While it’s totally up to you to decide what type of underwear you pull on in the morning, it’s important to know that wearing a thong every day can impact your health in ways both big and small. If you've been dealing with yeast infections, chafing, or itchiness down below, it may be that skinny piece of fabric that's to blame.
That's not to say that thong underwear gives everyone a problem. If you regularly wear them and haven't noticed any side effects, then by all means, proceed. As long as your thong isn’t irritating your skin or causing any issues, then it’s perfectly fine to wear one on a regular basis, says Dr. Vanessa MacKay, an OB/GYN and Vagisil partner.
To be extra safe, she does recommend going with a thong that’s made of cotton versus a synthetic, lacy, or silky material. "Using a breathable cotton brand will reduce the risk of irritation," MacKay tells Bustle. That said, if you’re worried about thong side effects — or just want to be as comfy as possible — you should opt for basic cotton briefs, says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., an OB-GYN and clinical professor at Yale University, who points to a 2019 study done at the National Library of Medicine that found cotton briefs were the best when it comes to minimizing vaginal infections and other irritations. So when in doubt, it’s always a good bet to shimmy into some natural fibers.
With that in mind, read on below for all the potential ways thong underwear can impact your health and well-being.
1. Thongs Can Lead To Irritation
Wearing thongs on a daily basis can increase the risk of inflammation of the vulva, says MacKay. Unlike briefs, hipsters, or boy shorts that have a wider crotch area, the thin strings of a thong make it more likely to ride up and move around in your nether regions, leading to abrasions and irritation. You’ll know a thong isn’t right if you’re constantly pulling, scratching, or readjusting.
2. They Can Cause Contact Dermatitis
The very nature of thong underwear sets it up to be itchier than, say, briefs or hipsters. This is especially true if your skin is sensitive to irritants that linger on fabrics, like detergents, harsh soaps, or fabric softeners, MacKay says, since the extra-tight fabric of a thong can hold irritants against your body.
“Keep in mind that your vulva is skin,” says Krystal Thomas-White, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Evvy, a brand that offers vaginal microbiome test kits. “Some materials might be irritating and can even cause contact dermatitis, so pay attention to what feels good for you.”
If you’re itchy, try switching detergents to see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t help, try changing your underwear and opting for a different style.
3. Thongs Can Affect The pH Of Your Vagina
You might notice an increase in pH-related issues down below, especially if you wear silky or synthetic thongs on a regular basis. "Any non-breathable fabric can cause excess moisture build-up," MacKay says. “And that can lead to a change in the pH of the vulva and vagina causing a potential overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast.”
4. They Might Cause Vaginitis
Wearing damp underwear of any kind can lead to a condition called vaginitis, which causes pain, discharge, and itchiness. While there aren’t a ton of studies on the health effects of thongs, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t cause these issues, says Thomas-White.
“There’s almost no data or scientific research when it comes to the type of underwear you should be wearing to protect — or at minimum, not disturb — your vagina and vulva,” she tells Bustle. “This lack of information is likely due to the gender health gap, which affects everything related to women’s health from research diagnostics to drug development.”
Until more studies come out about underwear styles, Thomas-White says it’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s vagina and vulva are different. “While lace thongs work for some people, others might be happier in cotton boy shorts,” she says.
5. They Can Lead To Odor
According to MacKay, moisture buildup from thong underwear could cause a change in your vulval or vaginal odor. If you’ve noticed a smell that seems out of the ordinary, it may be due to a yeast infection or other type of bacterial overgrowth that’s associated with a change in smell, she says.
6. The String Might Cause A Yeast Infection
Speaking of overgrowth, “thongs with non-breathable fabric can cause moisture to get trapped in the vagina, creating an environment for yeast to thrive,” Minkin says. “This can also disrupt the pH of the vagina, causing an abnormal vaginal odor.”
7. Thongs Might Transfer Bacteria
"When wearing a thong, there's a higher chance of bacteria sticking to the thong and taking a ride from the back to the front of your underwear along the fabric, especially if your thong is ill-fitting," Katie Fritts, the founder and CEO of the underwear subscription service Underclub, tells Bustle. That’s why, if you're going to wear one, she recommends checking to make sure it's the correct size so this is less likely to happen.
8. They Can Cause Bumps
“When thinking about possible skin issues from wearing thongs, most of them have to do with fit and friction,” says Dr. Angelo Landriscina, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. If your underwear is too tight, it might block your pores or hair openings, he tells Bustle, which can lead to bumps similar to the maskne caused by the friction of face masks. “The best way to avoid these [breakouts] is to make sure you are wearing properly fitted thongs,” he says.
9. They Can Lead To Chafing
Since thongs get all up in your business, it is possible to experience some chafing and inflammation where the string goes between your legs. “I personally do not encourage my patients to use thong underwear, as I think it can be irritative to the perineum,” says Minkin.
10. Thongs Can Rub Your Skin During Workouts
Because thongs can cause irritation from the fabric rubbing against your skin, they’re usually not a good option to wear when working out. As Fritts says, "Thongs can cause rashes with athletes who do a lot of floor training exercises that create friction between your butt and underwear, like sit-ups or any exercise where you are on your back and butt.”
Thongs can also cause skin chafing as you run or do leg-focused exercises. “Wearing thong underwear can cause a greater level of friction between your skin and the fabric, which can cause uncomfortable chafing, pinching, and rubbing,” adds Dr. Charles E. Crutchfield III, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at University of Minnesota Medical School.
11. The Fabrics Aren't Always Breathable
If your thongs are made of synthetic fibers, then your skin can't breathe. And when your skin can't breathe, bacteria are more likely to grow. So, again, look for those cotton versions instead. "Pick something breathable (limits bacterial growth), comfortable, and most importantly, something that makes you feel your best," Fritts says.
Chen, Y. (2017). Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage. Womens Health (Lond). doi: 10.1177/1745505717731011.
Hamlin, AA. (2019). Brief versus Thong Hygiene in Obstetrics and Gynecology (B-THONG): A survey study. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. doi: 10.1111/jog.13958.
Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., OB-GYN, clinical professor at Yale University
Angelo Landriscina, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, board-certified dermatologist, clinical professor of dermatology at University of Minnesota Medical School
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