If you’ve shopped for workout clothes in the past decade then you’ve noticed how much the selection has improved. From wicking material to cute yoga sets, your choices are endless. Besides trendier pieces of activewear, there’s also been a trend of women going underwear-free when wearing workout tights. Having tried it before I can see the appeal. No unsightly underwear seams, there’s a little more space to move around, and you just feel free. However, could this habit be ultimately sabotaging your vaginal health? Although I‘m not prone to yeast infections or other bacterial infections (*knocks on wood*), I wondered what the risks were if this was done for a prolonged period of time.
“The major risks of going underwear-free are irritation and possible infections,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD OBGYN at Yale University. “The chances are higher if you were wearing really tight clothing and not allowing any true “breathing room” between your workout clothes and the vulva,” she explains. Although there’s nothing wrong with going underwear-free during your workouts, doctors do urge that women be mindful of how their body reacts to it.
“Keep in mind it’s a personal choice if you decide to go without underwear during certain types of exercises,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine. If you do choose to go underwear-free, it’s important to make sure your vaginal health is in tip-top shape to avoid any possible infections. “Probiotics are one of the best things women can take,” Minkin advises. “The one probiotic women might consider in this situation would be RepHresh Pro-B, which is composed of lactobacilli organisms which are found in the healthy vagina, and help keep the vagina acidic,” she continues. Minkin also suggests women use a product known as RepHresh Gel, which helps keep the vagina acidic (if women think they may be developing an infection).
Not surprisingly, there are even activewear brands that are creating their own products that make it easier for women to go commando. Debbie Mercer, CEO, and founder of Zip Hers, made sure the workout leggings in her collection were comfortable and skin-friendly for women. “When designing Zip Hers, our athletic wear intended to be worn without underwear, we tinkered with many different designs and materials,” she explains adding, “ Finally, we developed a solution that is a thin, soft inner panel that lines the bottoms from front to back, preventing the zipper from ever touching skin.” Mercer’s goal was to also create versatile clothing that women could use whether they’re running, hiking, traveling, or lounging around.
Although going underwear-free during your workouts can be harmless, some women should avoid it altogether. “Women who are prone to vaginitis (and topical irritation) would benefit more to stick to wearing white cotton underwear,” says Minkin. Also worth noting, if you choose to go the commando route, you should stick to materials that are breathable and wick away moisture during physical activity. Avoid polyester and other materials that don’t breathe as they can cause irritation leaving you more at risk for infections.
Whether you choose to go underwear-free or not, most importantly, always make sure to get out of your sweaty workout clothes and shower as soon as possible. Sitting in moist clothing increases your chances of yeast infections and can even cause chafing. Just remember what can work for you may not work for another friend, and it’s important to be in tune with your body. If you’re noticing that you’ve been experiencing irritation down there or getting more infections while underwear-free, it may not be the best method for you.