How To Treat Wetsuit Rash

Chaffing and your neoprene wetsuit rubbing against the skin over an extended period will almost always result in a rash.

But why are some areas more prone to chaffing than others? There are various factors to consider, such as contact points with the wetsuit itself and any equipment you may be using.

To know how to treat surf rash, we must look at a few important questions like:

  1. What causes wetsuit rash?
  2. How do you treat neoprene rash?
  3. How do I stop my wetsuit from chaffing?
  4. Is wetsuit rash itchy?

In the case of wetsuit rash, prevention is better than cure. So keep reading first to find out how to treat it and then how to avoid surf rash. 

Let’s begin!

What causes wetsuit rash?

The most common areas where this rash occurs is the chest, armpits, neck and thighs. Wetsuit rash is caused by loose neoprene material rubbing against your skin.

In the case of surfing, the rash is called surf rash. But they are one and the same. It is caused in the same way but can still occur without a wetsuit. This is because of the friction created between the surfboard and boardshorts material over the skin. The result is a mild skin abrasion.

For open water swimmers (wild swimmers), the most common area is on the back of the neck. The wetsuit rash happens from looking forward under the water. Titling the neck backwards causes the skin to roll together at the back of the neck. Then, as the shoulders move back and forward, the friction causes a rash.

How do you treat neoprene rash?

While the vast majority of people who experience surf rash may find it unpleasant, it is not a serious ailment and can be dealt with easily.

There are several home remedies that you can apply, and you don’t typically need to seek medical attention.

  1. Get some anti-itch cream or lotion and apply it generously to the surf rash overnight.
  2. Don’t scratch! Aggravating the rash will only prolong it.
  3. Use cold water to cool towels and light compression on the rash for periods of roughly 30 minutes. Repeat this process several times a day.
  4. Stay out of the water. One way to reaggravate surf rash is to climb back into your wetsuit and go for a swim or surf. Rest a couple of days to let the body recover.

But a small number of people are allergic to neoprene itself, which is more severe.

According to mayoclinic.org, Contact Dermatitis is a red, itchy rash. It is an allergic reaction caused by direct contact with a substance, such as neoprene. However, although extremely uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening or contagious.

Treatments for Contact Dermatitis include:

  • Steroid creams or ointments that are prescription grade.
  • Oral medications (such as antihistamines) may be prescribed in extreme cases when inflammation is severe.

How do I stop my wetsuit from chafing?

There are several strategies available to protect yourself and avoid having to undergo any type of healing process.

  • The first and possibly most obvious solution to prevent surf rash is to make sure your wetsuit fits correctly. An incorrectly sized wetsuit is easy to spot. For example, does your wetsuit have excess material under the arms, behind the knees or in the crotch area?

For an in-depth read into wetsuit sizing that covers topics like the correct neck fit, wetsuit length and even half sizes, click here.

  • Keep your wetsuit well maintained. Besides being how expensive they are, there are other reasons you may want to maintain your wetsuit correctly. After a time the neoprene with stretch and become thinner in some places but not others. These affected areas create loose material, which, as we now know, is what causes surf rash. In addition, any small tears can create loose-fitting spots.
  • Rinse your wetsuit thoroughly after each use to keep the neoprene ductile. Possibly the easiest way to ensure your money isn’t wasted is to rinse your wetsuit after every saltwater use. But besides extending the life of your wetsuit, rinsing helps break up crystals formed by salt water in the neoprene, which will irritate contact areas the next time your don your second skin.

Related Article: How to wash a wetsuit A comprehensive guide

  • Invest in a good quality rash vest. This is one for surfers to consider. A surf rash flaring up on the upper body is an all too common nuisance from surfboards. A well-fitted neoprene rash guard will help prevent the chafe and subsequent surf rash from friction between your torso and the board. A good surfing rash guard will feature extra protection for the chest and torso areas. So make the investment, because the alternative is not to surf at all, which just isn’t an option!
  • Use plant-based chafe waxes. Several companies produce anti-chafe products for water sports enthusiasts. The most well-known of them is Body Glove, founded by a surfer sick and tired of surf rash! Not only will these products prevent wetsuit rash, but they are both excellent for your skin and the environment. 

NO:

  • Do NOT use vaseline. Vaseline and other petroleum-based products will damage your neoprene wetsuit. This used to be considered the best way to prevent chafing and rashes from occurring from wetsuits. However, petroleum jelly has destroyed many neoprene products over the years. Your best alternative is to go for plant-based anti-chafe balms.
  • Don’t change on the sand! Getting beach sand in your wetsuit is a great way to not only damage it but collect it in every nook and cranny, ready to cause you irritation later on. However, if you have no other option, then make sure you thoroughly wash your wetsuit.

Is surf rash itchy?

While the vast majority of wetsuit rash cases result in a mild rash, there are more extreme cases where people are allergic to the wetsuit material (neoprene).

And while the former doesn’t usually result in a rash that is itchy or irritable, the latter can certainly cause a severe itching sensation.

In cases where Contact Dermatitis occurs, you need to seek professional medical advice.

There is a slight possibility of surf rash-causing infection if the rash does not heal. Again it would be best if you asked for medical advice from a certified practitioner.

Final Thoughts

Wetsuit rash comes as part and parcel of activities requiring their use like surfing and open water swimming. And generally speaking, the best treatment is prevention.

However, if you do need to treat them, then you can use these methods:

  1. Anti-itch cream or lotion.
  2. Cool towels applied with light compression.
  3. Avoid scratching.
  4. Take a couple of days out of the saltwater to recover.

Some extreme cases could result from an allergic reaction, but this is extremely rare and unfortunate. 

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