Sports bra chafing is uncomfortable at best and painful at its worst. When you're trying to challenge yourself with a new workout or enjoy some time outdoors, the last thing you want is the distraction of your sports bra rubbing you the wrong way. But fortunately, there are ways to prevent and manage irritation from your sports bra, from knowing how to choose the right bra to tips and tricks for avoiding chafed skin. To find out exactly how to prevent and treat sports bra chafing, we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf and personal trainer Ali Lee.
Meet the Expert
How To Prevent Sports Bra Chafing
Sports bra chafing is usually caused by parts of your body and the bra rubbing together over and over again, causing friction. “This friction can get worse as you continue to sweat since the salt produced by the body will also start rubbing together, causing irritation,” says Graf. Preventing this friction is key for avoiding painful chafing.
Choose The Right Size Bra
“When shopping for a sports bra, make sure it's well-fitted to your body. A well-fitted, supportive bra that matches your chest size is the key to avoiding chafing,” says Lee.
It’s especially vital to get the sizing right if you prefer underwire sports bras, warns Graf. “Tightness and ill-fitting bras worsen when wearing underwire and affect the skin folds, causing chafing,” she says.
To check for tightness, look in the mirror and see if the band is digging into your back. If this is the case, choose a larger band size. Your bra band should feel snug but not too tight. For cup size, overflowing breasts at the edges of your cups indicate that your cup size is too small and you should go bigger.
What To Look For When Buying A Sports Bra
When choosing a new sports bra, there are some things to look for. Lee gives these keys to the perfect sports bra:
- An adjustable sports bra or a sports bra that will not loosen over time
- Soft but strong fabrics
- No hard seams that could potentially dig into the body
- Use different sports bras based on the workouts you are doing
- Sports bras with fitted cups that are sewn in hold the whole structure of the bra in place through a workout
“If I am doing high impact workouts, I will opt for a bra that has strong support, then a lighter, more comfortable sports bra I’d do for stretching or something like yoga,” Lee adds.
Products That Help With Chafing
Some pre-and post-care can prevent and treat the rubbing that causes chafed skin. Lee suggests using an anti-chafe product before working out and a soothing product on the skin after working out if you feel irritation. “A body oil like Aspen Green is great to apply under the sports bra before working out. Aspen Green Moisturizing Body Butter is great for post-workout soothing on the areas the sports bra touched,” says Lee.
“You can usually treat chafing like you would treat a diaper rash with over-the-counter products,” Graf explains. She also suggests using a moisture-absorbing product containing cornstarch before working out.
How To Treat Sports Bra Chafing
Graf suggests taking the following steps to treat any sports bra chafing you may have:
- Take a lukewarm shower to avoid additional pain and irritation from hot water.
- Wash the area gently, as vigorous washing will aggravate already sensitive inflamed skin.
- After a gentle shower, pat the area dry. Do not towel-dry the area since that will leave moisture on the skin, which will stay in the skin fold.
- To completely dry the skin, use a hairdryer on a cooler setting until the skin is completely dry and repeat under the other breast.
- Post shower, apply a diaper rash cream and loosely cover it with non-stick gauze.
How To Tell If Something More Serious Is Happening
In some cases, chafing may turn into something worse. “The combination of friction, sweat, heat, and lack of air worsens the chafing, creating inflammation often aggravated with candida,” warns Graf. Candida is part of the normal microflora of skin; however, it will overgrow when there are moisture and sweat present, coupled with no air.
“Keeping the skin dry and protected can be done by applying a barrier cream such as triple paste with ketoconazole to protect the skin with additional treatment for candida. Immediately after, apply moisture-absorbing powder containing anti-fungal powder,” explains Graf. Try keeping the skin fold separated from your bra by using non-stick gauze or a soft cotton handkerchief. If you suspect candida or your sports bra chafing is raw, painful, or shows signs of infection, be sure to speak to your doctor.
While chafing from your sports bra is certainly irritating, it's normal for people with chests of all sizes, and there are a few steps you can take to prevent the issue. For starters, make sure you aren't wearing an ill-fitting or stretched-out sports bra. You should also match the support level of your sports bra to the impact level of your exercise (the higher the impact, the more support you'll need). In most cases, over-the-counter anti-chafe balms are an effective treatment but see your physician if chafing persists and causes unignorable discomfort during your workouts or otherwise.
Basler RSW, Hunzeker CM, Garcia MA. Athletic skin injuries: combating pressure and friction. Phys Sportsmed. 2004;32(5):33-40.
Norris M, Blackmore T, Horler B, Wakefield-Scurr J. How the characteristics of sports bras affect their performance. Ergonomics. 2021;64(3):410-425.
Spampinato C, Leonardi D. Candida infections, causes, targets, and resistance mechanisms: traditional and alternative antifungal agents. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:204237.