How to Prevent Surf Rashes

This post contains affiliate links. The Salt Sirens earns from qualifying purchases.

We’ve all been there. A long day out on the water, paddling and (hopefully) catching waves… only to return home with sore arm pits, ribs, or other places where your skin is obviously irritated.

A surf rash is a skin abrasion that happens due to the constant rubbing of the skin, the apparel you are wearing and the surfboard. In other words, it is a product of friction. The armpit, chest, rib cage and inner thighs are the common areas prone to surf rashes. This condition can be worsened in two ways: actively through the friction created while rubbing against the surfboard, and passively through the abrasive salt in seawater.

It’s often hard to notice the rash forming while surfing. You’re still having fun! However, when you go back shore and your adrenaline level subsides, this is when discomfort builds.

Does getting a surf rash mean the water is polluted? Well, not necessarily. Even if the water is pristine and clean, you can still get a rash while surfing.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to prevent surf rashes.

Make Sure Your Surf Attire Fits

Boardshorts, bikinis, rashguards and wetsuits are the most common clothing items we wear out in the surf. You’ll want to make sure that each piece is comfrotable and fits properly, especially around the armpits and inner thigh area.

If your clothing is too loose, the excess fabric will bunch up and irritate your skin. Clothing that’s too tight will typically cause chafing around the seams, like the neck, waist or wrists. It’ll also lead to muscle fatigue and restrict blood circulation.

I learned this the hard way with my most stylish rashguard, which ended up being a rash machine for my armpits and neck!

Apply Non-Abrasive Lotions Before Your Surf

Athletes have anti-chafing creams to prevent ‘chub rub’, or rashes formed by friction. Before you surf, you could apply Vaseline or petroleum jelly to areas most prone to irritation, like your inner thighs, chest, armpits, and lower ribs.

Note that this typically comes off after around 20 minutes in the water, particularly if you’re doing laps around the lineup. It’s more as an initial barrier to prevent existing rashes from getting worse.

Surf Frequently and Develop a Tolerance

Hate to say it, but surf rashes are often just part of surfing. Especially in areas that come in contact with the board, like your lower ribs and hip bones. There’s no real way to prevent these surf rashes other than forming a tolerance to your body laying on the board. In short, you just need to surf more.

Other rashes, like those caused by poor fitting clothing can only really be avoided by swapping to better fitting clothes.

First Aid for Surf Rashes

Surf rashes are skin abrasions, so you should treat them as such. The simplest that you can do is to apply freshwater to the affected area to rinse off the abrasive seawater. Let it dry for a few minutes and you can apply over the counter topical medicines like ointments, rash cream or cortisone. Keep an eye on rashes that are especially painful, especially if the first layer of skin is off. These can become easily infected in tropical, hot and humid destinations. Wear loose, breathable clothing on land while your surf rash heals.

If your rash continues to get worse, stop surfing and let it heal completely. Seek professional medical advice if it gets red, inflamed, or spreads to other areas of the body.

Read more surf articles