Why Do Your Nipples Hurt After Swimming? How To Deal With It!


Have you ever been swimming and felt like you were “high beaming” people? Or, have you ever had sore nipples after swimming in open water? As a former lifeguard, swim instructor, swim coach, and, presently, avid swimmer (i.e. someone who has spent a good bit of time in/out of the water), I know I’ve dealt with nipping and sore nipples more than once over the years of being in the water. 

But what Is Swimmer’s Nipping mean? The term nipping is a reference to when one’s nipples are hard or a little too “perky”.  This occurrence is 100%  natural and can happen to anyone. It tends to occur in those that have a greater sensitivity to cold (water and air temperatures certainly affect this).  For some, because it’s a natural thing, they aren’t bothered by this occurrence. However, others find it bothersome and/or embarrassing despite that it is something that occurs naturally.

Perhaps you’re new to being in the water and swimming, or maybe you’re a veteran swimmer and have pretty much grown up in the water (some might even say, jokingly, you’re part fish); either way, chances are you have already experienced one or both of these occurrences (hence why you’re reading this article, right?). And, if you haven’t yet, you more than likely will at some point. 

So why do your nipples hurt after swimming in the ocean?  While one’s nipples can hurt for a number of reasons when it comes to swimming and nipples pain or soreness, one is most likely experiencing what is known as “Surfer’s Nipple(s)”.  “Surfer’s Nipple(s)”, much like “Jogger’s Nipple(s)”,  is simply a term for irritated and sore nipples stemming from friction.  Even while wearing swim attire, breasts float ever so slightly in the water when swimming. The floating of one’s breasts in conjunction with the water, salt/sand, and swimsuit rubbing against one’s nipples can create friction which in turn can cause irritation/chafing. This irritation/chafing can be quite sore and/or painful. (Source)

Is It Normal for Your Nipples to Hurt After Swimming? 

If you’ve never experienced this type of pain, you may be alarmed by the pain and/or soreness of your nipples after a swim and be wondering if it is normal to be feeling this?

This pain/soreness known as “Surfer’s Nipple” can happen to anyone it is very normal, though not everyone experiences it.  It generally occurs due to friction – the movement between breasts and swimsuit material in addition to the salt and sand in the water that is also getting trapped between the breasts and the swimsuit material causing even more friction which in turn irritates/chafes the area. That irritation/chafing can be quite sore/painful. 

While the term for the issue came from surfing/open water swimming, it can happen when swimming in open water or a pool (one’s swimsuit still causes friction + the chemicals used in the pool water to keep it sanitary can irritate one’s skin, particularly the nipple area which has thinner tissue).

In addition to the irritation/chafing ( “rubbing raw” of sorts-even if it is not visibly red/scraped, the skin/tissue can still be “raw”) that causes the soreness and/or pain, friction can also cause the nipples to get harder than normal (i.e. “high beam”, “too perky”, etc.).    

What Do Painful Nipples Indicate? 

By this point, you’re hopefully feeling better about this experience/issue, but you may still be wondering what exactly if anything, painful nipples indicate?

Painful nipples can be caused by a few different things and therefore, can indicate a few different things. Most of the things it can indicate are benign, but there are a couple more serious ones.  

The context in which one is experiencing painful nipples is also an important factor as the context will help provide a more accurate diagnosis as well as indicate whether you are dealing with something benign versus more serious. For example, one who swims regularly and is experiencing nipple pain is most likely dealing with “surfer’s nipple”, a benign condition. On the other hand, someone experiencing nipple pain with no known trauma of any kind and/or changes to the breast, especially the nipple could be experiencing the pain due to Paget’s Disease (a form of Breast Cancer that specifically affects the nipple). So, the context of one’s pain is very important to the diagnosis and treatment of nipple soreness/pain. 

  • In general, you could be experiencing painful nipples for a reason as benign as having sensitive nipples or “Surfer’s Nipple”.
  • Painful nipples can also be indicative of some other benign issues or conditions such as clothing being too tight (or loose) causing excessive friction, rashes, infections, allergic reaction/allergy, or atopic dermatitis.
  • And, at the other end of the spectrum, painful nipples could be indicative of cancer (i.e. Paget’s disease).
  • In women,  nipples can also be painful due to hormones that can be affected by the menstrual cycle, pregnancy/childbirth, and/or breastfeeding (all of which are natural and benign issues, but issues to be noted when discussing the topic of nipple soreness/pain). 

After reading through the list of things that painful nipples can be associated with you’re probably wondering what any of that has to do with painful nipples after swimming. So, what do painful nipples after swimming indicate? Most likely it’s an indication of excessive friction and/or sensitive nipples (i.e. “Surfer’s Nipple”).  

While most causes of nipple pain are natural and/or benign, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause; so, if you are ever in doubt or concerned, talk to your physician or local, trusted healthcare provider that can further diagnose and treat your symptoms. (Source A)  (Source B)

Also check out our post on How Long After Ear Piercing Before You Can Swim? Why & What Not To Do !

How Do I Stop My Nipples from Hurting when I Swim? 

Now that you have a better understanding of what is causing your nipple soreness and/or pain, you may be wondering what you can do to stop your nipples from hurting when you swim? What preventative measures can you take? 

Some things one can do to prevent their nipples from hurting when they swim are to assure they wear properly fitting clothing, use waterproof lubrication on their nipples, and/or cover their nipples with a waterproof bandage. 

The first thing one can do to prevent nipple pain while swimming is to wear properly fitted clothing – you want clothing that is not too loose or too tight. If your normal swimsuit/swim attire is not providing the protection and fit you need, you may want to opt for a rash guard or wetsuit. If you’re wearing a sports bra as an underlayer, assure there is no seam over the nipple. (Source A) (Source B

Another option to help keep one’s nipples from hurting when they swim is to use a waterproof lubricant such as petroleum jelly or Aquaphor.  One can also use Talcum powder on their nipples (it will create more of a paste over them once the powder gets wet). 

A third option is to cover the nipples with waterproof bandages or tape. If you prefer a name-brand option designed specifically for that versus the old-school band-aid or gauze and tape option(s), you can check out Nip Guard and/or Nipeaze. (Source)

What Is the Fastest Way to Heal Sore Nipples? 

You’ve done everything to prevent your nipples from hurting when swimming, but alas, they still hurt. Or, maybe you failed to prepare completely. Either way, you’re probably wondering what the fastest way to heal sore nipples is?

The best thing one can do is clean them, pat them dry (or, better yet, let them air dry) – avoid rubbing them/creating more friction to dry them, lubricate and hydrate them, and allow them time to heal. 

  • First up on the road to healing, is cleansing. You want to cleanse painful nipples with mild soap and water and then pat them dry or let them air dry.  
  • Once they’re dry, you will want to lubricate and hydrate them with petroleum jelly or lanolin cream. If inflammation and swelling are an issue, you may want to try a medicated and/or steroidal cream either in place of or in addition to any other creams. 
  • Lastly, if there are visible breaks in the skin and/or the irritation is moderate or worse, you will want to cover the nipples with some gauze bandages. Then allow them time to heal- you may need to stay out of the water/change your training routine to allow them to heal fully. 

For females that may be experiencing nipple pain from hormonal changes, it is recommended to limit salt intake, avoid caffeine, and exercise.  

How Do You Soothe Sore Nipples? 

So, now that we have started the healing process, what does one do to soothe the soreness? Soothing sore nipples is much the same as healing sore nipples. Basically, the healing process is what will soothe the soreness. 

So, as with healing them, the first step is to cleanse them with mild soap and water and allow them dry (either pat dry or air dry). After they are dry one can lather on some Vasoline or lanolin cream and/or Talcum powder. 

If you are experiencing swelling and/or inflammation, you may want to look into a steroid cream as this will help to reduce that swelling and/or inflammation and thereby reduce the amount of pain and soreness in the area. You can find some medicated and corticosteroid creams over the counter (stronger medicated and/or steroid creams will require a prescription). 

If you still have pain and soreness after all the other measures to heal/soothe sore and painful nipples, you can try an ice pack – use a barrier, such as a hand towel or washcloth, between the ice pack and your skin; apply for  20 minutes and then remove (20 minutes “on”:  20 minutes “off”).  (Source A) (Source B)

Melissa Frank

My passion, outside of animals, is helping people and adding value to their lives…I strive to leave the world a little better than I woke to it each day. The first part of my career, for a total of about 15 years, was spent in the public safety field as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT-B and 9-1-1 Operator. In 2019 I obtained my personal trainer certification (ACE certified) as well as many group fitness certifications and certification as a Corrective Exercise Specialist.

Recent Posts