Is That Trendy Spandex Underwear From Instagram Actually Bad for Your Hoo-Ha?
Sorry, but breathable fabrics are key.
I'm a sucker for a good underwear campaign. Anytime I get served an ad showing people with diverse body types in aesthetically pleasing undergarments, I'm immediately inclined to grab my wallet. Lately, it seems like there's a whole new category of Instagram-worthy underwear designed for lounging around in, feeling cute, and snapping a few NSFW selfies that you may or may not post online later. Personally, I'm all here for it. Something that many of the trendy underwear of today has in common, however, is the use of synthetic materials, like polyester, spandex, nylon, and mesh. So, in Carrie Bradshaw-style pondering, I can't help but wonder: Is this trendy underwear actually bad for our vulva?
When it comes to vaginal health, I, like many others, didn't receive a very thorough education. Although I remember learning at some point that certain types of underwear were better than others for vulva, that's about all I retained. Since I'm constantly bombarded with (and easily influenced by) ads for cute new underwear, I wanted to investigate a bit further before buying any new pairs. So, I tapped obstetrician-gynecologist Brandye Wilson-Manigat, MD, to learn more about the best and worst underwear for vaginal health.
How does underwear material impact vaginal health?
Although underwear doesn't seem very invasive, anything that interacts with the "vaginal environment," as Dr. Wilson-Manigat explains, can impact vaginal health. "The vulvar and vaginal tissues are sensitive and require that you be mindful of what you are putting near and on them," she says. When it comes to underwear, Dr. Wilson-Manigat says the most important thing to look for is breathability. "If the airflow is impeded, moisture and heat get trapped in the area and this can lead to irritation and infections," she says.
What is the best underwear fabric for your vulva?
Dr. Wilson-Manigat agrees with many other vaginal health experts in saying that cotton is the best underwear for maintaining vaginal health and comfort. Cotton is breathable and absorbs rather than repelling moisture, which helps to keep away infections, too. Dr. Wilson also says white cotton is best for those who are especially sensitive down there because the dyes in colored underwear can sometimes cause irritation or allergic reactions.
Shop some vulva-friendly cotton underwear below.
What is the worst underwear fabric for your vulva?
Unlike cotton, which works to keeps moisture off the skin, most synthetic fabrics do the opposite. "Fabrics like lycra, polyesters, and nylons tend to create a barrier to airflow, trapping heat and moisture close to the skin."
In addition to the potential to cause vaginal infections, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, from a lack of breathability, Dr. Wilson-Manigat also says some synthetic underwear materials can cause contact dermatitis. "This is an allergic reaction that shows up as an itchy, red rash in the area that was in contact with a substance or material," she says.
So, although that trendy spandex underwear on your Instagram timeline might look super cute, it's probably not the best choice for your vagina. If you're really eager to try out some more fashion-forward underwear in synthetic materials, however, Dr. Wilson-Manigat says to at least ensure that the padding in the crotch area is cotton in order to reduce the chance for irritation and infection.
Luckily for anyone who's been eyeing Parade underwear (which you've probably been seeing all over your Instagram), the product features a breathable cotton liner—so you can still get in on the trend without putting your vagina at risk.
Can you wear synthetic underwear if you aren't prone to vaginal infections?
If you aren't prone to vaginal infections, it may seem like the above information doesn't apply to you—but Dr. Wilson-Manigat would say otherwise. "I'd recommend everyone lessen or eliminate their use of synthetic materials," she says. "I have seen women who previously had no problems with synthetics, [but] later in life, develop chronic itching and irritation, and it can take a bit of time to calm the nerve endings down even after they have switched to cotton underwear."
So, in general, it's best practice to stick to cotton underwear. However, Dr. Wilson-Manigat says it's okay to wear synthetic fabrics, including period underwear and exercise wear, for short periods of time, but not for regular or prolonged use.
She also cautions against the frequent use of pantiliners for many of the same reasons that she cautions against synthetic fabrics. "Pantiliners were not meant to be worn daily," she says. "They will block airflow and trap heat and moisture as well, defeating the purpose of your cotton underwear. If you are using them daily due to persistent vaginal discharge or to catch urine leaks, it probably is time to see your doctor."
If you are someone who is prone to infection or just wants to be proactive about maintaining a normal pH balance—an central part of vaginal health—Dr. Wilson-Manigat recommends taking a vaginal probiotic, like RepHresh Pro B. "This helps to balance the environment without introducing things that cause infection," she says.
Although standard cotton underwear and vaginal probiotics may not sound sexy, they'll pay off in the long run by keeping your vulva healthy.