How to Deal With Sore Skin from Running

Skin rubbing raw is very common for longer distance running

Do you get raw spots when you run? And what can be done about it? I get them sometimes, but it depends on a few factors:

  • how warm it is
  • how humid it is
  • how far I am running
  • what type of clothing I am wearing
  • whether or not I remembered to lubricate trouble spots

Dealing with Sore Skin from Running

Problem areas for me are:

  • inner thighs
  • back upper inside of my arms
  • mid chest where my bra sits

You will notice that I do not have issues with raw skin on my feet. With me usually running barefoot, there are not places where shoes rub, nor are there sweaty socks to deal with. Also, I have run many miles in my Luna sandals without any abrasive rubbing. I have only tested my Xero sandals for shorter distances (no rubbing issues), but have heard very good reports on them for longer distances, too.

I have summarized the discussion in the video below:


Why is skin on skin friction a problem?

Warmer weather can be related to this discomfort in more ways than one. For one thing, more skin is exposed to be rubbed. But one thing we must be clear about: it is NOT rubbing because we are fat. Some places on the body skin naturally touches, if you have any sort of muscle. You may or may not be at your preferred body weight, but unless you are grossly thin, you will have parts that rub.

The more heat there is being produced, the more prone to irritation the skin is, sort of like heat tends to be a catalyst to many chemical reactions. Add in the fact that heat makes me swell just a bit and more skin is going to get more easily raw.

You might think that moisture would guard against rubbing, but if you think again you will remember that wet clothing is more of a problem than dry clothing for producing raw spots. The same is true for skin on skin. Somehow the salty wetness of sweat actually makes the skin a bit sticky so that it grabs at the other skin or clothing.

How to reduce sore skin from running friction

There are basically three ways to combat the results of such friction.

  1. choose clothing that limits friction
  2. lubricate areas that rub
  3. run in the most comfortable weather

Sometimes it is possible to choose the time of day for running, but sometimes you have to run when you can. That means that clothing and lubrication will be your most important ways to deal with the issue.

Clothing choices can make a big difference

The type of clothing and how it fits can make a big difference in developing raw spots due to friction. Non-runners or inactive people sometimes scoff at the array of special clothing available for exercise, but many times the fabrics and designs are attempting to mitigate such rubbing. However, part of the trick is that each body is shaped slightly differently, plus each person’s running form may be different, so the rubbing may be in slightly different locations. The shorts that are perfect for me may have a hem that falls in just the wrong spot for you. The only way to figure this out is to test some clothes.

The bra issue on long runs is the one that surprised me most. Even with a snug and well fitting exercise bra, the very middle of the lower band tends to move and rub. As I evaluated, I noticed there is a slight twist of the torso with arm movement and that is the fulcrum, so to speak. So while choosing a good bra is important, it might not totally take care of the problem.

My favorite warm weather running shorts are sold by The fabric is ultra light weight and hangs very loosely. They also have their own built in liner, so no struggling with finding the perfect underwear, too. They don’t have the exact same version that I have been running in during the warm months for about three years now, but it looks similar enough that I would buy it again. Other people swear by shorts that are more form fitting. I find that form fitting shorts or longer shorts tend to creep up, creating lumps that create more surfaces for friction.

I usually wear a tank-top style shirt partly because less fabric in the way of a breeze is better. I also choose tanks because there are no sleeve hems to rub my arms. What can seem like a soft seam at the beginning of a run can feel more like a piece of rope at the end of a long run. Arms move a lot during running, and unless you run like a chicken, some part of them will be rubbing. The smartwool merino tank top is also my favorite, being amazingly light and it does not retain moisture.

Lubricating points of friction

When I began running longer distances and having these friction issues, my husband, an experienced distance runner, recommended vaseline as a lubricant. It works and it is inexpensive. I have never been inspired to try anything else, so I can’t compare. Vaseline does tend to stain clothing, but this is not something I am worried about for running clothes. I expect any lubricant has the oil type of base that would stain. I am careful about washing those areas before putting on other clothing.

I find it best to put the vaseline/lubricant on just before I start running. Otherwise, it loses much of its effectiveness due to being absorbed by clothing or car upholstery. That means I have a small jar of it in a plastic bag that I can grab every time I head out for a long run, since I usually drive to my running path. The exception to this is the bra area. It doesn’t make a difference if I put that on ahead of time, and if I have let a sore spot develop, I sometimes put a bandaid over that as well.

When I do apply the vaseline, I put a small glob of it at the main point of friction. Partly I know what this is from where I have had sores, but partly I can just look and see what skin is touching. Then, I let the rest of it spread around with the motion of running. That way it gets exactly where it needs to be. I might also add that my daughter made me a special towel seat cover to protect my car seat on the way home.

A little planning will go a long way

Increasing maximum distance in your long runs is usually challenging toward the end, because it is pushing past what your body is used to. Planning ahead to avoid dealing with raw skin at the end will allow you to maintain better form and relax more in the last mile or two. On the other hand, raw skin can either make those last couple of miles miserable or influence you to cut your run short when you would rather not. Use vaseline so you won’t scream! (corny, I know)