Updated: Jun 13
From a skin health perspective, there are 3 primary considerations in choosing a bra. Read more...
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What does choosing a bra have to do with your skin?
From a health perspective, there are 3 primary considerations in choosing a bra.
Friction-induced skin changes
There are several ways that friction can induce skin changes. The two types of friction to consider would be:
Skin against skin
Skin against the fabric and other bra components
Are wireless bras a problem?
Before discussing wireless bras I always think it's important to dispel any myths surrounding underwire bras. There has been a suggestion in the lay media attempting to connect underwire bras to breast cancer. The proposed mechanism by these reports are suggesting impaired lymphatic circulation from the restrictive action of the wire. The few studies that are available have failed to demonstrate any aspect of bra wearing or bra types with breast cancer development.
How does a bra contribute to chafing?
Chafing is a term applied to the changes that occur in the skin due to moisture and friction. From the perspective of wearing a bra, chafing can be related to skin against skin or skin against a surface such as textiles or other bra components such as the clasp, underwires, or elastic lining and straps.
When the skin rubs against itself or another surface, horizontal shearing forces can loosen the superficial layers of the skin similar to exfoliation. However, unlike exfoliation which is relatively superficial, chafing can be harsher and more persistent depending on the amount of exposure time and the nature of the friction occurring. Depending on the speed of friction and location, heat can build in the skin. Moisture accumulates in the superficial layers of skin allowing them to be more easily abraded or irritated when friction occurs. The result is an abraded skin surface with potential maceration or breakdown of the skin. This leaves the skin more susceptible to the potential for secondary infection from yeast and bacteria and other microbes.
A well-fitted bra that takes the potential for friction against the skin under consideration can potentially avoid this, however, this is not always easy to find unless you are actively seeking it.
The most common areas for skin-against-skin changes to occur around the breasts are:
Under the breasts with contact over the upper abdomen
Under the arms as breast tissue is pushed upwards
Between the breasts
What types of skin conditions can occur with chafing from bras?
There is a common skin condition called intertrigo. This is a rash that occurs between two skin surfaces such as under and between the breasts. This rash can become secondarily infected with yeast.
How can choosing a bra reduce the chances of these skin conditions?
To avoid this concern there are two ways a bra can play a role. Although some of my patients will switch to sports bras or bralettes, the challenge is that, over time, without an underwire, the elastic band under the breasts will slowly stretch, move or pull away leading to the inframammary crease. The friction of the skin of the breast against the upper abdomen in addition to a fold that holds onto further moisture leads to further skin irritation. An underwire can help or prevent this by providing more structure and holding the elastic in place to avoid separation over time. To gain the benefit of a bra without an underwire without irritation and pressure, make sure your bra is fitted properly.
The other feature of a bra to seek is separate cups that create a space or gap between the breasts. A bra that pulls the breasts together such as a sports bra with shelf support can actually trigger or aggravate intertrigo or even a potential yeast infection between the breasts.