Under The Wire: Are Underwire Bras Safe?

I’ve been wearing an underwire bra for years. After nursing two kids for a year each, they’re pretty much a requirement for me! Are Underwire Bras Safe?Recently I read somewhere that women shouldn’t be wearing bras at all (not happening here!) and that wearing underwire bras are the worst thing women can do health-wise. So it got me thinking, “Am I (and other women) taking a health risk by wearing them?

Are Underwire Bras Bad for You?

Before we get to this question, lets first look at a brief history of the underwire bra.

The underwire bra made its first appearance through a patent issued in 1893 to a New Yorker named Marie Tucek. She developed an improved “breast supporter” that was made out of “… sheet metal, cardboard or other suitable material and preferably covered with silk, canvas or other desirable fabric.”

The underwire bra didn’t catch on until it made its Hollywood debut in the 1943 film The Outlaw. Film producer and aerospace engineer Howard Hughes insisted that actress Jane Russell’s breasts be lifted and separated for the movie. He had the first seamless push-up bra designed for her, making Russell an American sex symbol and the bra famous, although she reportedly never wore it.

What’s the Problem with Underwire Bras?

Underwire bras are, for the most part, a “cosmetic” undergarment. There’s no true necessity (I could find) for women to wear them other than to improve ones appearance. So what are the potential risks for us who wear them?

Here’s some of the research I found:

A 2011 Venezuelan study (in Spanish) noted that underwire and push-up bras worn for extended periods of time (12 plus hours) were the most harmful to female breast health. Additionally it found that tight bra cups, small hoops for nursing moms, and low adjustable elastic bands squeezed surrounding blood vessels and decreased the flow of toxins through local lymphatic vessels, preventing proper drainage.

A 2013 French study followed 330 women (18-35) for 15 years to see what impact wearing or not wearing a bra had on the shape and well-being of their breasts. The lead researcher noted, “medically, physiologically and anatomically breasts gained no benefit from having their weight supported”. He later noted that the results of the study are preliminary and doesn’t believe that they should be applied to all women.

A 2014 American study focused on postmenopausal women and looked at several factors that may produce an increased risk to breast disease. They found no link between the length of bra wearing and increase in cancer rates for this age group (55-74). (Note: this study’s focus was different than the Venezuelan study.)

What’s the Take-A-Way?

We’re told we need bras to give support and lift, to hide or minimize, to provide proper back support (for larger breasts) and to improve our breasts overall shape and appearance under clothing. But most of the sources I looked at seemed to disagree with the necessity of most of these points.

Here is what I took away from all this:

If you’re young, haven’t had any kids, and have a small cup size, then going bra free may be an option for you. However, if you’re like me and have had multiple children, have been wearing a bra most of your adult life, or you have a large cup size, then wearing a bra is probably a must.

The fit is what you need to think about in buying a bra. It appears that this one thing could make the difference in your breast health and overall comfort. In fact, I’m so convinced of this that I looked up a lingerie shop in my area and scheduled myself a fitting.

With that said, I have a few underwire bras I have no immediate plans to part with (breastfed two kids remember!) and unless you have indentation marks from wearing your bra, then I think you’re good to hold onto them (just my opinion).

If you’re ready to get rid of your underwired bras, know that no-wire bras have gotten a lot better in terms of offering both support and structure, although I still believe they are more for smaller breasted women.

What do you think? Wire or no wire? Where do you stand? Leave a comment below and let me know.