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Anyone that has worn body armor for an extended period can probably relate to the fact that it can cause itchiness and rashes. In this article, we will break down what causes this and how to fix it for good.
So, what causes body armor/bulletproof vest heat rash? Heat rash and itchiness while wearing body armor is caused by the inability for air to dry out perspiration that gets trapped between the vest and the wearer’s body. This sweat, when not able to dry, begins to form bacteria that gets into the pores and can cause itchiness, rashes, and pain.
The Causes of Body Armor Heat Rash
Body armor, by design, is not breathable due to the material it is made of. This is great for stopping bullets, but not so great for drying out perspiration. When body armor is pressed up against your body for hours on end, sweat will get trapped between the armor and your undershirt or skin. This trapped perspiration will begin to form bacteria rapidly in the heat and this bacteria getting into your pores is what causes the rash and itchiness.
Another common cause for a rash or itchiness when wearing body armor is excessive rubbing of the armor against the skin. Body armor is rigid and stiff, especially when brand new. With continual bending and moving, this rubbing can cause pain and discomfort. Combine it with sweat, and you can get a painful rash.
The main issue behind this comes not from the rash or itchiness itself, but that many law enforcement and military personnel choose not to wear body armor solely due to the discomfort. Let’s talk about the different options available to prevent this rash from occurring so that you don’t need to choose between discomfort or protection.
How To Stop Body Armor Heat Rash
Wear a moisture-wicking undershirt
While this by itself will likely not completely solve the problem, it will definitely improve it. Base layer fabric-like cotton can trap moisture making it more likely sweat will become trapped and begin forming bacteria. Instead, use a base layer with dry-fit material, like an under armor shirt, to promote vapor wicking.
Replace your undershirt mid-day
On hot days where you will be likely to sweat, bring an extra base layer with you to change into mid-day. This will remove any possible bacteria that formed on your first base layer and give you a fresh start. Since heat rash and itchiness normally happen after bacteria have had time to form, removing these bacteria before they have time to settle into the skin will severely limit its negative effects on you
Hang your armor to dry every night
While keep a fresh undershirt is important, it is also important to ensure your body armor has had sufficient time to dry each night between shifts. After the day is done, instead of taking off your armor and setting it down, instead opt to hang it in an area with some air circulation allowing it to have enough time to fully dry before the next use. This will prevent any bacteria from growing overnight.
Wash your body armor weekly or bi-weekly
One commonly overlooked solution is to wash your body armor itself consistently. If you are able to remove the armored inserts and wash the carrier, do so at least weekly, but preferably twice a week or more if needed. Airing out a vest and letting it dry will help, but not ask much as killing all the built-up bacteria by washing your vest regularly
Be sure to use a detergent that you know your skin is not sensitive to so that you are not compounding problems by adding a new element to the mix.
Don’t make your body armor too tight
As we said in the beginning, the cause for body armor heat rash is the inability of air to circulate and dry out your perspiration. Having a vest that is on too tight can severely limit any airflow. Your armor should be snug, but not overly tight. Try loosening up your armor a bit to promote more airflow throughout the day.
Products that can prevent body armor heat rash
If the above methods don’t solve your problems, there are products made specifically for this that can help limit, or completely eliminate, any heat rash or itchiness caused by body armor. Below you can see all three options.
Maxx-Dri Vest 4.0
The first option on the list is our favorite, and that is the Maxx-Dri Vest 4.0. This vest was designed by an officer that was tired of experiencing daily heat rash and wanted a solution. That solution came in the form of a vest that is worn between body armor and your base layer or skin.
This best has thick webbed netting that creates pockets of air between you and the vest. These pockets of air allow sweat to dry quickly before they have time to rest up against your skin.
The netting is designed in such a way that it maintains air pockets but is comfortable to wear all day long. Many users say they quickly forget they are even wearing the vest and that they no longer experience any heat rash issues.
Cooling and Trauma Attenuating Vest (CTAV)
The second option on this list is called the Cooling and Trauma Attenuating Vest (quite the mouth full) and it works in a similar fashion to the above vest. Although, instead of using netting, this vest uses dual pressurized air pockets to open pockets of air between the body armor and the wearer.
These pressurized air pockets create a barrier between the body armor and base layer to allow for air circulation and faster drying time of perspiration.
This vest is bulkier than the Maxx-Dri vest, and the vest has the potential of becoming useless if the air pockets depressurize. Now, we have not seen any reviews of this problem happening, so it is entirely possible the best has been designed well enough that the pockets can maintain pressure for years to come.
In our personal opinion, we like the low-tech solution of the Maxx-Dri vest since there is much less material, and subsequently, less that might go wrong. In addition, the Maxx-Dri vest has less added material making the whole combination of body armor, vest, and base layer less likely to trap heat.
The simple, yet effective, body glide solution
Lastly, a product that we recommend if you suffer from the excessive rubbing of your bulletproof vest is a product called “Body Glide”. Body Glide comes in a container like deodorant and can be applied anywhere on the body to create a smooth barrier between your skin and things that might cause friction. A quick application of body glide at the beginning of the day to the affected areas can limit friction and therefore limit the negative effects.
Finally, you might be allergic to Kevlar
The last thing I want to mention is something that very few people know. It is possible to be allergic to kevlar. If you find yourself experiencing itchiness and rashes at all times of the year while wearing body armor, it is entirely possible that you might have an allergic reaction to Kevlar.
If this is the case, we would recommend the Cooling and Trauma Attenuating Vest since it provides a complete barrier between the vest and your skin, while still allowing air to flow through.
Don’t let heat rash and itchiness prevent you from wearing body armor. Instead, use the above solutions to limit or eliminate its effects so that you can be comfortable and protected throughout the day.
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