Chamois Butter Exposed! Common Myths, Folk Lore, and Reality

chamois cream collage picture

Almost as mysterious and magical as shaved legs is this substance known as chamois butter, or chamois cream.

From the name you can figure out it’s a cream that goes on your chamois. But why? And does it really go on the chamois? Do we even use chamois today? But we still need chamois cream?

It’s time to answer these questions and more! Let’s get past all the myths and folk lore, and get into some practical tips and real advice on how and why to use this cream…

What the heck is a chamois?

When it comes to cycling, the chamois is the piece of padding found in bicycling shorts, with the purpose of providing increased comfort for long days in the saddle.

The name comes from the olden days when this pad was actually made from chamois cloth, a type of sheepskin leather. Today, most shorts feature a synthetic chamois, usually made of foam, gel, and/or microfiber cloth. It serves the same purpose but is cheaper and easier to maintain.

It is pronounced “shammy” or “sham E.”

Where does the chamois butter come in?

For a real leather chamois, you used to need chamois butter to condition it. It’s like how you have to oil a leather baseball mitt to break it in and keep it pliable. You would apply the cream to the chamois itself, or else it would stiffen up after it was washed and dried.

These days you don’t technically need any sort of chamois butter since a synthetic chamois will remain soft and pliable on its own.

Do my shorts have a real or synthetic chamois?

synthetic chamois

The simple answer is that if the shorts are new enough that you are still wearing them today, the chamois is probably synthetic. If it looks anything like the one pictured to the right, it’s synthetic.

Then why should I use chamois butter?

Since your synthetic chamois will be fine without chamois butter, it is technically unnecessary.

However, “lubing” your butt (and other body parts that contact the chamois) is still a good idea. It reduces friction between your skin and the chamois, which will prevent chafing, which will lessen the chance of saddle sores.

Personally I have found chamois cream most useful on shorts with a weird looking chamois, or one with seams all over. For example, one of my shorts uses a terribly rough seam to join the chamois to the lycra, and it digs right into my butt cheek. Without chamois cream, I can’t wear the shorts.

So it’s like the holy grail?

To some people, yes. To others, chamois butter is a waste of time and money. It is all about personal preference.

If you have the perfect saddle, positioning, and shorts, working in harmony with your body, chamois butter is probably not necessary. But it could still enhance comfort.

Couldn’t it damage my expensive shorts?

It is possible that the type of chamois butter you use could shorten the lifespan of your expensive shorts. For example, Vaseline soaks in and doesn’t come out, so it then soaks into your saddle, too, leaving it slippery.

But I look at it in a different light…

Could chamois butter make an old chamois comfortable again? Yes it could.

So how do I apply this chamois butter?

If you have a genuine leather chamois, you need to condition the chamois itself. However, with a new synthetic chamois, you have two options: lathering it on the chamois, or just putting the cream on your skin.

I choose to apply the cream directly to my skin, wherever my body makes contact with the chamois. Anywhere down there that might chafe or rub on the saddle, or a seam, whatever. I consider it more of a “skin lubricant” than a chamois cream, but the “chamois cream” name kind of stuck.

When you apply the cream to your body, you can get it right where you want it. Not only on skin-to-chamois contact points, but also on skin-to-skin contact points that might rub. You’ll learn from experience where is best for you. ;)

How much do I apply?

Usually you only need a thin layer to do the job.

I used to use a thick glob, thinking that would increase the padding offered by my chamois. Well, all that does is soak through the shorts down to your expensive leather saddle, and it doesn’t add more padding.

So I have decided a small amount is best.

Why is it so expensive?

assos chamois cream

Most boutique brands of chamois butter are quite expensive. For example, Assos costs about $22 for a tiny container. But even other brands like Paceline Chamois Butt’r are still much more expensive than regular skin creams.

There are a few reasons for this. First, the branding. Some of the brands charge lots of money for their products so you perceive them to be better quality. Second, they are designed to easily wash out and not to harm your chamois. Third, they may contain expensive ingredients.

But for the most part, you’re just paying for the brand name.

Is there any sort of cheaper alternative?

bag balm

Yes indeed. There are a number of cheap substitutes that work just fine. Some popular choices are Bag Balm, Queen Helene’s Cocoa Butter Creme, Udderly Smooth, and Noxzema Cream.

Those are all worth a shot. It’s also worth noting that the Noxzema Original Cream contains neat ingredients – camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus – like Assos does.

The only product I would avoid is Vaseline. I just don’t think it mixes well with expensive leather saddles, and it doesn’t come out in the wash, so you’re kind of stuck with it after one use!

What else should I know?

You should know that trying some chamois butter is a great idea. I went without it for years, but once I tried it, I started to use it almost all the time.

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15 Comments so far

  1. UltraRob on October 6th, 2008

    I never thought about Chamois Creams until I started doing double centuries. Then I started trying things and asking around. I’ve tried a lot of cycling specific creams plus regular stuff from the store. Despite it’s expense, my favorite is Assos. 2nd choice is A & D ointment and in rain I like it better than Assos since it doesn’t wash away as quickly.

    Things like Bag Balm and even A & D can cause problems by clogging pores if you’re using it a lot and not washing it off well enough. Probably not an issue for people other than ultra cyclists like myself. Doing 900 miles in 7 days or even 2,000 miles in 8 days during RAAM are tough on the butt.

  2. Levi on October 6th, 2008

    Good points; sometimes the expense is worth it, and at other times, there are better options.

  3. HHHH on October 18th, 2008

    The Monistat powder gel has worked for me…sofar (est 1,000 miles worth?)…….It is a bit more convenient, accessible, and economical than the boutique creams.Easier to wash off too. FYI for any girls reading.

  4. karen allard on July 30th, 2009

    Hi there,

    I was working and just came across your site. We have a new product called TRISLIDE that we will be launching at Interbike for cyclists. Actually, it is not new for triathletes; over the past year multisport athletes have been making TRISLIDE a must have! Because it is a multipurpose tool (anti chafing, anti blistering, continous silicone spray which means no touch or goopy hands) we will be showcasing it at Interbike. I would love to send you a sample for your review. Some cycling pros are already using this and most all of the triathlon pros, elites and age groupers are as well. If you are interested, please send me your mailing address and I will be sure to get it out to you asap. By the way, we will be at booth 665 at Interbike this year. If you happen to be there, please stop by to say hello. Karen Allard, president, SBR SPORTS INC. 1-800-620-4094

  5. Poppadaddio on January 14th, 2010

    Bag balm contains vaseline (petrolatum, petroleum jelly, or whatever you call it), plus other ingredients, so if you don’t like Vaseline, I wouldn’t think you would want Bag Balm, either.
    Both are extremely durable and resistant to washing out, if that’s what you want.

  6. Levi on January 25th, 2010

    @Poppadaddio

    I don’t really use either for chamois cream, but Bag Balm has soothing ingredients if you want to use it off the bike.

  7. Andrew Fuqua on January 29th, 2010

    Thanks for the info, Coach. I have attempted to take it one step further by providing a multi-product review:
    http://www.andrewfuqua.com/2010/01/my-chaffed-butt-chamois-cream-review.html

  8. JBooty on July 30th, 2011

    There are a number of up and coming products on the market that focus on the construction of a modern chamois. They do not inhibit the airflow qualities of COOLMAX and other polyester-based chamois pads, provide anti-friction properties, inhibit bacterial and fungal overgrowth, and some are all-natural (check on Google for the various ones). Many modern chamois pads supposedly breakdown when exposed to petroleum products; this would include petroleum jelly AND mineral oil. Bag Balm and even some (all?) of the Chamois Butt’r products contain petroleum products.

  9. tan on August 1st, 2011

    thanks for the tip about Noxzema cream. Works great, cheap, and your contact areas become squeaky clean when you shower.

  10. Shane on October 11th, 2012

    I have been using a product for well over 8 years now, called Body Glide. It’s similar to a deodorant style applicator. Just rub it on the areas that you have chafing issues. Comes in a standard deodorant size, and a smaller bottle size for taking with you.

    I use it for nipples for endurance running, groin area for both running and cycling, and feet for chaffing and rubbing issues.

    Extremely easy to apply, lasts for a long time, fairly inexpensive, and easy to get. Available at REI, among other outdoor stores. At REI, a 2.5 oz will cost about $15. Mine lasts for well over a year, with at least once weekly usage.

  11. Dee Dee on April 8th, 2013

    Just completed my first 70.3 yesturday ! BUTTTTT, I did it without PROTECTION!!!! Today My hiney and the back of my NECK are chafed? Chaffed? What would you suggest for the repair AFTER the chafing !? Thank you !

  12. Levi on April 13th, 2013

    @Dee Dee

    Huge congratulations!!

    Try Bag Balm or aloe vera (squeeze it straight from the plant if possible) for the irritated areas.

  13. senthiil on May 4th, 2013

    Super write up coach. I am preparing for my brevets, Your write up helps me a lot to understand about CHMOIS. Thank you coach. :-)

  14. Richard C. Beck on January 4th, 2014

    Baby powder

  15. DaQuan Hanks on January 16th, 2014

    I need to see a video of Coach Levi applying Chamois Butter. You know, to better understand.

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