5 Steps to Choosing the Best Underwear for Your Health

Navigating the underwear market can be pretty daunting these days. Should you go for the boyshorts or briefs? Cotton or lycra? Are thongs really that bad for you? Is shapewear? And don't even get me started on whatever the heck c-strings are meant for.

Seriously, when did it all become so complicated? 

My best guess is that our options are only going to become more varied and bizarre as time goes on, but don't let that overwhelm you. Turns out that basic cotton briefs just might be your best, and healthiest option. Almost every other style can cause some serious health problems — everything from skin rashes to yeast infections — if worn too often and under the wrong conditions. 

I did a bit of research to find out the health hazards of some of our favorite underwear styles. Here's what I found:

1. Avoid Thongs When You're Working Out

I wear tight, spandex-blend pants every time I work out, which means that anything I wear underneath is visible. Because of this, thongs are usually my go-to choice for underwear, but, in general, the experts advise steering clear of thongs whenever possible — especially when working out. "[Thongs] are usually tight fitting and tend to slide back and forth while you exercise," Dr. David Bank told Shape. "All of this friction and heat can lead to UTIs (urinary tract infections) and vaginal bacterial infections, regardless of the fabric." 

When working out, underwear with moisture wicking technology will work wonders to help prevent yeast infections. 

Athleta Tempo Seamless Hipster, $18, Athleta (Sold Out);  Yvette Mid-Rise Sports Underwear, $10, Amazon

2. Better Yet, Just Try To Avoid Thongs In General

Try sticking with briefs and boyshorts for the everyday. Here's why: "[Thongs] can cause bacteria to spread, which can cause urinary infections or vaginal infections," Dr. Iris Orbuch wrote for Cosmopolitan. "Common bacterias in feces, E. coli being one of them, can be passed to the vagina via a thong. If that ascends into the uterus you could develop a pelvic inflammatory disease, or into the bladder and you could get a bladder infection." If a thong is your best option, at least go for a cotton one, which brings us to:

3. Try To Stick With Cotton Underwear

When it comes to fabrics for the everyday, cotton is your best bet. The natural fibers work well to keep your business feeling fresh. "Cotton wicks moisture away from the skin, discouraging yeast growth, so choose cotton panties as often as possible," Jan Sheehan wrote for Everyday Health in an article reviewed by Dr. Lindsey Marcellin, M.D., M.P.H. Try to avoid other synthetic materials like nylon and lycra, which can "trap moisture and heat, providing a breeding ground for yeast." If anything, try to at least wear underwear that has a cotton lining on the inside.

Low-Rise Hipster, $10, Gap

If you work out in cotton underwear, make sure to change them immediately after hitting the gym. "Cotton panties are supposed to prevent yeast infections, but if sweaty, the slow-to-dry fabric may increase your risk," Cynthia Bayer, a nurse practitioner at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said to Redbook. To reduce your risk, toss an extra pair of underwear into your gym bag and change into them before you leave the gym (even if your plan is to shower at home). 

3. Ease Up On The Shapewear 

I love my Spanx as much as the next girl, but wearing them too often can cause some serious health problems. Same goes for spandex bottoms and skin-hugging jeans. Madonna Beren at Redbook sought the advice of Consumer Reports medial advisor Dr. Orly Avitzur, who advised Beren that "too-frequent use of shapewear and other tight-fitting undergarments can bring on urinary tract infections." Instead, try to wear these items only a couple of times a week and, when you do, definitely wear cotton underwear underneath.  

4. Seamless Styles Are The Most Comforting On Your Skin

Seamless styles will not only help prevent visible underwear lines, they'll also be gentler on your skin. Elastic bands that are too tight can be very irritating. "Chronic irritation and rubbing can cause abrasions that could go deep enough to cause darkening of the skin or permanent scarring," Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee told Women's Health. "And sometimes if your underwear is old, the elastic becomes exposed and can potentially give you a rash, called irritant contact dermatitis."

These cotton undies have a supple, stretchy lace at the seams, which means no irritating elastic bands and no visible underwear lines. Win-win. 

Vanity Fair Lace Hipster, $7, Amazon

5. Go Commando At Bedtime

And at the end of the day, when it's time to hit the hay, just forget about underwear. Dr. Samantha Dunham, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Everyday Health that the best way to keep your lady parts dry and prevent yeast infections is to go commando while you're sleeping. Also, try to wear loose-fitting pajamas that are breathable and non-constricting. 

Images: Fotolia (1)

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