Breathable Underwear Is Best For Our Bodies. Here's Why

Although we don't talk about it much, if you have a vulva, what type of underwear you wear matters. Far too many people make the mistake of rolling into a store, grabbing the sexiest, comfiest, or prettiest pair of undies, and rolling back out without even looking at the tag to see what their underwear is made of. In the words of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," that's a "Big mistake! Big! Huge!"


"Breathability is key," OB-GYN Dr. Alyssa Dweck tells Bustle. "Cotton absorbs moisture and allows evaporation. Keeping in mind that yeast and bacteria thrive in warm moist environments, cotton is ideal, and synthetic fabrics, including Lycra and nylon, are not favored."

And naturally, if you're already prone to infections or other vulva and vagina-related issues, then those synthetic undies will just exacerbate the problem. So next time you go shopping for new underwear (which you should do at least once a year), read the tag. Your body will thank you for it, and here's why.

It helps you avoid yeast infections

You know what yeast loves? Moisture. And as the vagina becomes moist — a word many people don't like — the happier the candida becomes, so it just goes rogue and grows and grows and grows. Before you know it, you're trying to refrain from scratching your crotch in public because your underwear gave candida albicans a safe harbor in which it could basically throw a big party and invite all its fungus-filled friends.


Although there are many reasons why someone might get a yeast infection, including stress, pregnancy, types of medication, and even diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic, your underwear also plays a big role. The name of the game when trying to avoid yeast infections is letting the vagina breathe in a moisture-free zone. Because discharge, especially during ovulation, is a normal part of having a vagina, it needs a place where it can dry quickly, and that's where breathable underwear comes in handy. 

It can stave off bacterial vaginosis

Similar to causing yeast infections, if your underwear isn't letting your body breathe, bacteria can take advantage of the moisture and add their own brand of complications to the situation. Vaginas already have a healthy amount of natural bacteria, but when there's no opportunity for breathing "down there," that balance is thrown off, resulting in bacterial vaginosis (BV), in which the vagina becomes inflamed. Once inflamed, you can experience burning when you pee, a pungent odor from that region of the body, gray or white discharge, and itchiness. 


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although BV can happen at any age, it mostly affects those with vulvas who are 15 to 44 years of age, or what doctors like to consider the fertile years. Unlike yeast infections, where you can get an over-the-counter treatment, BV and other vagina-related bacterial infections need to be treated with antibiotics which only a doctor can prescribe.

It can minimize irritation

If you've ever experienced a chafed vulva, then you already know it's really, really uncomfortable. Chafing can be caused by synthetic fabrics rubbing up against the vulva or from moisture that probably hasn't been absorbed by non-body-friendly underwear. Once you throw in waxing or shaving of the pubic hair, which is there to protect the vulva, the chances of having a run-in with chafing increase even more.


"The vulva is a very sensitive and delicate area, similar to the lips on your face," board-certified OB-GYN Dr. Alyse Kelly-Jones tells Healthline. "You want to treat [it] gently."

Because the area is so sensitive, you'll want to avoid undies that are too tight and reach for ones that breathe. That friction isn't doing your vulva any favors, and if it's not taken care of, it can lead to swelling, bleeding, and even infection due to any open sores your underwear may have caused. 

It keeps rashes at bay

When you wear synthetic clothing, you run the risk of getting textile dermatitis — yes, this is a real thing.  Textile dermatitis, like all other types of dermatitis, is when the skin gets itchy and rashy due to synthetic fabric exposure, according to WebMD. The reason for this isn't just the fabric, although it can cause rashes on its own because of the chemicals used in these types of materials. However, they also don't allow the body to breathe, so a buildup of sweat occurs, making what would have been a small rash into an even bigger one. 


"Many types of clothing material can be irritating or difficult to wear for a variety of reasons, and the same is true for what you put in contact with down there," board-certified OB-GYN Staci Tanouye M.D. FACOG tells Well + Good.

With the vulva being sensitive enough as it is, wearing underwear that isn't breathable is just asking for a rash in the last place you want a rash. 

It makes for a happy vagina

Fun fact: Vaginas love to breathe! When you choose breathable underwear, you're helping to keep the vagina's natural bacteria and candida in line and the pH balance just as it should be. In fact, most OB-GYNs recommend going commando when you sleep so your vagina and vulva, which are covered up all day long, can take a vacation from underwear and enjoy all that fresh air. 


"You really should sleep without underwear if you're prone to vaginal issues," OB-GYN Nancy Herta, M.D. tells Glamour. If you're not comfortable being totally bare-bottomed at night, then wearing baggy cotton pajama bottoms without underwear is the next best thing.

Although most of us put a lot of effort into how we look in our choice of clothing, as it is a statement as to who we are, putting effort into choosing underwear is just as important. That means wearing undies that are breathable — ideally cotton — and comfortable. No, your underwear should never be skintight. However, if any of these symptoms arise and you are rocking the appropriate pair of skivvies, then you want to contact your doctor. There could be something else going on that you'll definitely want to get checked out.