Intertrigo is an inflammatory skin condition that develops when trapped moisture and friction in large skin folds leads to chafing. It occurs most often in people who are overweight, and commonly develops in the thigh crease, under the breasts, in the armpits, between the buttocks and in skin folds of the belly. Several areas are often affected simultaneously. Intertrigo presents as a patchy red rash with scaling at the edges, accompanied by itchiness, burning or stinging. Yeast or bacteria can secondarily infect skin affected by intertrigo. Home remedies can help control intertrigo, but medical treatment is necessary for a secondary infection of the involved skin.
To prevent infection, skin affected by intertrigo must be kept clean. Because the skin is already damaged, a gentle skin cleanser -- such as you would use on your face -- is preferable to body soap. Wash the area with a soft cloth rather than a body sponge or bath puff. Rinse the area to remove all skin cleanser after washing and dry thoroughly. Gently pat the area dry with a towel. Holding the skin fold open in front of a fan or a hair dryer on the cool setting helps ensure there is no residual water.
Perspiration trapped in a skin fold, such as occurs with belly rolls, causes overhydration of the superficial layer of the skin. This makes the area susceptible to chafing as the skin rubs together within the fold. Absorbent body powder placed in the skin fold helps absorb perspiration and keeps the skin dry. Cornstarch is not recommended for this purpose as it can increase your risk for a secondary yeast infection with intertrigo.
Application of astringent compresses made with an aluminum acetate solution (Domeboro, Burow's solution) can prove useful if your skin is chafed to the point of oozing. This astringent solution dries the oozing rash, and can help relieve burning and itching. After preparing the solution according to the manufacturer's directions, place a compress soaked in the liquid on the affected skin for 15 to 30 minutes. Then rinse and thoroughly dry the area. Astringent compresses are typically used up to 3 times daily, or as directed by your doctor.
Absorbent Fabric or Pads
Absorbent fabric or pads inserted into belly skin folds absorb perspiration and keep the area affected by intertrigo dry, which supports healing. Options include strips of soft cotton or linen, sterile dressings called ABD pads, or a commercial fabric impregnated with silver to reduce the risk of infection (InterDry). Avoid using toilet or facial tissue, or paper towels as these products can cause further skin irritation. Change the fabric or pad as needed when they become moistened with sweat.
Barrier Creams and Ointments
Barrier creams and ointments, which are typically marketed to treat diaper rash, can reduce skin-to-skin friction with intertrigo. Petroleum-jelly-based ointments, in particular, help soothe and protect the skin. Zinc oxide creams can also be helpful. Many people use barrier ointments and creams while in a relatively cool environment, such as an air-conditioned home, because excess perspiration is generally not a problem. Alternating between use of a barrier cream or ointment and absorbent body powder, based on environmental temperature, often works well. Mixing use, however, is usually not helpful as it creates a messy paste that fails to optimize the benefits of either product.
Warnings and Precautions
See your doctor as soon as possible if you develop a rash in the skin folds of your abdomen that fails to improve with 5 to 7 days of home treatment. She'll confirm whether the rash is due to intertrigo or another skin condition with a similar appearance. Additionally, your doctor will determine whether you've developed a secondary infection and prescribe appropriate medication, if needed.
Seek immediate medical care if your rash is accompanied by any warning signs and symptoms, including:
-- fever or chills
-- drainage of pus
-- rapidly spreading redness or warmth of the affected skin
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.