Thankfully, my dermatologist hooked me up with some hydrocortisone cream and filled me in on why, exactly, my underboob area started to experience such a post-sweat freakout—and how we can all avoid it in the future.
The uncomfortable side effects of boob sweat
"Excessive moisture affects the water content and pH of the skin, which can damage the physical integrity of the skin barrier and promote excessive microorganism overgrowth in the area, leading to irritation and superficial skin infection," says Teresa Song, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. In other words, when sweat gets trapped under your boobs or around your bra line, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Because heat induces excessive sweat and sebum, it creates a perfect environment for bacteria and fungus to thrive in.
Add in some friction—which is pretty much unavoidable when you're wearing a bra, and even more so when it's sweaty—and the skin barrier breakage that comes along with it, and you're opening the door for some seriously uncomfortable underboob infections (more on those below).
Even without a full-blown infection, you may experience peeling skin in the wake of sweaty boobs. “Peeling skin refers to the shedding of the upper layer of the skin, known as the epidermis," says Dr. Song. "It can occur with excessive sweating where the high humidity may damage the skin barrier. Sweat is composed of chemical compounds such as ammonia, urea, uric acid, as well as electrolytes that may irritate the skin barrier, which may also contribute to the skin shedding."
Common underboob infections
"In a humid environment, especially when the skin barrier is not functioning properly, micro-organisms like bacteria and yeast can grow," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. "This is common in areas of the body like the skin under the breasts or between the thighs. The skin can become red, raw, and itchy. As the skin barrier recovers from inflammation, the skin sheds its outer later, leading to peeling."
One common infection, called interigo, shows up in the form of redness, irritation, burning, itching, and peeling. "It's a chronic skin condition that affects the skin folds... including under the breasts," says Dr. Song. "It occurs due to irritation between touching skin surfaces and is exacerbated by increased heat, moisture, and friction. It is often superinfected with fungal or bacterial organisms. Clinically, it may present with redness, fissures in the skin, and can be associated with itch or pain."
Yeast infections, apparently, can also occur in the area. "Thrush—which is commonly known as a yeast infection—typically refers to fungal infections caused by candida organisms in the mouth and genitals, but the same organism can affect the skin folds beneath the breasts and is referred to as cutaneous candidiasis," says Dr. Song. "When there is excessive heat and moisture from sweating, the skin barrier becomes compromised, allowing the yeast to enter and overgrow, causing the infection."
She notes that these types of yeast infections typically show up in patches of red and eroded skin, and sometimes you may notice small pustules in the area. Additionally, the skin may burn and itch, and you might notice a stale yeast smell similar to vinegar or beer.
How to care for your underboob area
If you're experiencing sweat-induced discomfort—whether via an infection or skin peeling—under your boobs, there's no need to panic (trust me, I've been there!). You can likely aid the healing process with some over-the-counter products and, most importantly, by keeping the area clean and dry and showering as quickly as you can after any sweat-inducing activities.
“To treat intertrigo, you want to keep the skin as dry as possible," says Dr. Zeichner. "I commonly recommend combining antifungal creams along with antibiotic first aid ointments, plus, zinc-containing barrier creams. This helps hydrate, repair the skin barrier, and reduce levels of fungi and bacteria on the skin."
He notes that going forward, it's best to regularly apply a moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated and intact. But, you must be sure to let it dry before putting clothing on. You can also use baby powder in areas that tend to become moist to prevent wetness on the skin. Dr. Zeichner recommends Johnson’s Baby Powder ($5) or Gold Bond Medicated Powder ($7) to keep everything dry. When hydrating, use a moisturizer that is easy to spread and dries down quickly like Eucerin Daily. “Sunflower seed oil and panthenol form a breathable seal over the skin to hydrate and protect the outer skin layer,” he says.“
When active, I recommend hydrocortisone cream mixed half and half with clotrimazole cream," says board-certified dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD (though she cautions against using hydrocortisone cream for more than two weeks, as it can thin the skin). "When not active, try miconazole powder as a preventative measure to keep the area dry, and make sure to towel or blow dry the area after showering."
If things still aren't feeling better after a week or two of trying these DIY soothing treatments, it's time to check in with a dermatologist.
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