Chamois Cream Explained (And How To Use Chamy Cream)

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reviewed by Ben Gibbons
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Cycling has never been short of unsung heroes.

On this occasion, though, it’s not a devoted domestique we’re talking about. Instead, it’s that most unglamorous of cycling life-savers: chamois cream.

Whether you’re a seasoned saddle warrior or just getting your feet wet in the world of two-wheeled adventures, we’re here to reveal the secrets of this nectar for your nether regions.

I have to confess, I’m a recent convert to chamois cream. In fairness, it took me eight years of road cycling to shave my legs and see what all the fuss was about, so I’m hardly a model of cyclist’s rituals.

However, if you suffer from chafing while cycling, or are planning your first long-distance bikepacking trip and want to prepare your posterior for what’s to come, then let me assure you: “chamy cream” is a game-changer.

In this guide to the clandestine cycling ritual of chamois cream, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is Chamois Cream?
  • Who Should Use Chamois Cream?
  • Where Should You Apply Chamois Cream, And How Much Should You Use?
  • How To Choose The Best Chamois Cream
  • Are There Specific Chamois Creams For Female Cyclists?
  • What Are The Alternatives To Chamois Cream?

Let’s slide into it!

A white bottle of cream and a blue background with the words "chamois cream explained" in the foreground.

What Is Chamois Cream?

Chamois cream is an anti-bacterial ointment designed to ease chafing and discomfort in your crotch area while cycling by reducing friction between your skin and clothing.

The “chamois” is the name for the padded section at the crotch of your cycling shorts that helps prevent saddle sores and pain while riding.

The name, like most of the lexicon in the cycling world, can be traced to France.

The original pads used in early cycling shorts, back in the days when the sole purpose of the Tour de France was seemingly to break the very souls of the riders, were made from the leather of the Alpine chamois, a goat-antelope species found in Europe’s high mountains.

As the leather was used and abused, it would crack and become tough. To improve comfort, cyclists rubbed a cream on the pad to make it more supple. Necessity is the mother of all invention.

Nowadays, chamois pads are engineered using antibacterial synthetics, but the traditional name has stuck.

Whilst the chamois does a great job of adding a layer of comfort, many cyclists suffer from chafing in the shorts due to repetitive pedaling. This is particularly true on longer rides and can eventually lead to abscesses and saddle sores that force riders off the bike.

Saddle sores are no laughing matter, and have forced professional riders to abandon races. And just like the pros, many cyclists swear by chamois cream to keep saddle sores at bay.

Naturally, many of us have an in-built aversion to discussing anything that might be deemed even slightly embarrassing (as a Brit, I think this is especially true) – and applying cream to your undercarriage certainly falls into this category.

This can mean that newcomers to the sport don’t find out about chamois cream until it’s too late!

A professional cyclist rides a purple Cannondale road bike at speed.

Who Should Use Chamois Cream?

Most cyclists find out about saddle sores the hard way.

If this is you, then it is well worth looking into a professional bike fit to ensure that the basics are correct, such as saddle height and handlebar reach, ultimately ensuring that your weight is properly distributed on the saddle and preventing rocking.

After you have perfected your fit, chosen a great saddle for your physique, and then invested in a quality pair of bib shorts, the next thing to consider is chamois cream.

Cyclists who have made the leap swear by its near miraculous effectiveness at preventing discomfort and chafing in the saddle.

If, like me, most of your rides are short blasts of an hour or two around a favorite local loop when family and work life allow, then there is often less need to go to the extra effort of applying chamois cream.

But any cyclist who indulges in long, epic rides should consider using chamois cream to keep things comfortable even as the big miles tick by.

Nothing ruins a multi-day cycling trip like a saddle sore, so if you are planning to ride on back-to-back days for long stretches, then chamois cream cycling might be your best friend on the trip.

It should be as much of a ritual as lubricating your chain.

A cyclist in a pink jersey and grey cycling shorts waits by a cement staircase.

Where Should You Apply Chamois Cream, And How Much Should You Use?

In the days of leather pads, chamois cream was directly and liberally applied to the pad itself.

Although this is still a viable option even in modern cycling bib shorts, most cyclists apply the cream directly to any problem areas on their skin once they have put on their kit.

How much cream you should apply is very much down to the individual, and again, it will be an iterative process to find what works best for you and your typical rides.

Longer rides will likely need a little more cream than shorter rides, and you always want to make sure that you apply the cream before you head out the door. If you wait until you feel chafing in your shorts, then it is often already too late!

Generally, a little goes a long way, and for most riders, a small scoop on two fingers should be enough to cover the areas prone to chafing.

A bunch of green mint leaves with a wooden background.

How To Choose The Best Chamois Cream

There is a plethora of well-known chamy creams on the market for the discerning cyclist so what should you look for?

#1: Active Ingredients

Whilst they all work in much the same way to reduce chafing, the main difference between the creams is whether they include menthol.

The menthol gives a cooling sensation downstairs that provides a gentle numbing that can help ease any pain and discomfort that starts to develop as you cycle.

Some cyclists swear by it, but the numbing sensation is certainly not for everyone.

A common complaint among riders is that whilst it might feel nice and refreshing at the start of a ride, the sensation can become annoying and even painful on longer rides.

We recommend testing it out on shorter rides to get a feel for the sensation before adding it to your permanent pre-cycle routine.

Be wary of any allergies, and always check the ingredients before using.

It is always a good idea with new products to do a test on a small, less sensitive patch of skin than your crotch. That way, you can check for any adverse reactions before you use it on a long cycle.

#2: The Container

It might seem trivial, but it is worth considering the container itself.

Without putting too fine a point on it, hygiene should be your top priority when dealing with anything around these sensitive parts.

Whilst pots are a convenient shape, especially for storage, you can run into the issue of “double-dipping,” i.e., transferring dirty fingers back into the pot after applying a layer of cream. This can introduce bacteria that are then left to fester in the pot.

Tubes, on the other hand, where the cream is squeezed out for each application, prevent such contamination issues.

If you are careful and don’t intend to share your cream amongst the entire cycling club, then none of this should be too much of an issue as long as you are conscious of it.

You can even buy chamy cream in smaller, individual sachets, which are a brilliant idea for sticking in your jersey pocket in case you need to reapply on those long days in the saddle.

A woman wearing a white top has hands in a tub of cream.

Are There Specific Chamois Creams For Female Cyclists?

Thankfully, the cycling industry has lurched from the dark ages and realized that women also like to ride bikes, and there are chamois creams designed specifically for female cyclists.

Chamois creams for female riders tick all the same boxes as that for men, reducing chafing whilst providing anti-bacterial protection, but tend to be a bit gentler on the skin.

The reduced pH is designed to work better for women compared to other chamois creams. Some products also contain pre-and pro-biotics that help prevent infections and maintain healthy skin.

Women can also use non-specific chamois creams, but we would advise caution around products containing menthol. Female cyclists typically report higher levels of discomfort when using menthol chamois creams than male cyclists.

Someone dips their finger into a blue tub of Vaseline.

What Are The Alternatives To Chamois Cream?

When I was testing chamois cream for this article, my partner just saw it as another excuse to spend money on a cycling-specific product despite there being an abundance of everyday alternatives.

With three young kids running around, we are never far from a tub of Sudocrem. If it is good enough for babies’ bums, then surely it is good enough for cycling, she told me.

That’s true up to a point. However, whilst it has great antibacterial qualities, I found Sudocrem was not nearly as good at providing a layer of lubrication to ward off chafing as a proper chamois cream.

As a competitive cross-country runner in a previous life, I am intimately familiar with rubbing Vaseline on areas that tend to experience chafing.

Whilst it can be used as an effective lubricant for cyclists, it lacks any of the anti-bacterial qualities of dedicated chamois cream.

Chamois creams have been specifically formulated to provide a high level of lubrication and, at the same time, protect against any infection with anti-bacterial properties.

So whilst there are alternatives at a push, we would recommend sticking to creams that have been specifically engineered with the needs of cyclists in mind.

A cyclist in black cycling shorts climbs a hill on a white road bike.

Now you know all about chamy cream…

Chamois cream is certainly not essential for all cyclists, but it can be a useful product for many, especially if you are spending long hours in the saddle.

If you’re new to cycling or have begun to experience discomfort, try using chamois cream to see if it improves your riding experience!

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David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

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