It’s Season Four, Episode One of The Office, and Meredith has rabies. The entire workplace is forced to compete in “Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure.” Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) is determined to win the 5K, and he won’t let his nipples get in the way. “I’m petrified of nipple chafing,” he explains, excessively taping gauze over his chest. “Once it starts, it’s a vicious circle. You have sensitive nipples, they chafe, so they become more sensitive, so they chafe more.” Cut to the end of the episode, and Andy’s fast-walking to the finish line as blood seeps out of his shirt.
As a runner, I live in perpetual fear of becoming Andy. This scene hits me every time I lace up. I fear chafing more than puking or face-planting on a trail (I’m proficient in both). It’s the inevitability of it all, the stains, the constant pain. I can feel it now.
Nipple chafing is the colloquial term for fissure of the nipple, which would make a great title for a Tennessee Williams play. There’re lots of reasons nipples become irritated: sweat, oversized clothing and dry air, to name a few. Thankfully, there are twice as many solutions for nipple chafing to keep me from becoming Brooklyn’s Andy Bernard.
Drop the Detergent
I wear a black polyester Under Armour running shirt that consistently causes chafing. At first, I didn’t know how to solve the problem. Then one day I bought a different detergent (it was on sale), and I’ve never chafed since. “I’ve found that washing my clothing in all-natural and unscented laundry detergent has also greatly helped protect my most sensitive areas by preventing potential allergic rashes,” says Rachel Otis for Healthline.
Sweat the Tape, Not Salt
There’s a reason both runners and surfers get chafed nipples: salt. A bare chest, saltwater and a rough-surfaced surfboard does a nipple damage. Both ocean water and sweat contain salt. Even if the water evaporates, salt crystals remain.
To keep your skin from drying out, invest in Band-Aids or nipple tape. For hairy men, one redditor even suggests cutting a Band-Aid into three sections and using one sticky end on each nipple.
Go for a Guard
Since the main culprit for chafing is friction, tighter shirts also mean a lower likelihood of chafing. If you’re like me and have a favorite running shirt (or are too stingy to buy another in a smaller size), wash and dry that bad boy on repeat. Plus, your fellow runners will thank you for warding off that resilient runner stench.
Another option — best suited for swimmers — is to wear a rash guard. The tight shirts made of nylon or spandex put a barrier between the skin and rain or ocean water. But rash guards won’t do too much to prevent sweat-induced irritation.
Stop for a Stretch
You can buy nipple creams at Walgreens or on Amazon that promise to moisturize and prevent irritation, but those are a short-term solution. If I’m halfway through a 10K, there’s a good chance that cream has been smeared off by sweat.
Although not ideal, the best solution I’ve found when mid-run nipple chafing occurs is to simply stop and stretch. It’s worth the 10-second pause. It gives me a beat to let my body cool down and adjust as needed. Andy Bernard never gave himself that break, and it came back to haunt him by way of a bloodstained shirt. So help me God, I will not be Andy Bernard.