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Can body hair really stop chafing? We ask a gynaecologist to explain

Posted by for Wellbeing

Undecided on whether you should remove your body hair before exercising? This is how doing so might affect your experience and performance.

As autumn comes round, my body hair shaving schedule tends to fall totally off track. In summer, the effort of shaving my legs often seems worth it, but the same can’t be said for when the temperature drops below 15°C and I’m constantly in jeans and big socks. The only time this isn’t true is when I’m exercising.

I often underestimate just how sweaty I’m going to get at the gym or when I’m running in autumn and winter, arriving with multiple layers and a woolly hat and leaving in just my sports bra and a pair of shorts. As well as the strange looks people gave me on the street as I walk round with both my legs and arms out on a frosty morning at 8am, what I have started to notice in my barely-there gym gear is that my thighs aren’t chafing.

At first I put this down to the cold weather, but soon realised this couldn’t be the case as I could feel the sweat from an intense cardio session dripping off my skin. The only other difference I could think of from the summer months, when chafing was a big problem for me, was that I hadn’t removed the hair from my legs for nearly a month. I began to wonder how my body hair might be affecting my experience of working out and if it was really stopping me from chafing.

Research from Mintel found that 51% of UK beauty and personal care consumers felt a reduced need to be groomed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, which was certainly the case for me. This is perhaps why I’ve never noticed how body hair affects my relationship with exercise, until now.

Will body hair stop me from chafing during exercise?

If body hair could stop me from chafing, I know I’d be far more ready to embrace it. I asked Sarah Welsh, a gynaecologist and the co-founder of the sexual wellness brand Hanx, to explain how it works: “Chafing is irritation of the skin, usually caused when body parts rub together or against our clothing,” she explains. “Inner thigh chafing, also known as chub rub, is very common for people who run or workout intensively and you can actually chafe anywhere on your body, from your armpits to your groin, your feet or even your nipples.”

Welsh explains that body hair can in fact stop you from chafing. “Body hair is our natural anti-chafe mechanism, acting as a buffer to protect our skin when limbs repeatedly come into contact,” she explains. “Removing that barrier by shaving can make chafing worse, as there’s little to protect the skin from the impact of that physical pressure. Chafing can become even worse when stubble starts to grow back, with sharp stubble irritating skin it comes into contact with, and the possibility of infection in the follicles.”

Does removing body hair before exercise lead to ingrown hairs?

Body hair has a lot of impact on the way we exercise, not just on chafing, according to Welsh. She also explains how removing hair from the bikini line is affected by exercise: “Frequent shaving or waxing removes our body’s natural protection and creates a way for bacteria to enter the follicle,” she says. “Add the repeated friction caused by working out to the mix and you might experience sore ingrown hairs, which are painful pink or red lumps.”

If your bikini line is already irritated, the chafing that happens during exercising could make it a lot worse. Welsh explains that small tears can develop into a nasty infection which could take a long time to heal. So try to avoid exercise if there is already irritation.

Does removing body hair make you sweat less?

My final dilemma when it comes to removing body hair for exercise is whether doing so will make me sweat less or more. I often shave my armpits before exercising because I assumed it would make me sweat less but Welsh explains that this isn’t necessarily true: “Shaving our body hair might feel like it will help us stop sweating so much, but actually, the amount of hair in our armpits has little to no effect on the sweat we produce,” she says. Although she does caveat that by explaining that if you’re wearing light clothing, having hair might make the sweating more visible as it hangs onto the moisture which transfers to your T-shirt.

There are some benefits of removing body hair when it comes to sweat, according to Welsh, as doing so will remove the barrier between your deodorant and your sweat glands, which can help your deodorant better absorb into your skin. But unless you’re using an antiperspirant deodorant, it won’t necessarily stop you from sweating anyway, it will just mask the smell, so really it all comes down to personal preference.

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