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The Women’s Underwear Debate: Could Your Underwear Be Affecting Your Health?

The Women’s Underwear Debate: Could Your Underwear Be Affecting Your Health?

Putting your underwear on in the morning shouldn’t be a health debate, but is it? From yeast infections to cellulite and cancer-causing chemicals, “on-trend” women’s underwear may have serious consequences. Today, we'll take a dive into the science behind these claims, and how you can take your health into account when deciding which “pair” to wear. 


Is Women’s Underwear a Cause of Cellulite? 

Cellulite. It’s a word associated with a deep feeling of dread for most women. And it may be connected to our clothing choices—particularly our underwear. Now, it’s important that we preface with the fact that scientists have never definitively identified the cause of cellulite. Most likely, a myriad of factors lead to its appearance—including genetic predisposition, hormones, diet, and lifestyle.

Okay, so where does women’s underwear come into it? Well, some theories connect the development of cellulite with poor circulation and lymph drainage (essentially, poor blood flow). And the idea that cellulite is a fallout of weight gain is becoming rapidly debunked. Yet evidence is abundant that cellulite is connected with a modern, Western lifestyle. In fact, cellulite has been found to be nonexistent in certain tribal cultures, such as the Peruvian Shapiro tribe. 

While meat consumption and processed foods likely play a part, one hallmark of modern Western culture is the restriction of blood flow to the gluteus maximus area. This happens in two ways: 

  1. Desk Culture: Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day is considered the norm, not the exception. And guess what sitting does? It restricts blood flow to your glutes and legs. 
  2. Modern clothing: If you read our article on the history of women’s underwear, you already know that restrictive clothing was not the norm throughout history. Flowing dresses and loose pantaloons were much more conducive to blood flow than tight leggings and jeans. But the biggest circulation-stopping culprit in our wardrobe is, you guessed it, our underwear. Ever taken off your panties at the end of the day and noticed a deep red line where the elastic cut into your glutes? Well, that tight elastic was also cutting off your blood flow. And that’s where the panty X cellulite connection comes in.

So, what underwear can you wear without restricting that all-important blood flow? Thongs (ew) are one choice, but if you want to be comfortable, women’s boxers are the better option—particularly styles like the Woxer Biker, that extend below the most cellulite-prone areas of the thighs and glutes.

Most importantly, avoid thin, pinching elastics in your underwear choices. If it cuts into your skin, it could be doing more damage than you realize. 

Can Women’s Underwear Cause UTIs and Yeast Infections? 

Did you know that 85% of women between the ages of 24-28 still wear thongs? And although thongs can be absolved of guilt in the great cellulite debate, they’re a breeding ground for UTIs and yeast infections. 

In addition to compressing your most sensitive tissues, thongs and other “wedgie-prone” women’s underwear trap bacteria and force it upwards into the vagina and urethra. Thongs have even been known to transmit fecal matter from the anus into the vaginal area. 

Sound fun? But wait, there’s more. These underwear types also reduce breathability and promote a moist, sweaty vaginal environment. And—you guessed it—that’s yeast’s favorite place to grow. So if you’re one of the 138 million+ women suffering from recurrent yeast infections, it may be time to look for the culprit in your underwear drawer.  

These bacterial and fungal breeding grounds are one reason why more and more women are emptying their thong drawers and switching to women’s boxers. Because women’s boxers extend down the thigh, they redistribute pressure away from the vaginal area, thus reducing the likelihood of infection. 

Are There Pesticides in Women’s Underwear

Take a quick break from this article to open your underwear drawer. How many pairs are made from cotton? Cotton is one of the most popular clothing materials in the world, and it’s widely considered safe because (as opposed to its synthetic cousin, Nylon) cotton is naturally derived. 

Unfortunately, despite cotton’s natural origins, its production process is far from natural. In fact, cotton consumes more pesticides than any other modern crop, accounting for 16% of all pesticides used worldwide (despite only representing 2.5% of agricultural land). 

While cotton’s agricultural impact is undeniably significant, does this pesticide usage actually affect the final clothing product? The short answer is yes, trace amounts of the chemicals used in cotton production can linger in the final product and are not eliminated by machine washing. The greater debate is whether or not these trace amounts are significant enough to have any health impact. 

To err on the side of caution, best practice is to either buy only organic cotton products, OR turn to cotton’s safer natural cousin, Lenzing Modal. Lenzing Modal is derived from the pulp of sustainably sourced beechwood trees, it’s produced sans-pesticides, and it's actually twice as soft as cotton. Lenzing Modal is also the material used in every Woxer product (that’s why they’re so ridiculously soft).

How I Make More Health-Positive Underwear Choices?

The first step in your underwear search should be to look for companies that, like Woxer, were founded by women. Women’s underwear designs have been influenced for far too long by male ideas (generally focused on what looks “sexy” as opposed to what’s actually optimal for women’s health and wellness). It’s important to also avoid synthetic materials and materials that aren’t breathable or moisture-wicking. And please, please, if you care about your vaginal health at all…burn the thong! 

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