturizing ingredients, and may also be cooling or soothing to enhance reparative properties. Home remedies include pure coconut oil or shea butter, but for a more professional approach, try one of these options to lube up your cheeks!
- Body Glide Body Anti Chafing Stick – starting at $4.99 from Body Glide
- Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel – $7.99 from Walgreens
- Chamois Butt’r Original Anti-Chafe Cream – $16.80 from Amazon
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment – $7-12 from Amazon
Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Chafing
In addition to using anti-chafing products to protect your skin from friction, there are certain lifestyle choices you can make to help you avoid the dreaded monkey butt. Here’s what you need to know:
- Shaving: While you may think that you should shave your butt and between the cheeks to reduce friction, pubic and body hair are there for a reason and help to protect the skin. If you want to avoid chafing, stop shaving between your cheeks!
- Protecting Your Skin: Even when you aren’t on the trail or hitting a bike path, you should be working to protect your skin. Using moisturizers and protective/nourishing oils to keep your skin hydrated will enhance your skin’s natural protective barrier, and help to reduce your susceptibility to chafing.
- Keep Your Shirt Un-Tucked: If you run or bike with your shirt tucked in, you could be dripping excess sweat down your back and into your shorts, underwear, and butt. Untuck your shirt to keep sweat away from your behind!
- Clean Your Butt: Yeah, yeah, you already know how to clean your butt, but we’re serious: you need to wipe extra well and be sure to wash regularly to keep yourself from chafing. Bacteria and residue from going to the bathroom can create an itchy, sticky situation, which won’t help you to keep yourself rash or chafe-free.
- Check the Weather: If you are prone to chafing, try to avoid exercising outdoors when it is raining or particularly humid to avoid getting damp.
- Change Out of Wet Clothing: If you do get wet while out hiking or biking, do your best to change out of your wet clothes as quickly as possible. Wet clothing makes chafing way worse, and can even cause urinary and bladder infections in some individuals.
If your skin is already chafed, don’t worry, you can fix the problem and ease your discomfort with a few simple tricks.
- First, stop doing the activity that started the chafing in the first place. If you were running, take a break for a few days to avoid making the issue worse.
- Wash your butt with gentle soap and warm, NOT HOT, water. Hot water will make the chafing worse, and cause burns.
- Apply soothing creams and hydrating balms as necessary to reduce stinging and restore moisture.
- Ice the area for a few minutes at a time of inflammation does not go down.
- Rest! The best cure for chafed skin is letting it breathe and rest.
This article was reviewed for accuracy by Victoria Bandera who holds Master’s degree in Health and Exercise Science from Colorado State University and is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist. She also has a background in Athletic Training, and is working at the University of Utah on her PhD in Population Health Sciences while working in the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about