Surf rash is something that most experienced surfers have dealt with at some point or another and something that all surfers hate. It’s uncomfortable, irritating, and it can diminish your enjoyment of this great sport.
But what is surf rash, and more importantly, what can you do to prevent and treat it?
What is Surf Rash?
Surf rash is a rash caused by friction. When you surf, you expose your skin to saltwater and the water softens it and makes it more prone to damage. As you move around on your surfboard, constantly dropping, paddling, and popping up, you create friction and the combination of these things damages your skin.
What begins as mild redness, eventually turns into painful sores, and that’s when surf rash becomes more than a simple annoyance.
What Causes Surf Rash?
Surf rash is caused by friction. It could be the friction of your skin against the surfboard or the friction of wet clothing against your skin. The constant chafing traumatizes the skin and causes irritation.
Surfboard wax can also worsen the problem as it attracts sand and creates an abrasive surface on the surfboard while also making it easier for the surfer to slide back and forward.
It’s a problem that many other athletes face, and it’s something you will find across many professions and activities. Joggers, for instance, commonly complain of “jogger’s nipple”, whereby their nipples are irritated so much by the movement of their shirt that they bleed.
What Does Surf Rash Look and Feel Like?
Surf rash appears as a series of red bumps and abrasions over the skin. Depending on the severity, these abrasions might be painful, but they are usually always uncomfortable.
Your skin has basically been heavily exfoliated over many hours by salt water and has then suffered the pain of constant friction. It’s definitely not pleasant!
Other Problems Similar to Surf Rash
Surf rash isn’t the only problem faced by surfers and practitioners of other watersports. There are a variety of skin conditions that can be caused by excessive friction, surf wax, and clothing, including the following:
Skin contact with neoprene can cause something known as allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). It’s an incredibly rare allergy and it’s thought to be caused by the materials used to manufacture neoprene, including mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT).
The symptoms may be similar to surf rash, but there are usually some key differences.
With neoprene allergies, your skin is more likely to itch and may also leave you with a burning sensation. The severity of the bumps and sores may be much worse, although it will depend on the individual.
If you suspect that you might have a neoprene allergy, you should consult with a dermatologist.
Paddle Board Rash
As with surf rash, paddle board rash is caused by friction as the skin repeatedly rubs against the board. It typically presents in the armpit area but can also appear around the rib cage. Paddle boarders spend a lot of time paddling in the prone position and with the saltwater softening their skin and the wetsuit rubbing against it, rashes become a common and uncomfortable issue.
Surfer’s nipple is very similar to jogger’s nipple. It’s caused by the friction of clothing against the nipple and can be painful enough to keep surfers out of the water.
Both men and women suffer from surfer’s nipple, but women may also suffer from general breast pain caused by crushing the breasts against the surfboard/wetsuit when paddling. To prevent this, the breasts must be supported without crushing them. The solution may be found in a rash guard or a better-fitting wetsuit.
Wetsuit Neck Rash
Neck rashes are also caused by the friction of wet clothing against bare skin. As you move around on your surfboard, you push the suit up and down and it chafes against your neck, creating an uncomfortable and potentially painful rash.
How to Prevent Surf Rash
There are a few potential solutions for treating surf rash, including rash guards, lubricants, and even bathing suits:
What Do Rash Guard Shirts Do?
A rash guard can be worn by itself or in combination with a wetsuit. It is designed to reduce chafing and, as a result, to prevent surf rash. It adheres tightly to the skin and doesn’t move around as easily as a wetsuit. When worn underneath a wetsuit, it will protect against the movement of the suit. When worn by itself, it will guard against the abrasion of the waxed surfboard.
Rash guards help in other ways, too. They provide the surfer with a much-needed layer of UV protection, greatly reducing the risk of sun damage. Surfers are significantly more likely to develop skin cancer but by wearing a rash guard every time you hit the waves, you can reduce most of that risk.
Rash guards are often made from a blend of spandex and either nylon or polyester.
Be Careful What You Wear
You might think that you look cool going topless on a summer’s day, but you’ll look decidedly less cool when you emerge from the ocean covered in an infestation of tiny red bumps. What’s more, if you keep surfing without any upper body protection, you’ll expose yourself to sun damage and the risks of skin cancer.
Always protect yourself with rash guards and wetsuits, and refrain from wearing materials that absorb moisture, including cotton.
Vaseline is an effective and cheap lubricant that will reduce the friction between your skin and the surfboard. Creams like Belly Jelly are also very effective for this purpose and have been used by surfers for a number of years.
How to Treat Surf Rash
Prevention is the best cure, but if you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that it’s already too late.
When your surf rash flares up, try one of the following solutions:
Coconut Oil, Aloe Vera, and Other Natural Solutions
Treating surf rash is about keeping the skin moisturized and nourished, and you may already have some useful ingredients in your home.
Aloe vera gel should be effective for this purpose and you can also use coconut oil in combination with natural soothing herbs.
Commercial Surf Rash Creams
If you prefer to opt for commercial creams, check out Sett Surf Rash Cream, Aquaphor, and Lucas’ Papaw Ointment. Alternatively, you can find a few great surf rash creams including Surf Butta Anti Chafe Balm.