It’s a fact: running comes with some inherent discomfort. And while there are many ways to mitigate that, arguably the most effective is an anti-chafe treatment. Thankfully, there are a number of lubricants made to protect and soothe the skin. As we head into marathon season, I put several through the wringer to determine which is best.
I applied each of the creams to my nipples and thighs before heading out on an hourlong run. Then I ran several times with one treatment applied to one nipple and another treatment to the other to compare their effectiveness in real time, mano a mano. I also took into account my past experience with these chafe battlers while competing in trail marathons, a 50-miler, and a 50K.
#1. Assos Chamois Cream ($19)
“LUXURIOUS” was the only note I wrote after my first run with this Swiss cycling brand’s anti-chafe cream. It’s thick—more like a high-end lotion than a utilitarian gel—and made an almost impervious barrier between my skin and clothes. I had precisely zero chafing. Another way in which it’s comparable to a lotion: I felt it actually moisturized my skin. But if you opt for Assos’s Chamois Cream, don’t overdo it. A little bit goes a long way.
#2. Bodyglide Anti-Chafe Formula Skin Protectant ($10)
A longtime favorite of mine, Bodyglide proved effective at staving off chafing, as always. It took second place only because it didn’t apply as evenly as the Chamois Cream, nor did it stay on as long. My nipples were fine, but I needed to stop and reapply the Bodyglide to my thighs when I ran for an hour or more. On the upside, it’s inexpensive, and you can find it just about anywhere.
#3. 2Toms SportShield ($13)
The best thing about 2Toms’s stick: it doesn’t feel slimy, as many creams can. It’s made with a silicone oil base but is cut with aloe, so it goes on light instead of feeling like an overaggressive lube. I was worried that the light application would wear off quickly, and while the SportShield held up throughout every run, I don’t know if I would trust it for anything longer than ten miles.
#4. Vaseline ($8)
Vaseline has held a special place in my heart since it literally saved my skin when I ran a half marathon in jeans. But while the petroleum jelly has many uses and costs next to nothing, it does a much worse job of preventing chafe than other preparations on this list. It felt heavy and greasy on my skin and wore off quickly. Then there’s the unfortunate side effect of stained clothing. (I had to throw away a beloved Patagonia shirt because of the discoloration left from too many Vaseline applications.) But if you’re in a pinch, Vaseline will get the job done on shorter runs. Just don’t wear an article of clothing you’re particularly attached to.