While many have prattled off the phrase ‚fashion is pain‘ to justify wearing an uncomfortable pair of high heels, other items in your wardrobe could also be the culprit of health issues.
With very clever and memorable marketing strategies and of course iconic products too (nipple bras anyone?) there is no doubt as to why Kim Kardashian’s brand Skims is now worth $4 billion and revolutionised shapewear as we know it.
Shapewear aside, activewear and jeans are also incredibly popular fashion items and staples of many of our wardrobes. What you might not know, however, is that they could potentially cause damage to your health, researchers have found.
According to Kin Fertility GP, Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, the issues that can be caused by these fashion choices range from nerve irritation to skin conditions to gastrointestinal issues but in most cases, they are reversible and preventable.
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“When you wear tight clothing, you can compress important structures like nerves,” Dr Wallace-Hor says.
“I once saw a young woman concerned about numbness and tingling in her outer thigh. It soon emerged that it was worse after nights out when she usually wore tight jeans. In this case, her jeans were so tight that the nerve supplying that area of her thigh (the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve) was being pressed enough to cause nerve pain,” she explains.
The good news is, that this nerve pain will usually subside (as it did with this patient), once tight garments are switched for looser fitting ones.
“Similarly reflux – which is when the acidic contents of the stomach are pushed back into the oesophagus – can be aggravated or caused by tight clothing,” Dr Wallace-Hor says.
This can also impact existing issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) some medical practitioners have also reported.
While in most cases simply switching from tight to looser-fitting clothing can alleviate these issues, some medical professionals warn that repeated acid reflux can lead to more serious conditions like esophagitis which can make swallowing painful and difficult, so prevention is the best medicine.
“The most common issues I see with activewear and tight clothing are skin-related,” says Dr Wallace-Hor.
Types of skin irritation include miliaria (sweat rash), folliculitis (inflammation and sometimes infection of the hair follicles) and yeast or fungal skin infections.
“A lot of clothing these days isn’t made with breathable fabrics and people may not always shower or change after excess sweating, exercise, or swimming. The warm and damp conditions that result can cause a build-up of bacteria, yeast, and fungi on our skin. This can then go on to cause infections and irritating rashes, particularly in the skin folds like the groin or under the breasts,” she says.
To prevent adverse skin reactions, Dr Wallace-Hor recommends avoiding wearing tight clothing for long periods. In addition, in the case of activewear and swimwear, showering directly after sweating, exercising, or swimming is a must.
She also suggests using a non-fragranced body wash or cleanser and washing your clothing thoroughly to avoid the build-up of sweat and dirt.
Finally, avoid using laundry sanitisers and detergents marketed as “anti-bacterial” (which have gained popularity since the onset of Covid), as these often contain a chemical called benzalkonium chloride which can irritate the skin further, she says.
Along with activewear, shapewear and jeans, ill-fitting bras, belts and pantyhose can also contribute to many of these issues, so it is important to be correctly fitted for bras and limit the use of other items.
Signs to look out for
While it probably seems obvious when an item of clothing is too tight (the discomfort and inability to move properly are usually accurate indicators), other tell-tale signs to look out for include red marks on your skin, pressure marks, skin irritation, numbness or tingling and difficulty breathing.
But before you throw out half your wardrobe (don’t worry, I was nearly there), the good news from Dr Wallace-Hor is that as long as it’s not uncomfortable, it is generally safe to wear.
If you have any of the concerns mentioned above, particularly if they persist, it’s important to check in with your GP.
“Not only can they help with treatments, but there could be other factors or causes that need to be excluded or addressed,” Dr Wallace-Hor says.