What Effect Does Being Braless Have On My Body? Here's What Experts Say

I've been braless for over a year. Is this bad?

One of the most rewarding feelings for people who wear a bra is unhooking it after a long day away from home. But that moment of relief is actually one that I didn't experience in over a year. That's because I was fortunate enough to be able to work and socialize from the safety of my house during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic—which means I was able to go braless during that time.

Sure, I threw one on when I exercised or needed to run an errand (though even errand runs were bra-free in the colder months when I wore extra layers to cover up). Other than that, I was usually bra-free.

But rumors I've heard have swirled in the back of my mind: Wearing a bra prevents your breasts from sagging, not wearing a bra actually trains your breasts to not need one, there is a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer risk.

Based on what I've read and heard, I figured it was time to find out if there's any truth to these rumors. Here's what experts say about the health effects of not wearing a bra long-term.

Woman choosing and buying bra in shopping store

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Is It Ok to Go Braless for an Extended Period of Time?

"The short answer is that it's not dangerous to go without a bra," Deanna Attai, MD, a breast surgeon and associate clinical professor of surgery at UCLA, told Health.

And now, the longer answer addressing each rumor.

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Breast sagging (which is medically known as "ptosis") happens with or without wearing a bra, Dr. Attai said. It's mostly due to the normal aging process—when the dense glandular tissue of the breast is replaced by fat—and to the stretching out of supportive ligaments over time.

Factors like genetics, weight fluctuations, hormonal changes, pregnancy, and smoking can also impact when and how much breasts sag, Sabrina Sahni, MD, a family medicine physician and women's health expert at the Mayo Clinic, told Health.

However, Dr. Sahni said that some of the sagging may be lessened by wearing a bra, especially for those who have larger, more dense breasts. "What can happen if you don't wear something that's supportive is that you can get little micro-traumas in your Cooper's ligaments [your breast's supportive ligaments], which can sometimes accelerate that sagging process," Dr. Sahni explained.

Why does going braless potentially result in sagging for those whose breasts are large? Because the heavier breasts are, the more strain they put on the glands inside the breast and the overlying skin, Jordan Jacobs, MD, chief of plastic surgery at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York City, told Health.

If you are someone with large breasts who wants to possibly prevent some degree of sagging, you might not want to go braless for months on end...though how long it takes for any sag to happen is impossible to know, Dr. Jacobs said, since it depends on so many factors. But otherwise, going braless for the long-term is unlikely to have a considerable effect on sagging.

Training Your Breasts

I'd heard that not wearing a bra can make it so you won't need to wear a bra in the future; the thought behind this was that your breasts will stay perkier as you get older because you've trained your muscles to not need the support. But this notion is incorrect.

"One thing that I always tell women is that you have to remember that the breast is made up of fat and glandular tissue, so it really can't be strengthened in the same way that your muscle can," Dr. Sahni explained.

In other words, going braless isn't "training" your muscles—that's just not how the body is set up anatomically. The pec muscles in your chest can be strengthened through push-ups and chest presses, Dr. Sahni pointed out, but that won't have an effect on whether or not your breasts sag.

Breast Cancer

"There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that wearing a bra or not wearing a bra will impact your overall breast cancer risk," Dr. Sahni said, and backed up by the American Cancer Society. Many factors can play a part in your breast cancer risk, but going braless isn't one of them.

The bottom line: "Generally speaking, wearing or not wearing a bra really won't have a significant impact on your overall health," Dr. Sahni said, adding that it's entirely a personal choice.

Is There Anyone Who Shouldn't Go Braless?

For most, going braless comes down to a personal decision. But in some cases, healthcare providers recommend that a person continue wearing one.

"In some women who experience a lot of breast pain (which can be related to ptosis but also other factors such as hormone fluctuations), we do recommend wearing a supportive bra as one of the measures that may help," Dr. Attai said.

Wearing a bra might be beneficial for those with larger breasts, too. "It can provide additional support, it can help with posture, and it really can alleviate some of the strain on the back, neck, and shoulders," Dr. Sahni said. One of the most common things healthcare providers hear from those who go braless is that they have back pain, Dr. Sahni added.

For people with these concerns, Dr. Sahni said the suggestion is to find a bra that's "supportive for your body shape, that's comfortable, that you can wear as much as you want to."

Alternatives To Going Braless

Going braless isn't for everyone, but I certainly haven't been alone in this quest for comfort.

Since the 2020 COVID pandemic began, there's been a shift from "hard clothing" to "soft clothing," such as loungewear, Cora Harrington, founder of The Lingerie Addict, a blog dedicated to intimate apparel, told Health. That trend toward soft clothing extends to undergarments too, particularly bras.

"People are preferring wire-free bras, bralettes, sleep bras, lounge bras, that sort of thing over underwire bras," Harrington said. When at home, they don't feel that they need to have that harder support, that firmer structure that they might want if they were leaving the house, Harrington added.

Comfort is the primary factor people are considering when purchasing bras to wear at home. "People want to wear something at home that's comfortable, that feels good, but that also works when they need to be on a Zoom call or that works as far as what they need to do around the house," Harrington explained.

For some people, that might mean wearing a sports bra. "A sports bra that properly supports the skin and supports the gland is absolutely just as efficacious as an underwire bra," Dr. Jacobs said.

In fact, while Dr. Jacobs said it's "absolutely fine to take a break from wearing a bra," finding a bra that is more comfortable, like a sports bra, and that still maintains support is a happy medium in preventing ptosis in the long run for those who are at risk.

Dr. Sahni also said that wearing a supportive and comfortable sports bra as your daily bra is fine.

"A lot of other physicians or people might argue that you can get an increased risk of dermatologic issues on the breast if you're wearing something really tight and compressive, and you can have things like rashes or skin irritation, but it really comes down to getting something that fits really well and that you feel comfortable in," Dr. Sahni explained.

A Quick Review

Ultimately, the answer to the question "to wear or not to wear a bra" is up to you. There is no evidence that bras are good or bad for your health. If you are at risk for ptosis, it may be worth finding a comfortable, supportive bra. If you have any concerns about your breast health, reach out to a healthcare provider.

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