A Doctor’s Advice on Wearing Shapewear
Shapewear can do no wrong if you adopt the right habits. A doctor provides tips on getting the right fit and feeling good in these stretchy under garments.
Ladies, we all know the marvels achievable with shapewear – those slimming, stretchy undergarments that can help you go down a dress size and make your body seem smaller and firmer.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Unlike Victorian-era corsets, with their tight lacings and metal panels, modern-day shapewear is not going to permanently narrow your ribcage or relocate your organs.
“That’s not to say shapewear, such as SPANX® or Maidenform Flexees® and many others, can’t be taken to extremes that can cause some physical problems,” says hepatologist Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD. But worn with some common sense, these little miracle workers are perfectly safe she says, offering these tips.
The most likely problem you might encounter with shapewear is skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin and you wear the garment for long periods. An allergic reaction to the chemicals that give the garments their stretch could be the culprit.
With an irritation or allergy, the skin becomes chafed and may turn red or itchy – and could eventually become infected. If shapewear is irritating your skin, take a break from wearing the garment until your skin clears up, then try another brand or a larger size, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says. And of course, keep your body-slimmer clean with frequent laundering.
“These garments touch with skin more than any other fabric you are wearing,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming says. “Because it’s synthetic, you can develop an irritation.”
Make sure you are getting the right size when you purchase shapewear – or any type of clothing for that matter, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says. If the garment is tight around the hip area especially it can constrict the blood circulation to the lower legs. One should use common sense and if there is discomfort, should attempt a larger size.
Ultra-tight shapewear could compress nerves – particularly if you are thin – resulting in tingling sensations or numbness. If you have poor circulation, too-tight shapewear could worsen the condition, or result in increased swelling in the legs.
One rule of thumb for shapewear: “It if makes a mark, it’s too tight,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming says. And wearing the appropriate size also means your silhouette will look smoother in your clothes.
Because of its stretchy nature, shapewear won’t permanently damage your organs, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says. But if you wear a body garment that is extremely tight for a long time, it could squeeze your digestive tract enough to create acid reflux, a condition in which stomach contents leak into the esophagus. One of the first pieces of advice a doctor gives acid reflux patients is to wear looser clothing, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says.
Poor-fitting shapewear also could be responsible for gassiness and bloating after you eat because the gas produced with digestion and the air that you naturally swallow while eating has trouble escaping.
“You’re slowing the free motion of the gastrointestinal system and trapping the gas inside,” Dr. Wakim-Fleming says.
For women in their 50s or older, another potential risk includes worsening pelvic organ prolapse because of the increased pressure inside the belly. This causes the pelvic organs (including the uterus and the bladder) to drop down and press into the vagina. This can be a serious health condition.
Above all, Dr. Wakim-Fleming says, use common sense. So stop wearing shapewear if it irritates your skin. Get the right size. And don’t wear them for extremely long periods of time or sleep in them.
“If people want to wear these garments, they should wear them,” she says. “Unlike jeans or belts, they are extremely flexible and the stretch of these fibers is up to 500%. But be smart about your choices.”