What Happens When You Stop Wearing a Bra?
Whether it's just a weekend or WFH thing, or you plan to let your ladies free more often than not, here's what experts say about how going braless affects your breasts.
At this point, you're likely (read: should be) deep in the trenches of social distancing and a new WFH norm. And for so many (*raises hand*), this new isolated lifestyle has given way to a new look composed almost exclusively of comfy clothes. Jeans? LOL. Makeup? Yeah, right. Bra? Optional—if present at all. But how does going braless for an extended period of time affect your girls? Is not wearing a bra good for you? Ahead, experts share what really happens when you stop wearing a bra and weigh in on the pros, cons, and side effects of free-boobing.
First, let's talk about the physical side of things.
To begin, a quick anatomy lesson. Breast tissue is anchored to the muscular chest wall via the backside of the breast, and this single area of attachment is the only source of stability, explains ob-gyn Sherry Ross, M.D., a women's health expert and author of She-ology. That means that the majority of the breast tissue is unsupported and aggressive movements can lead to trauma and pain, she adds. Translation: Your boobs are going to bounce around and may even hurt if you go for a run without wearing a bra (ideally, a supportive sports bra in this situation).
Okay, so a bra is essential for workouts, but what about when you're just sitting at home on endless Zoom conference calls and binge-watching Tiger King? The experts are split. "If you don't wear a bra, your breasts will sag," says Dr. Ross. "If there's a lack of proper, long-term support, breast tissue will stretch and become saggy, regardless of breast size."
However, Andrea Madrigrano, M.D., breast surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, says that sagging is more likely to occur based on the density of your breasts. If they have more fat than fibrous tissue (i.e. are larger), they're more likely to sag, and for smaller-breasted women, there's no structural benefit to wearing a bra, she explains. (Related: Women Are Sharing Photos of Their Saggy Boobs to Make a Very Important Point.)
Still, both experts agree that there are multiple factors that play into if and when sagging (technical term: "ptosis") occurs, bra-wearing aside. "The sagging effect and how pronounced it is will depend on many variables," says Dr. Ross (who does agree that larger breast size is a contributing factor). These include weight, genetics, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. Aside from the aesthetics, a lack of proper support (i.e. not wearing a bra) can also potentially lead to pain. The most immediate effect of having unsupported breast tissue is sharp or burning pain in the chest area, and/or breast tenderness and tightness. This can be mild or severe, lasting hours, days or months, she adds.
But, how long would you have to go braless before you felt this kind of pain or started to notice your girls dropping? "I don't think anyone knows the answer to that, given how many other factors are involved," says Dr. Madrigrano. The good news: If you typically wear a bra daily, going for few weeks without the garment, even if 24/7, "definitely won't have a significant effect," she says.
Aside from sagging, there's also the issue of back pain. Again, this is more likely to be problematic for those women with bigger boobs (which, generally speaking, count as anything bigger than a C-cup). For large-breasted women, wearing a bra can help with back pain, as well as posture. Large, heavy breasts can put excess strain on the muscles underneath the breasts, which, in turn, can cause chest, back, and shoulder pains, says Dr. Madrigano. Sound familiar? Then wearing a bra can actually help alleviate some of those aches as well as help with posture. The support that a bra provides takes most of the weight of your breasts off your chest, back, and shoulders, significantly minimizing that strain, she explains. (That is, as long as it fits properly. More on how to find the best bra for your breast type here.)
But, are there any positives that can come from going braless? Dr. Madrigrano notes that one French study found that wearing a bra may lead to sagging because it weakens your chest (pectoral) muscles. However, she's quick to note that she doesn't fully agree with that deduction and adds that there are plenty of exercises you can do to strengthen pectoral muscles if that's a concern. (Related: The Best Chest Workout: 5 Moves for Better Boobs.)
So, what about the skin on your breasts?
From a skin standpoint, going bra-free can be beneficial, particularly for those dealing with irritation and breakouts. Wearing a bra can lead to a build-up of sweat under and on your breasts, which can lead to an overgrowth of yeast, inflammation, and ultimately even a yeast infection, says Devika Icecreamwala, M.D., a dermatologist in Berkeley, California. Signs of yeast and a subsequent infection include redness, itching, and/or an odor under your breasts.
Similarly, "that excess sweat can clog pores and lead to breakouts," says Dr. Icecreamwala. However, you won't develop acne or yeast on your chest overnight—it would take weeks or even months for these issues to arise, and there are other factors that come into play, she adds. For example, not showering daily, not wiping sweat off your chest after a workout, and/or leaving a sweaty bra on after a workout or hot day. Still, in both the case of yeast and breakouts, keeping the skin covered with a bra could both trigger and exacerbate the problem. On the flip side, simply ditching your bra isn't a solution. "You'll likely need topical medications to address both yeast and breakouts, but coupled with going braless, these skin problems should resolve within two to four weeks," says Dr. Icecreamwala.
And let's not forget about the mental health aspect too.
"There's something very empowering about not wearing a bra," says Dr. Ross. "For many women, it's the first thing you take off when you get home after a long day at work." That being said, if you're finding it hard to concentrate and work from home as productively as you do at the office, you may want to consider wearing 'work clothes,' a bra included. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology discussed a concept known as 'enclothed cognition,' and showed that what you're wearing can actually impact performance and attention. This particular study focused on doctors and lab coats, so extrapolating the effects to a bra might be a stretch.
But the idea that clothing can affect motivation and performance is not so far-fetched, especially when it comes to working out. Getting into activewear can propel you into exercise-mode because clothing primes the brain to expect the forthcoming activity, Karen J. Pine, Ph.D., author of Mind What You Wear, previously told Shape. And when you put on that new pair of leggings? Even better. Wearing workout clothes you love not only makes you more inclined to break a sweat but it also can make you feel even more confident in your abilities and, thus, boost your performance, licensed clinical and performance psychologist Jonathan Fader, Ph.D. previously told Shape.
So, point being: it may be worth popping on a bra, and even jeans, to see if ditching PJs boosts your work productivity even if you are working from your living room. Consider trying a soft and seamless cami or bralette (Buy It, $34, nordstrom.com), which Dr. Madrigrano says is a good option, particularly for those women who don't have super large breasts. (Related: The Bralette Trend Is Athleisure's Latest Gift to Women)
Whether or not you want to wear a bra while you're homebound—or at all—is ultimately a matter of personal preference and comfort. "I've had some women tell me they choose to not wear a bra because they can't find a comfortable one or don't require the support, and some women with large breasts tell me they prefer to wear one even while they sleep," says Dr. Madrigrano.
The keyword here is "comfort." Especially in this unprecedented and bizarre world that's currently unfolding, it's more important than ever to do things that make you feel good and comfortable. And if not wearing a bra for a while will do that, then so be it. Your girls will be okay. (And so will you.)