If you swim in the ocean often, particularly if you’re a surfer, you may have noticed that your nipples hurt after a long session in the water. The pain is present even when you’re showering after and even if it brushes against your shirt or bra. Is this a sign of something serious?
Thankfully, it’s unlikely to be a major health concern, though it is annoying. Many people have encountered pain in their nipples after swimming in the ocean and that’s due to the repetitive back and forth motion of your nipples against your swimsuit, wetsuit, and/or surfboard.
Pain in the nipples after swimming in the ocean is often referred to as surfer’s nipple because of chafing caused by wax, swimwear, your surfboard, and even the salt in the water rubbing painfully against this sensitive body part. The rubbing can cause micro-tears on your nipples which results in irritation, soreness, and even bleeding. If left untreated, the exposed wounds can become infected.
To prevent surfer’s nipples, there are a few things you can do such as wearing a nip cover, applying Vaseline to reduce friction and soothe pain, wearing better fitting swimwear, or limiting the amount of time you spend in the water.
In this article, we will discuss what surfer’s nipple is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it from happening so you can swim or surf in the ocean to your heart’s content.
What is hurting your nipples at the beach?
What should have been a delightful day in the sun can be ruined by unbearable nipple pain. Unfortunately, you are experiencing surfer’s nipple. “But I didn’t even go surfing!” you might protest.
Despite the name, surfer’s nipple is a broad term that refers to nipple pain after spending time in the water. The name is derived from surfing because many surfers chafe the hell out of the front of their bodies through the actions performed while surfing.
Surfer’s nipple is not much different from jogger’s nipple, which is when long-distance runners get bloody nipples when running for extended periods of time. What’s happening here is that their nipples are rubbing against the fabric of their shirt for so long that it tears and bleeds.
If even T-shirts can cause this problem, then it’s not so much of a stretch to imagine swimsuits and wetsuits doing it either. This problem affects both genders; women don’t get it worse just because they have breasts (to be fair, some guys do too).
If you’re experiencing surf rash and surfer’s nipple, the solution is to wear a rash guard or wetsuit so that your nipples are covered by a protective layer. That said, even the swimsuit or wetsuit can be the cause of nipple pain. This occurs mostly when the rash guard or wetsuit is loose-fitting and prone to sliding back and forth, so get one that fits snug on your body.
Why should you care?
Some people, despite experiencing chafing and discomfort, may take the situation lightly because they don’t want to give up going to the beach. Two things. First, you don’t have to give up going to the beach if you’re taking the necessary steps to prevent nipple chafing. Second, even though it’s not a life-threatening issue, if you continue to ignore it, it might be. Here’s how.
When your nipples are exposed to constant rubbing and abrasion due to the surfboard or swimsuit, eventually it will cause extremely small tears on your skin. The pain of a chafed nipple is similar to the sting of a paper-cut; you can feel a sharp pain and it is extremely sensitive to the touch. When exposed to salt, it will sting and hurt even more.
What about when your nipples hurt and you’re not chafing against anything? The problem could be due to the saltwater. Salt is a desiccant, meaning it draws moisture away from you. Too much exposure to it can dry your skin out and cause it to crack. Salt is also abrasive and can irritate any open wounds. There’s a reason why the phrase “rub salt in the wounds” exists, and you don’t want to experience it.
If you continue to ignore your chafed nipples, the tears will keep getting bigger until you start to bleed. The bigger the wound, the more likely bacteria can get inside and cause an infection.
When you let the situation get this bad, then you are forced to stop going to the beach until it heals, or to see a doctor if you are fighting an infection. But you don’t have to let it get this bad if you know how to prevent it from happening.
How to prevent nipple pain while swimming in the ocean
We know what causes nipple pain and we know why it’s a big deal. So how do we address this? By being prepared for every single problem that causes nipple pain.
The biggest culprit is your swimsuit, wetsuit or rash guard. You need to find one that fits snug on your body. Looser clothing will naturally shift around a lot and rub against your nipples, leading to nipple pain. However, one that is too tight will press too tightly on your nipples and can lead to the same result.
Women specifically should look for a swimsuit that supports their breasts. Some swimsuits come with padding, or at least the option to insert padding. This not only provides extra comfort and support, which reduces chafing, but also keeps your nipples from poking out and getting unwanted attention.
Another thing you can do is wear a waterproof nip cover under your swimsuit, rash guard or wetsuit. Kind of like how runners will tape their nipples to protect against chafing, a waterproof nip cover does the same thing but is less likely to fall off in the water.
You can also buy wetsuit lubricant which reduces the friction between your wetsuit and your skin so your nipples can slide around without pain.
If you have nipple pain despite not wearing a swimsuit top or wetsuit, then make sure your nipples are not too dry or cracked. Rub Vaseline or some other moisturizer on it to limit how much damage salt can do to it.
How to cure your nipple pain
If your nipples are already hurting, consider taking some time off to heal. You can try to implement the tips provided above, but if you’re already injured, you’re likely to just make things worse.
In the meantime, you should look for ways to soothe your nipple pain. Apply Vaseline on it so it’s not so dry and cracked, and this gives it some lubrication so that it can slide around more easily in a T-shirt. If it’s really bad, you might even have to put a band-aid over your nips.
For inflamed nipples due to infection, use antiseptic cream and definitely avoid going to the ocean in the meantime. Heck, you should probably go to the doctor if it’s bad.
Nipple pain and soreness is a common occurrence for swimmers and surfers, and in general it’s nothing to freak out about. However, if you ignore the things that caused the wound in the first place and you let the wound fester, it will never heal and become a much greater issue than it initially was.
By covering up your nipples with a nip cover, lubricating the inside of your wetsuit, and getting swim clothing that fits you snug, you can avoid most of the damage that swimming in the ocean can do to your nipples. If your nipple pain is bad enough, then you should take time off to heal.