chamois cream collage picture

Almost as mysterious and magical as shaved legs is this substance known as chamois cream or chamois butter (or even “butt butter”).

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…

An Introduction to Chamois 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 cycling 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 how often does that happen?)

So I would say yes; most of the time, it immediately improves riding comfort.

What’s it made of?

Ingredients vary widely by brand. But most chamois butters contain water, something creamy like shea butter, something oily like sunflower oil or coconut oil, and something with antibacterial properties like tea tree oil or witch hazel. Some contain menthol and/or peppermint oil for a tingly, cooling sensation.

Often the ingredients list is far longer than that, so I like to look for products that are paraben-free, gluten-free, and vegan, and contain no artificial fragrances.

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 cycling shorts. DIY chamois cream, or cheaper alternatives to chamois cream, might have unintended consequences. For example, Vaseline soaks in and doesn’t come out, so it then soaks into your saddle, too, leaving it rather slippery.

But a true chamois cream is going to be formulated so that it won’t damage or discolor technical clothing.

So I tend to look at it in a different light…

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

How to Use Chamois Cream

So how do I apply this chamois butter?

If you have a genuine leather chamois, you need to condition the chamois pad 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?

The directions usually say to “apply generously.” But I’ve found in most cases you will 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. Still make sure to apply to any area that needs it, but you don’t need a thick layer.

*Note that for long rides, especially in hot weather when you sweat like crazy, you may need to reapply chamois cream along the way.

Chamois Cream Prices

Why is it so expensive?

assos chamois cream

Most boutique brands of chamois butter are quite expensive. For example, Assos Chamois Creme costs about $22 for a tiny container. But even other brands like 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 designed to maintain healthy skin.

I like to think in terms of value rather than price. If the chamois cream helps me avoid chafing, it’s probably worth whatever the price tag says!

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 Queen Helene’s Cocoa Butter Creme, Udderly Smooth, and Noxzema Cream.

Those are all worth a shot. Queen Helene’s Cocoa Butter Creme is a great value and it’s hard to tell it’s not an actual chamois cream. Then there’s the Noxzema Original Cream which contains neat ingredients – camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus – like Assos does.

Bag Balm can be very soothing post-ride (especially if you forgot to apply chamois cream). It’s ideal for irritated skin.

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!

Another alternative to expensive brands is that you can make your own homemade chamois cream!

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

  3. 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. 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. 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. @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. Thanks for the info, Coach. I have attempted to take it one step further by providing a multi-product review:

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

  10. 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. 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. @Dee Dee

    Huge congratulations!!

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

  13. 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. Baby powder

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

  16. An observation with regards to the amount of lubricant to apply. By applying rubbing alcohol after applying the lubricant, the lubricant will dissolve and spread smoothly, and be absorbed into the skin, meaning that more lubricant can be applied without gumming up.

    The principle is similar to that of how solvents are present in bicycle oil to ensure the bicycle oil is delivered into the spaces between the links.

  17. @CH

    Very interesting perspective, I never compared chamois cream and chain lube like that!

  18. The Chamois Butt’r brand says they do research on theirs and they developed a “Her” formula for women that doesn’t create a reaction to sensitive lady parts.

    There is another reasonable brand by a different mfg called Blue Steel that is supposed to be good too.

  19. pure coconut oil

  20. Boudreaux’s Butt Paste …. yes, it is real

  21. I tried Queen Helene Cocoa Butter after reading your earlier articles on chamois butter alternatives. I found it to be most effective as well as reasonably priced. Afterward I clean the pad with Dr. Bronner liquid Peppermint castile soap before putting my kit in the washer. Comes out in the wash (sorry) good as new!

  22. assose cream so far

  23. I make my own. Buy some bulk cocoa butter on Amazon and mix equal amounts coconut oil and the cocoa butter. Melt them together in a double boiler. When the mixture is melted but it in a bowl and put it in the fridge until it is just starting to re-solidify. Take a good hand mixer and whip mixture into a nice light cream. That’s it! Keeps for many weeks

  24. Hi, I recently did a tour and got a really terrible sun burn. Like 2nd degree. This happened pretty quickly, and I can only think that I got some of the chamois butter on my leg as I slid on the shorts. I apply the butter to the chamois directly, then put them on. Any thoughts? Would love feedback or thoughts! Thanks

  25. I don’t typically need butt butter but on the occasion I do, I use Chamois Butt’r.

  26. Ive used Chamois Butt’r for a long time. Works, easy to clean from bibs and skin no offensive scents.

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