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Wetsuit Irritation: Symptoms and Causes of Rash

If you have been wearing a wetsuit for a while and experience redness, itching, or irritation on the skin then you may be suffering from a rash. This can happen if your wetsuit is not of high quality and has chemicals in it that irritate your skin. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to get out of the water to avoid further irritation and find a new suit.

Known as contact dermatitis, wetsuit rash is frequently seen while surfing in the form of “surf rash”. This occurs with repetitive movements where the skin inside the wetsuit shifts against the material and stitching causing abrasive damage to the skin, especially the neck, inner thighs, and stomach.

 So what is wetsuit rash and why does it happen? Let’s take some time and look more specifically at wetsuit rash, neoprene allergies, and how to avoid getting it in the first place or manage it once it has occurred.

Beach rashguard bikini woman wearing swim shirt rash guard for sun protection against solar uv rays and surf rash symptoms

What Is Wetsuit Rash?

Wetsuits can cause a rash in some individuals. Wetsuits today are excellent since they are typically minimally seamed or in some cases seamless and have been tailored effectively to avoid most rashes.

Oily Skin Causes

However, one loose seam or a misaligned cut in the fit might cause severe irritation to areas such as your neck and armpits, resulting in a horribly painful rash. Many surfers have been scarred for life on the backs of their necks from years of wetsuit dermatitis.

You may also prevent wetsuit rash by applying anti-chafe cream to your skin before putting on your neoprene suit. Because it’s inside your neoprene suit, it’s perfectly fine to use. Simply apply a generous amount of the ointment to the site of the rash. It won’t cure everything but can cut it down dramatically.

You might also put a rash guard on top of your wetsuit to reduce the friction against your skin. Rash guards are very common in surfing because they provide an extra layer of protection to your skin helping to stop common water rashes.

Neoprene Allergies Explained Simply

While not the most common reason for wetsuit rash (that would be loose seams), there is a small percentage of the population who may experience an allergic reaction to neoprene.

The medical term for this allergy is contact dermatitis, which occurs when your hypersensitive skin comes in direct contact with certain irritants.

What is Neoprene Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis could happen if you have sensitive skin in the first place. It can also be brought on by a lower-quality wetsuit that contains phthalates.

What Causes the Neoprene Suit Contact Dermatitis?

Phthalates are plasticizers used in manufacturing neoprene and other plastics, which may cause contact dermatitis or increase your risk for it if you’re already prone to the condition.

What Solutions are There for People With Neoprene Sensitivities?

To find out if you’re allergic to neoprene, your best bet is to test a small area of skin on your arm before going out in the water. If you have any irritation at all from this patch of exposed skin, then it’s probably not the right material for you and could lead to an even worse rash once in water or after prolonged exposure.

While it’s not practical to test your whole body, you can cover the suspected areas with anti-chafe cream before putting on your suit. If there is no reaction after prolonged use, then it might be safe for you to continue wearing if you have proper rash protection in place under the wetsuit.

If this does happen and you are normally sensitive to neoprene, you may need to look for another material with which to make your wetsuit. Some alternatives include nylon or spandex suits made from cotton blends or wool instead of plastic-based materials like polyester and lycra.

How to Avoid Wetsuit Rash Without Avoiding the Water

There are multiple methods to try and minimize the chance of ever getting a wetsuit rash, lets take a look at the most common methods:

Get the Fit Right

Finding a wetsuit that fits you correctly is one of the most important things you can do to prevent a rash while surfing. So take some time and, if possible, go into your local surf shop and get properly fitted so that you have no problems with chafing or skin irritations from your suit.

If not then ordering from someplace like Amazon (Links to wetsuits) which has a solid return policy can help you choose the right wetsuit or be able to easily return it should it be incorrect. Check out our top gear selections from our recommended page.

Check the Interior Seams

The more interior seams on your wetsuit the higher the likelihood of irritation. If you can get a suit with minimal seams and smooth stitching, then your risk of getting neoprene dermatitis will be lessened significantly.

Since there are many brands and materials you may need to look and test out a couple from each to find the one that fits just right and doesn’t have seams that would sit in the common pain points.

Anti-chafe Cream

Anti-chafe cream helps you avoid chafing, which is very common in the underarms of most wetsuits. This helps to reduce irritation caused by rubbing and abrasion against your skin when you are surfing or diving.

Anti-chafe cream can be found online at Amazon, eBay, Walmart’s website as well as many other eCommerce sites that sell sporting goods.

I would recommend using a cream that is specifically made for wetsuits and not just your usual sports creams such as petroleum jelly, aloe vera ointment, or other moisturizers which can cause more harm than good in this case.

Using Rash Guards

As I said previously, you are not alone in this itchy rash struggle. There are numerous products out there on the market that are tailored to your problem. Other names for it include rash guard, rash vest, and rashie.

There are several types and styles of these life-saving devices, making them useful in a variety of ways.

Rash guards are worn between your wet suit and you to prevent chafing. They’re a bonus because they also add an additional layer of warmth while under the water!

Purchase a New Wetsuit

If you’re getting rashes in your sensitive regions, it’s probably due to a lack of fit. Finding the right match to your actual size will help ensure a better overall fit and less chance to chafe from motion.

The more material your wetsuit uses, the higher the chance of it bunching up in your armpits, between your thighs, and behind your knees, causing a lot of rubbing and discomfort.

Get a wetsuit that is the right size for you. Having appropriate clothing makes all the difference. If you’re not sure if it’s worth spending so much on (I don’t blame you; it can be costly!), try renting some gear first.

Before you buy, try changing up your wetsuit size. You will not be sorry if you do.

It’s difficult to ensure that you’re buying the right wetsuit for your needs if you don’t know what they are. Different wetsuit manufacturers may size differently. Don’t be afraid to keep trying on until you discover a suit that fits your figure perfectly.

Furthermore, the companies that manufacture wetsuits use distinct materials. Investigate the manufacturers you’re considering. Your skin may react badly to a specific company’s material because you may react better to one than another.

How Common is Neoprene Allergy?

Allergic reactions to neoprene can be common. This is an unfortunate fact that most people are unaware of until they have a rash or other form of irritation caused by the material.

Some materials may cause more agitation to your skin than others, so further testing might be required on different brands before you find one that won’t irritate your sensitive areas.

Final Thoughts on Wetsuits and Rashes

If you are looking for ways to avoid getting neoprene dermatitis, there are several steps that can help. The more seams your wetsuit has the higher the likelihood of irritation.

You may want to look into anti-chafe creams or rash guards which will prevent chafing and reduce friction against sensitive areas on your skin.

If this is an ongoing problem with no solution in sight, it might be time for a new wet suit!

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