Surf Rash – Causes, Treatment, Prevention

surf rash causes treatment prevention

Last updated: December 2022

If you’ve spent much time in the ocean you’ve probably experienced sand rubbing in places you don’t want it to. But when tiny sharp granules find their way between the cuffs of your wetsuit while surfing, paddling and duck diving, irritation can quickly turn into nasty abrasions that ruin your surf.

Even without sand, an ageing or poor-fitting wetsuit can start to rub at your skin and after an hour of surfing, you’re all ready to head to the beach just to stop the relentless scratching. With a whopping 40% of surfers reportedly suffering we want to share all the tips and tricks we’ve learned.

Surf rash is no joke, from bleeding armpits, to redraw necks we’ll look at causes, treatment and ongoing prevention of surf rash so you don’t have to make the mistakes we have.

What is surf rash?

Surf rash is any excessive rubbing or repetitive friction leading to abrasion while you surf, bodyboard or any other wave riding activity. Surf rash can range in severity from sore red skin to deep bleeding cuts if left untreated.

Not strictly reserved for abrasion by sand, surf rash also happens when your wetsuit rubs and irritates your skin or the wax on your surfboard.

It’s not just reserved for winter wetsuits either, thinner spring suits, surf leggings, boardshorts, and sleeved zippered swimsuits can all give you a nasty case of wetsuit rash.

Even though surf rash can be painful and itchy it rarely lasts more than a few days. In most cases, it’s nothing to worry about (as long as you don’t have any underlying health issues). But if it’s severe enough to cause blisters or open wounds, you should see a doctor immediately because these symptoms could indicate an infection or another underlying condition.

Head over to our guide on surfing and pain to find out about some of surfing’s more serious issues and how to treat and prevent them.

How does rash happen?

  • Peeling on sandy wetsuits
  • Old splitting neoprene
  • Cheap boardshorts
  • Poorly fitted wetsuits
  • Your skin is not used to the rigours of surfing and saltwater 
  • Excessive sand in your surfboard wax

Any of the above could be the underlying cause of your wetsuit rash.

Where can you suffer from surf rash?

Unfortunately, you can be afflicted nearly anywhere depending on your specific issue. From paddling, walking to and from the beach and surfing you can get surfers rash in any of the following places.

  • Armpits
  • Neck
  • Back of your knees
  • Inside thigh
  • Nipples (often called surfers nipple)
  • Crotch (this can lead to staph infections in some cases)
  • Rib cage 

Whether it’s your ribs rubbing against you’re surfboard or some boardshorts lining tearing into your inner thigh, nowhere’s safe from surfing rash, even your crotch if you’re particularly unlucky.

Never fear, we’ll talk you through all the ways you can treat your rash and get you back in the waves in no time.

How can you treat surf rash?

Over-the-counter rash treatments – Normal antiseptic cut and abrasion creams will help soothe and heal your surf rash, particularly if you’ve broken the skin.

A natural remedy – You can use balms created using natural ingredients to help heal sore chafed skin, mineral oils are well known for their ability to help heal mild skin abrasion.

Rest and recovery – Abrasion normally just needs a little bit of time to heal and you’ll be ready to surf again. If your pain doesn’t go away or your wounds don’t heal you should seek help from a medical professional.

Head over to this guide by Healthline (written by medical professionals) for a full breakdown of how to treat surf rash from start to finish.

How to prevent surf rash

  • Vaseline acts as a lubricant and can help stop rash while you surf and paddle, apply it to your neck, the back of your legs and your armpits to stop the rash from ever starting.
  • Coconut Oil acts as a natural lubricant and doesn’t contain any nasty petroleum jelly (even though it does cost more).
  • Rash vests often referred to as rash guards can help prevent wetsuit rash on your neck and armpits. Make sure you invest in a good quality rash vest, the cheap ones offer very little in the way of skin protection. 
  • Change your surf wax regularly, if you’re surfing without a wetsuit or a t-shirt the sand in your wax can rub your skin, making for red, sore marks where your ribs are, especially if you’re slim.
surf rash causes treatment prevention

Common questions about surf rash

Now you’re all set to go and catch some waves without having to worry about irritating chafing while you surf. To finish we decided to answer some common questions we’ve heard about surfing rash to help you guys out.

What’s the quickest way to get rid of surfing rash?

As soon as you feel the rash starting get out of the water and find some form of lubricant or padding to prevent further rash. Lip balm can work as an emergency measure if you haven’t got any other options.

Does Aloe Vera help surfers’ rash?

Aloe Vera can help aid in the healing process so while it may not help pre-surf it’s great for after. Aloe Vera Gel has the added benefit of treating sun damage as well making it one of the easiest solutions for a sun and rash cure.

How can you prevent chafing while you surf?

Either lube up with some Vaseline/natural alternative or get yourself a good rash vest or rash guard that can act as a layer of protection between your upper body and your wetsuit or surfboard (long sleeves are even better)

How can I stop short rash?

Apply lubrication of your choice to your inner thighs, groin and the back of your knees. While you may feel a bit silly you’ll be thanking me when you’re not cutting your session short in pumping waves.