Inner thigh chafing gets a lot of attention in the summer, but equally hellish is the chafing that happens a little farther north: vaginal chafing. Or, more specifically, chafing in the general area below your underwear. It typically can happen on the vulva (the outer part of the vagina, including the lips), and around the thigh crease.
Vaginal chafing is typically caused by the same things that cause it in between the legs or under the boobs: sweat and friction. “The primary problem is irritation from the skin rubbing back and forth against itself, and it gets worse in the heat when we’re sweating,” says Karen Duncan, an assistant professor at New York University Langone Health. It can be exacerbated by shaving, wearing tight panties, or wearing shorts with built-in underwear that digs into your skin. It can also occur if you're having an intense sex or masturbation session, that involves prolonged, painful rubbing of the area. Usually chafing just causes redness and a stinging feeling, but if it’s severe it can lead to swelling, bleeding, and infection, Dr. Duncan notes.
Luckily, there are ways to prevent the burn. “The goal is to keep the area as dry and cool as possible,” Dr. Duncan says. That might mean avoiding tight clothing, changing right after a workout, and wearing cotton panties (or even none at all if you can get away with it while working from home). If you go swimming in the warmer months, bring a fresh pair of underwear with you, and change out of your wet bottoms as soon as you can.
You can also try using chafing sticks, or lubricating gels or creams in the rubbing-prone areas or skin folds near your groin, and be sure to use lube when you're having sex or masturbating — especially if you notice your skin is starting to pull or feel irritated. “It’s about keeping the tissue supple and moist but not wet and sweaty," Dr. Duncan says. A word of caution: Avoid using anything with talcum in it. It's a possible carcinogen when used in the genital area, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
If you're going to shave, make sure to wait until the end of your shower (giving your skin a chance soften from the water) and use a good shaving cream, Dr. Duncan recommends. “Remember that with a freshly shaven or waxed area, there’s more risk for irritation.”
If you're already chafed, an ice pack can help to cut down on inflammation. And be gentle on the skin. Post-shower, pat or air dry rather than rubbing it with a towel. An old-school oatmeal bath might help, according to the University of Michigan's Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital. You can sit in a tub, or mix two tablespoons of Aveeno powdered oatmeal bath treatment with one quart of water, refrigerate it, then daub the mixture on the irritated skin. Colloidal oatmeal contains soothing, anti-inflammatory plant chemicals called avenanthramides, Healthline reports.
Or apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream according to the product's directions. It's a type of steroid, that will help reduce swelling and itching. It's not suitable for use on open wounds, and Dr. Duncan points out that these creams aren’t meant to be used long-term.
In general, if the chafing doesn't improve within a week, put down the home remedies and call your doctor. It's possible to get a yeast infection between skin folds, so a stubborn or particularly irritated or itchy patch may require an anti-fungal cream your doctor can prescribe. “A persistent rash or pain that’s getting worse and worse means there’s a concern for an infection,” Dr. Duncan says.
“When chafing is really extreme, sometimes there’s a break down of the skin, and there can be microscopic tears,” she says. If you can see what looks like a cut, she recommends letting the area breathe as much as possible (again, ditching your skivvies is a good place to start) and keeping an eye on it to make sure it's healing normally. But drainage of fluid or pus are both indicators of infection, and signs that you should call a doc, Dr. Duncan adds.
Usually, this kind of chafing is more annoying than dangerous, but it's worth taking a few simple steps to keep it at bay so it doesn't put a damper on your summer fun.