Are Underwire Bras a Health Hazard?

Studies have shown that underwire bras can lead to all sort of negative health impacts from skin irritation to blocked milk ducts. Underwire bras may be pretty and lacy, even sexy, but here are few health hazards you should consider.

Are Underwire Bras a Health Hazard? | Real Food RN

Chances are you have at least one underwire bra in your closet. Most women do. But did you know there are a bunch of potential health hazards associated with wearing an underwire bra? That’s right, studies have shown that underwire bras can lead to all sort of negative health impacts from skin irritation to blocked milk ducts. Underwire bras may be pretty and lacy, even sexy, but here are few health hazards you should consider.

1. Skin problems

Underwire bras can lead to an increased risk of a range of skin problems, including:

  • Skin irritation and infection
  • Cuts or punctures from exposed wire
  • Contact dermatitis from underwires

These are caused by chafing of underwires against the skin or exposed underwires. In each case, these are likely to be caused by poorly fitting bras, not by the underwire style. And while these problems are often caused by a bra that no longer fits or has become worn and stretched due to long use, the reality is that most women have a favorite bra they can’t bear to throw away. It’s also true that most women don’t get fitted every time they buy a new bra.

If your bra is too tight it will leave marks and indentations; it might even start to chafe your skin. This is uncomfortable and unsightly, but worse – once the skin is broken you are vulnerable to infection.

Not only that, but most women will at some time have been stabbed by their underwire bra. A bra that might seem to be fine can weaken under stress, say from dancing or a sudden or awkward movement, and the underwire can suddenly poke out. At best, this is embarrassing, and at worst you can end up with a wire sticking into your flesh.

Then there’s the risk of contact dermatitis from exposure to the cheap metal of underwires. The casings of underwire bras can become thin and allow the wire to rub against your delicate skin for hours. It may not hurt at first, but after a while you can develop an itchy rash that needs medical attention, even steroid creams, to get it under control.

2. Blocked milk ducts

Underwire bras are a particular risk for nursing mothers. You may not realize that nursing requires special bras to support the breasts and make feeding your baby easy and discreet. Regular bras are not suitable for breastfeeding mothers and make nursing more difficult.  The last thing your breasts need is a tight, constrictive bra with metal wires sticking into them.

Wearing an underwire bra while nursing can impede the flow of milk and lead to milk pooling in your breasts. This is not only uncomfortable, but it can also lead to blocked milk ducts and mastitis, which requires a course of strong antibiotics to rectify. Mastitis is very painful, and you can become very sick very quickly.

It’s just not worth the risk when there are pretty, safer alternatives available. There are even maternity camisoles that not only provide safe wire-free bust support, they also support your back, belly, and midriff.

3. Headaches and neck pain

Underwire bras have also been found to cause headaches and neck pain. If you have large, heavy breasts, this can lead to extra strain on the neck and shoulders and even cause pain. Many women resort to underwire bras looking for more support but find that the wires dig in and the straps cut into their shoulders. All the weight of your breasts is borne by your neck and shoulders, so you end up with headaches and neck pain and looking for a good chiropractor.

4. Sports injuries

You may not realize it, but it’s not safe to wear an underwire bra while you’re exercising. Not only can unsupported breasts affect your performance, but it can also be really painful and damaging.

It’s surprising how much breasts can move around during exercise, but studies have shown that unsupported breasts can move up and down as much as 6 inches. Sports scientists recommend that you don’t wear regular underwire bras during sports. You need a strong, supportive bra that minimizes movement and will not rub or chafe your skin.

5. Other problems

Tight underwire bras can also lead to indigestion and even chest pain. There have been instances of women going to the emergency room thinking they were having a heart attack when it was actually an overly-tight bra or an escaped underwire.

Chinese traditional medicine practitioners advise against underwire bras as the metal impedes the flow of energy or chi in the body’s meridians.

There also concerns that the underwires may attract electromagnetic frequencies and increase your exposure to radiation.

What Are the Alternatives to Underwire Bras?

If you go into any modern lingerie shop, it might seem that you have no alternative but to buy an underwire bra. Even though the underwire style is relatively new, having really only become the popular choice in the 1990s, underwire bras have become the default option for many women. But modern technology has led to the development of new styles, including camisole styles that do away with traditional styling with uncomfortable hooks, straps, and padding.

If you need extra support while you’re nursing or playing sport, there are plenty of options that will safely protect your breasts without the risks of underwires. Even if you have large breasts you really don’t need to have wires in your bra: you can get all the support you need with properly designed shapewear. And you can do it in comfort!

The new wireless styles of shapewear are comfortable and supportive and will provide definition and a wide range of movement. Designed by women for women, modern lingerie options suit all cup-sizes and come in a range of prints and colors.

  • I personally buy my bras from three sources: True and Co, Ruby Ribbon, and Third Love. — just look for the no-underwire bras they each have. I LOVE the “petals” from Ruby Ribbon, to give you more of a fuller cup when you don’t have an underwire. 
  • For sports bras, I love the brand Coobie — they are amazing sports bras with no underwire and I go for long runs every day in them!

If you want a safe, pretty bra, you won’t be desperate to take off as soon as you get home, throw away your underwire bras and look at the alternatives!

Also, if you are a breastfeeding mama, I bought a couple of the Ruby Ribbon nursing camis and LOVE them! They have added pouch support and are so comfortable. See my pics below, I was 6 weeks postpartum in the pics.

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Are Underwire Bras a Health Hazard? | Real Food RN
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5 Replies to “Are Underwire Bras a Health Hazard?”

  1. I am a medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher and co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras.

    Glad to see your information about some of the problems caused by bras, but you forgot the most important. Wearing tight bras for long hours daily is a leading cause of breast cancer, according to many studies done internationally. (See below).

    Bra-free women have about the same risk of breast cancer as men, while the tighter and longer the bra is worn the higher the risk rises.

    Bras that leave red marks or indentations in the skin are too tight. Never sleep in a bra, and try wearing alternatives like bralettes. Breasts should not be constricted by anything tight, since this interferes with lymphatic circulation in the breasts. Impairing lymphatics by constrictive bras causes fluid to congest the breasts, leading to pain, cysts, and progressive tissue toxification, and impairs the immune response to developing cancer cells. Lymphatics impairment is immune impairment.

    Bras are the leading cause of breast pain and cysts. When women stop wearing bras they report that their pain and cysts disappear. Their breasts also lift and tone once the breasts begin to support themselves.

    Unfortunately, the cancer industry has been resisting this information for the past 20 years. I have personally made sure that the ACS and Komen Fdtn knew about the studies that have been done, but they show no interest in challenging the iconic bra and the powerful lingerie industry. However, in the post-#MeToo era, women are asking why they need to have artificially-shaped breasts and wear uncomfortable bras, while men are free to be comfortable.

    Fortunately, women can stop wearing bras. And being bra-free is now socially acceptable and fashionable, as shown by the many bra-free celebrities and movements like Free the Nipple.


    1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”

    1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Second Edition, Square One Publishers, 2018). Found that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.

    A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.

    2014 Lymphedema and subclinical lymphostasis (microlymphedema) facilitate cutaneous infection, inflammatory dermatoses, and neoplasia: A locus minoris resistentiae. Clin Dermatol. 2014 Sep-Oct;32(5):599-615.

    2015 Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46. This study found a significant bra-cancer link in pre-and post-menopausal women.

    2016 Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105. This is the first epidemiological study to look at bra tightness and time worn, and found a significant bra-cancer link.

    2016 Brassiere wearing and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis World J Meta-Anal. Aug 26, 2015; 3(4): 193-205 “This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the association between 8 areas of brassiere-wearing practices and the risk of breast cancer. Twelve case-control studies met inclusion criteria for review. Although the meta-analysis shows statistically significant findings to support the association between brassiere wearing during sleep and breast cancer risk, evidence was insufficient to establish a positive association between brassiere wearing (duration and type) and breast cancer risk. A large-scale epidemiological study is needed to examine the relationship between various forms of brassiere exposure and breast cancer risk.”

        1. Actually, weight is a minor factor, and doesn’t really apply to pre-menopausal women. It is even considered protective in young women.
          The problem is that the bra has been ignored in research. That makes all breast research flawed. It’s like studying lung cancer and ignoring smoking.

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