A wetsuit is a fundamental piece of equipment for water sports/activities such as triathlon, open water swimming, and surfing. But, what happens when that fundamental piece of equipment causes a sore, painfully irritated, and, often, red rash?
First, that sore, painfully irritated, and the red rash is known as chafing, or wetsuit rash. The occurrence of chafing (wetsuit rash) is more common than one may think. So, then, how does one treat it?
Well, how one treats it will depend on what exactly is causing it
- Something in the water (sand/debris particles/algae) is trapped between the wetsuit and your skin. Thereby, constantly rubbing as you propel yourself through the water with your arms and legs.
- A neoprene allergy/allergy to something the wetsuit is made out of
Determining which is the cause is mostly just a process of elimination. But, it can become time-consuming and costly if trying to determine what exactly one is allergic to in the wetsuit.
So, if you’re like the rest of us with a busy schedule that doesn’t really allow time for doctors and testing (because, as it was once so ‘eloquently’ stated, “ain’t nobody got time for that”), don’t fret. Here are some things one can do to try to narrow down the cause of the chafing and/or allergy/sensitivity
1- Wash the wetsuit using a gentle detergent
Running the wetsuit through the wash with a gentle detergent will help to remove any chemical residue(s) that may be on the wetsuit from manufacturing and that could cause irritation/an allergic reaction.
2- Try wearing the wetsuit in the bathtub or pool
The goal of trying it in these two specific bodies of water is to rule out that the irritation is being caused by the water itself (or from something living in the water). In the ocean, lake, or river things such as sand/silt, salt, algae, and/or other debris particles can be floating around in the water. These tiny particles can get caught between the wetsuit and skin resulting in irritation/chafing.
3- Borrow/Try other wetsuits (if possible)
Perhaps there is an element/substance/material that the particular wetsuit you purchased is made of that you are allergic to, but a different manufacturer’s wetsuit potentially has a different composition. So, it’s worth a shot to try out other wetsuits.
Even once you know the cause of the chafed skin, chafing can still occur and is often painful and uncomfortable. Ways to prevent and/or heal chafing/wetsuit rash include
- Wear a rash guard (shirt or vest)
- (This should be obvious, but just in case…) Avoid urinating (or, defecating for that matter) in your wetsuit
- Wash your wetsuit after every swim (or water sport/activity of choice)
- Use an anti-chafe stick or salve (on areas that are prone to chafing/are chafed) before putting on the wetsuit
- Use a healing ointment/cream during your post-swim hygiene & moisturizing routine
- 1- Wash the wetsuit using a gentle detergent
- 2- Try wearing the wetsuit in the bathtub or pool
- 3- Borrow/Try other wetsuits (if possible)
- How Do I Stop My Wetsuit from Chafing?
- Why Is My Wetsuit Chafing?
- How Do I Stop My Wetsuit from Rubbing the Back of My Knee(s)?
- Can I Use Vaseline on My Wetsuit?
- What’s the Best Cream for Chafing?
- Is It Easier to Put on A Wetsuit Wet or Dry?
How Do I Stop My Wetsuit from Chafing?
Chafing, whatever the cause, can be painful and uncomfortable. Whether new to triathlon (open water swimming) or a veteran of the sport, wetsuit chafing/rash is always a potential. If you’re a veteran, you’ve probably had to deal with some wetsuit chafing/rash at some point in your swimming “career” (and, probably, wish you’d known some of these tips and tricks sooner). And, if you’re new to the sport you may be wondering if there are ways to stop and/or prevent wetsuit chafing/rash.
While there isn’t a 100% fail-proof way to prevent/stop wetsuit chafing/rash, there are some steps that one can take to at least try to eliminate, and, at a minimum, significantly reduce the occurrence and effect of chafing.
Some ways to keep a wetsuit from chafing/causing a rash include
1- Wear a well fitted (swimming specific) wetsuit
Wearing a properly fitted wetsuit that is meant for swimming activities is the number one way to reduce chafing. Fit is the most important factor when choosing a wetsuit. One’s wetsuit should fit snuggly, but be comfortable and allow for a full range of motion. Wearing a wetsuit specific for swimming means you will have added protection and flexibility in certain areas of the wetsuit as is needed for the activity (that said if you have a wetsuit from another watersport and are just getting into swimming, you could certainly use what you have. Just, if you intend to swim regularly, you may want to invest in one specifically for swimming).
2- Check the seams of your wetsuit
Often, chafing/irritation is not from the neoprene fabric itself but the interior seams of the wetsuit. Check for any rough edges in direct contact with your skin and the integrity of the seams to assure they are not the cause of chafing/irritation.
3- Wear a rash guard
Wearing a rash guard can provide some protection from chafing that results from rubbing of the wetsuit and/or interior seams against the skin. Rash guards come in many styles and materials. It is recommended to choose one that is thin (they aren’t meant for warmth but as a layer of protection/a barrier between your skin and wetsuit) and does not have zippers (zippers can cause irritation). It should be noted that in the case of an allergy to neoprene or other materials the wetsuit is made of, a rash guard is often not effective in preventing the irritation.
4- Use anti-chafe cream
Using an anti-chafe cream is an excellent way to prevent chafing. You can find it in several different forms, but the most convenient form is what looks like a deodorant stick (e.g. Bodyglide or Gold Bond Friction Defense Stick- which can be found online/at your local retailer(s) via a google search). Whatever anti-chafe product you go with- apply to areas prone to chafing such as the back of the neck, under the arms, rib cage, groin, and behind the knees.
5- Wash your wetsuit in freshwater after each swim
This assures that no sand, debris particles, or algae/other sea life stays attached to your wetsuit. That way the next time you put it on there is less of a chance for anything to be stuck between your wetsuit and skin that could constantly rub and thereby, cause irritation/wetsuit chafing/rash.
6- Avoid changing into your wetsuit on sand
As has been mentioned, sand trapped between your wetsuit and skin can cause irritation/chafing. Thus, it is best to minimize the chance of this being able to occur (by putting your wetsuit on before you get onto the sandy beach).
7- Opt for a softer neoprene
Not all neoprene is the same. Some wetsuits, particularly older (and sometimes less expensive) ones are fairly hard and quite the opposite of soft to the touch- almost like a flexible plastic or blubber. However, newer styles (as well as the more expensive styles of the past) are made from much softer neoprene material. Do some research to find the best option for you within your budget. Check our latest recommended gear on our page Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budget Gear
8- Physio Tape (i.e KT Tape)
Physiotherapy tape such as KT tape has been used by some on areas such as the back of the neck and back of the knees. This type of tape comes in a Pro/regular sticky and Pro Extreme/extra sticky options. The former option may not stay on in the water as well, but the latter may be more painful to get off. Nonetheless, they are both potential options.
Cliche as it may sound- practice, practice, practice! Practicing swimming in your wetsuit will cause the skin to form calluses over time in the areas of repeated chafing. Thus, over time (with practice) one can develop a bit of natural resistance to chafing. (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)
Why Is My Wetsuit Chafing?
Chafing is the manifestation of irritation from constant rubbing. Wetsuit chafing/rash occurs from repetitive movements (constant rubbing) between the wetsuit, water, particles in the water, and the skin. In some cases, the noticeable irritation is an allergic reaction. The back of the neck, rib cage, under the arms, groin, and behind the knees are areas that are affected most often due to the constant motion and wetsuit to skin contact in these particular areas.
Three common causes of wetsuit chafing are
- Constant rubbing of the wetsuit against the skin and/or sand/debris particles that have become trapped between the wetsuit and skin and then rub against the skin, causing irritation.
- Interior seams and/or how they are constructed. Sometimes the interior seams are rough and with the constant motion of the arms and legs in swimming, it’s not unfathomable for them to cause some chafing. While the texture itself can cause irritation, it may also have to do with how they are constructed (sewn vs glued).
- Allergy to the neoprene itself or something else that the wetsuit is made of.
As mentioned in the intro of this article, determining what exactly the cause of the chafing is isn’t too difficult- it’s really just a matter of a simple process of elimination. But, the endeavor of finding out one’s specific allergy could be time-consuming and potentially costly. That said if you’re like the rest of us with a busy schedule that doesn’t really allow time for all that, no worries. Here’s a recap of some things one can do to try to narrow down their allergy/sensitivity (and even determine why their wetsuit is causing chafe):
- Wash the wetsuit using a gentle detergent
- Check the interior seams
- Try wearing the wetsuit in the bathtub or pool (rule out ocean/river/lake water itself being the cause)
- Borrow/Try other wetsuits (not all wetsuits are made the same) (Source A)(Source B)
How Do I Stop My Wetsuit from Rubbing the Back of My Knee(s)?
Stopping a wetsuit from rubbing the back of the knee(s) is no different than stopping it from rubbing anywhere else. First and foremost, you will want to assure your wetsuit is properly fit.
If despite a proper fit, you still experience chafing you can try other tricks such as
- Anti-chafe salve/stick
There are many anti-chafe products to choose from. We will further discuss some of the best options later in this article. But, regardless of which product you choose it can help to reduce the severity (minimize the effects) of wetsuit chafing/rash (though, it will not heal it).
- Physiotherapy tape (i.e. KT Tape or Rock Tape)
Though this is not as common, it is an option. KT Tape in particular comes in Pro and Pro Extreme- essentially PRO Extreme is waterproof vs water-resistant and, thereby, significantly more sticky. The Pro tape is 50/50 as to whether it would stay in place. The Pro Extreme will stay in place, but it may be a bit painful to take off.
Lastly, be sure to wash your wetsuit (with freshwater) after each swim. This will remove, or at least minimize, any debris and/or sand particles that could end up trapped between the wetsuit and your skin. Thus preventing, or at least minimizing, chaffing/rubbing- particularly at the back of the knee(s).
Can I Use Vaseline on My Wetsuit?
Though many people use Vaseline or other petroleum-based products as a lubricant whether it be to aid in getting their wetsuit on and/or to combat chafing, it is NOT the best option for your wetsuit. Petroleum-based products, such as Vaseline, can eat away at the wetsuit (i.e. actually damage the neoprene) which will negatively impact the longevity of your wetsuit.
Often, a lubricant can aid in getting a wetsuit on (and off) quickly. Most often lubricant is applied to wrists and ankles (and any areas prone to chafing). Not only will a lubricant help with getting a wetsuit on (off), but it will also benefit any areas prone to/experiencing chafing. However, because petroleum-based lubricants like Vaseline can damage a wetsuit, one does not want to use such a lubricant when wearing a wetsuit.
Acceptable lubricant products when wearing a wetsuit include baby oil, anti-chafing products (such as Bodyglide or Gold Bond Friction Defense), vegetable oil, and/or silicone gel. (Source A)(Source B)
What’s the Best Cream for Chafing?
As was previously mentioned, chafing is the manifestation of skin irritation that results from constant rubbing. It is often raw and red, and painful and uncomfortable. I know, it sounds like not a lot of fun, but, fear not, there are several products- creams/ointments/salves/sticks- to help combat and heal chafing. Which is the best one depends on what you are looking for in your anti-chafe product.
Products for chafing-preventing and healing chafing- come in stick, spray, salve, ointment, and/or cream form. And, each product in each of those categories has its pros and cons, and claims. However, generally speaking, sticks and sprays are often best for combating chafing-especially when on the go- as they are the easiest to keep in a swim bag (and apply on the go). On the other hand, salves, creams, and ointments (such as diaper rash cream or A&D ointment) are typically better for healing chafing.
While there are several options out there to help combat (prevent and/or reduce) chafing, Bodyglide-an anti-chafing stick- is seemingly the unanimous winner. The best product for healing chafing seems to be a toss-up between Aquaphor and CeraVe Healing Ointment. (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)
Is It Easier to Put on A Wetsuit Wet or Dry?
A wetsuit may be an essential piece of equipment for triathlon and/or open water swimming, but it can also be one of the peskiest pieces of equipment- especially concerning putting it on (and taking it off). Really, there is no easy way to get into (or out of) a wetsuit- that’s just the nature of the beast, as they say.
That being said- that a wetsuit is both an essential piece of equipment and pesky- you can bet many have posed the question, is it easier to put on a wetsuit when it is wet or dry?
Ultimately, it is a matter of preference. Though [typically] it is easier to put on a wetsuit when you and the wetsuit are alike- i.e. if your wetsuit is wet, it will be easier to put on if you are wet; and, if your wetsuit is dry, it will be easier to put on if you are dry. (There is nothing more difficult than trying to pull a dry wetsuit over wet skin, or trying to persuade a wet wetsuit over dry skin.)
Some recommend putting the wetsuit on in the water, but that seems like it could be an athletic feat itself (and potentially dangerous- especially for those that lack balance/coordination).
Other helpful tricks to getting a wetsuit on with a little more ease include
- Socks- whether they be diving socks or regular socks they can help one to be able to slide their feet through the legs more easily.
- Plastic bags over one’s hands and feet can make it easier to get them through the arms and legs of the wetsuit respectively. (Though plastic bags are an economical option there are [better] alternatives/products specifically designed for this on the market today.)
- Water or natural-based lubricant (see above for options)
- A dive skin/suit (or, pantyhose or a skinsuit) provides a thin, smooth barrier between your skin and the wetsuit material, making it slightly easier to get into. (Source A)(Source B)