If You Chafe In These 6 Places, It Might Be A Sign Of A Larger Health Problem

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If you've ever experienced raw, red, or irritated skin between your thighs, then you likely know about the common, everyday problem known as skin chafing. But you may wonder, what causes chafing? "Chafing refers to the irritation of skin caused by repetitive friction, usually generated through skin-to-skin contact of multiple body parts," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche tells Bustle.

For that reason, "chafing is usually contracted in the inner thighs and inner glutes," Dr. Guanche says, but it can also happen when occur in the armpits and on the nipples — especially if you're exercising without a protective sports bra.

Chafing can be painful and annoying, but it can be prevented. Since sweat and moisture often make it worse, it helps to keep skin dry with the use of powders. And if your clothes get wet or sweaty, you'll want to change out of them ASAP.

It's also a good idea to use a skin lubricant where your skin tends to chafe the most, such as between the thighs. And choosing clothing that's seamless can help prevent rubbing and irritation, according to WebMD.

The good news is Dr. Guanche says chafing is not a sign of a major medical condition. There are, however, a few health concerns that can cause irritating symptoms similar to chafing. Here are a few places where irritation can occur, that may be a sign of something other than everyday chafing.


Under The Breasts

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While it's common to experience sweating — and even chafing — under your breasts on a hot day or after exercising, for some people excessive sweating and irritation in this area can be a sign of an underlying health issue.

"Chafing under the breast can occur from too much moisture," Dr. Michele Green, a NYC Dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, tells Bustle. "In addition to wearing the wrong bra ... if you tend to perspire excessively under your breasts and between your breasts be sure to towel dry and wear [a] properly fitting bra."

And if it seems like the sweating or irritation is excessive, it may be a good idea to ask a doctor about a possible hormonal imbalance. "Because hormonal factors can also result in excessive sweating you should see your physician if [you sweat] more than usual, [or] develop a rash [that] has an odor."


Between The Toes

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If you have ongoing irritation between your toes, there's a good chance you have a fungal infection known as athlete's foot. The fungus can be picked up by walking barefoot through a public place — especially somewhere with excess moisture, like a gym or sauna — as well as through direct contact with skin particles left on towels and shoes, according to WebMD.

Symptoms include itchiness, blisters, and a scaly rash between your toes, which can spread onto the soles of your feet. It is treatable with over-the-counter antifungal creams, and can be kept at bay in the future with good hygiene and allowing your feet to get plenty of air.


The Armpits

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Chafing can occur in the armpit area due to skin rubbing against skin, sweatiness, and ill-fitting clothes — all of which happens to everyone occasionally. But it can lead to health issues if left untreated.

"The underarms are a common area for chafing because of the high density of sweat glands," Merry Thornton, PA-C, from Schweiger Dermatology Group in New Rochelle, NY, tells Bustle. "Hair stubble can worsen chafing as well, so let your hair grow, or make sure it is freshly shaved without nicks. Make sure that shirts fit well around the underarms to avoid excessive rubbing."

This should keep chafing to a minimum. But if it doesn't, take more precautionary measures. "Prolonged rubbing can lead to breakdown of the skin and create an entry point for bacteria, fungus, and yeast," Thornton says. "For this reason, it is important to reduce friction. Because wet skin can make chafing worse, wear moisture-wicking fabrics. Applying powder can also decrease moisture."

If you do think you have a fungal infection on any area of your body, speak with a doctor. "If a yeast, fungal, or bacterial infection has developed, it will need to be treated with a prescription cream or oral medication," Thornton says.


Armpits (Con't)

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Chafing tends to occur in areas that don't get much exposure to air, such as your groin area or underarms. But chafing in these areas can also be a sign of something affecting your sweat glands.

"Skin conditions that are normally mistaken for chafing, such as hidradenitis suppurativa ... deals with the inflammation of sweat glands," Jeffrey Rapaport, MD, Emeritus Head of Dermatology at Holy Name Medical Center, tells Bustle. "It has recently been found that individuals who have this disease normally consider it to be chafing, and that most individuals that suffer from this disease also suffer from metabolic syndrome."


Groin Area

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Wherever skin folds and touches together, such as in the groin area, it can lead to a rash known as intertrigo. "It involves the folds, such as the area under the breasts, between the buttocks, the groin, and under the arms and is more common in hot and humid weather," Thornton says. It happens more often to older folks, but can occur in anyone. And, Thonrton says, those with diabetes tend to be more at risk for intertrigo and secondary infections.


Arms & Legs

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If you seem to be prone to chafing, even when the weather is cool and you're wearing comfy clothing, it might be a sign that you're suffering from dry skin. "While sweaty skin is susceptible to chafing, extra dry skin is also prone to chafing," Thornton says. "It is important to stay hydrated; this will also help you sweat freely and have fewer salt crystals forming, which can also be irritating."

To prevent common, everyday chafing, it can help to keep your skin dry, avoid clothing with itchy seams, and apply lubricant to your skin before walking long distances or going for a run. But if your skin still feels irritated, let a doctor know. It could be a sign something else is up with your health.