The Healthiest Women’s Underwear You Can Buy, According to Gynecologists
Boy shorts, briefs, or bikinis? We asked gynecologists to weigh in on the best underwear for a healthy vagina, whether they're panties for daily use, your period, pregnancy, and more.
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What are the best underwear for women?
Going shopping for underwear can be a bit overwhelming given the many options. There are multiple styles—bikini bottoms, boy shorts, thongs, and more—as well as a wide variety of materials including cotton, lace, and nylon, just to name a few. But is one type of underwear healthier for your vagina than another?
Well, let’s start with the option of no underwear at all. Is that healthy? In fact it’s recommended that you don’t wear underwear at night, if you can avoid it, to reduce your risk of yeast infections and other problems, And if you have a condition like vulvodynia, which is ongoing pain in the vulva (the proper name for external female genitalia), you should definitely avoid wearing underwear at night if you can, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
However, it’s not uncommon for people to sometimes skip wearing underwear during the day too, either because that area could benefit from a bit of ventilation or just because they want to, according to Kim Langdon, MD, a retired, board-certified OB-GYN in Grove City, Ohio.
However, Dr. Langdon does stress there is a point to wearing underwear, and understanding it can help take the guesswork of choosing the best, most healthy underwear for you (of course that’s as long as you’re changing your underwear enough).
Why women wear underwear
Dr. Langdon points out that, of course, underwear can help protect your clothing from vaginal discharge (which is often perfectly normal and healthy) and menstrual blood. That being said, it’s about more than just protecting your clothes. The vulva can be sensitive to chafing and other skin irritation so it could use some protection too.
Therefore, underwear can work as a barrier between the vulva and clothing (especially tight clothing) that could otherwise cause irritation. Here’s more on why we wear underwear.
What should women’s underwear be made of?
Not all underwear is created equal. There are types of underwear that can actually contribute to vaginal irritation. However, which materials, in particular, might irritate your individual body is “not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” notes Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, an OB-GYN affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Beverly Hills and an advocate for integrative women’s health.
Cotton and other natural fibers are good
Natural fibers, like cotton, are one of the best underwear fabrics to choose because it’s gentle to the skin, breathable, and comfortable. “Women can wear a variety of underwear and still maintain a healthy vagina,” says Cynthia Wesley, MD, an OB-GYN, affiliated with Atrium Health University City and Carolinas ContinueCARE Hospital at University in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Dr. Wesley prefers that the fabric that touches the vulva be made of cotton, which is both absorbable and allows for ventilation. Others, like Dr. Langdon, maintain that any breathable material that feels comfortable against your skin is a fine choice, and what feels comfortable may have as much to do with the cut of the panty as the material it is made of.
Synthetic fabrics are probably fine too, but it’s complicated
Experts used to recommend caution when it came to underwear made of synthetic materials like nylon, spandex, and polyester (especially if it was on the crotch lining). A 2003 study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology suggested that underwear made from synthetic fabrics was associated with a higher risk of yeast infections. (They also found other factors, like vaginal douching, to be linked to a yeast infection risk too.)
However, not all experts agree with the findings. “More recent studies that I believe to be of higher quality have shown no connection between underwear and yeast infections. Underwear can’t change vaginal pH; that is an inside job,” says Jen Gunter, MD, an OB-GYN and pain management physician as well as author of The Vagina Bible. A more important factor noted by Dr. Wesley is diet, and her advice for avoiding yeast infections is to monitor the sugar in your diet (and avoid consuming excessive quantities). Your hygiene choices play a more important role in your propensity to develop yeast infections, says Dr. Gilbert-Lenz. Douches, soaps, and harmful chemicals that strip the natural oils and shift your bacterial balance are a bigger issue than underwear fabric, she says. In addition, Dr. Langdon suggests that changing your underwear daily may help to maintain vaginal health, especially if you are prone to heavier discharge.
What’s the right cut for women’s underwear?
When it comes to styles, you can choose briefs, bikini, boy shorts, a thong, or a G-string. Which is the right cut? Again, the choice is personal but often hinges on these factors:
According to Dr. Wesley, it doesn’t really matter whether the material covers your butt. “Cheeks-in versus cheeks-out is a non-factor in terms of vaginal health,” says Dr. Wesley. However, the healthiest option is for the fabric to cover the labia (lips or folds of the skin around the vaginal opening).
The primary reason not to wear a thong or G-string panty is that when the fabric is between the cheeks, it comes into close contact with the anus and may end up acting as a wick for bacteria to be introduced from the bowel to the vagina, according to Dr. Langdon.
(Are you cleaning your underwear the correct way? Find out.)
What a thong or G-string cannot do is cause a yeast infection, according to Dr. Gunter. While some believe wearing a thong or G-string, which is tight against the vulva, can cause changes to the vaginal pH, studies have failed to demonstrate a negative impact on vaginal pH, explains Dr. Gunter.
She also notes the only thing that can change the pH of the vulva is something waterproof, like plastic or latex, which isn’t an issue except in the case of incontinence underwear.
All of that being said, thongs and G-strings can irritate the vagina, and in particular the internal lining of the labia (the labia minora), according to Dr. Wesley. “Thongs and G-strings rub against the labia minora, where the skin is more delicate, and continued friction can lead to irritation and skin breakdown.” That said, there may be times you just want or need to wear them. If they’re a fashion must, Dr. Wesley advises selecting yours in a size that isn’t “too snug.” Here are more tips on how to wear a thong the healthy way.
Different panties for different uses
Women’s underwear is available not only in a variety of materials and cuts but also for a variety of purposes. For example:
Period panties are meant to be absorbent and leak proof so that women can wear them as their sole sanitary product during menstruation, although many women wear them in addition to other sanitary products such as tampons and pads. Period panties may also be used in the first postpartum weeks when there is bleeding but it isn’t safe yet to use a tampon.
Panties for pregnancy and menopause
Pregnancy itself is a time when women’s underwear needs may change, points out Dr. Wesley. For example, a woman who ordinarily prefers briefs may find them binding on her abdomen during pregnancy and will, therefore, be more comfortable in a bikini cut. In addition, pregnancy can cause vulvar sensitivity, which means a woman may be more comfortable in a pair of panties with a wider seat. Menopausal women may also experience sensitivity with a thinner seat, albeit as a result of vaginal dryness or of pubic hair loss, and women who choose to go “hairless” may also find thinner seats more irritating.
Some women prefer to wear performance underwear—made from a material that wicks moisture away—when they’re working out, notes Dr. Gunter, and that’s not unhealthy for the vagina for the limited time during which the performance underwear is worn.
Now, with the help of these four female gynecologists, we narrowed down the best types of women’s underwear you can buy on Amazon.
Hanes – High-Waist Cotton Brief
$16-$18 for 10, depending on size
The Hanes classic high-waist briefs are 100 percent cotton (in solid color and prints) and high-waisted for superior comfort. Notably, they are soft and breathable, which will prevent moisture from being trapped. This is a highly-rated product (73 percent 5-star reviews) with one Amazon reviewer writing, “If you are looking for your standard cotton panty, these are very good. The size is as expected. The quality is god. Good weight in the cotton.” (Think you have acne down there? Find out more about vaginal acne.)
Natori – Bliss Girl Brief
$38-$71 for three, depending on size
The Natori Bliss Girl Brief, which is made of 100 percent cotton with stretchy lace edges, comes highly recommended by Dr. Langdon. They’re not only breathable but also ultra-soft. And while they’re technically a brief, they have a bikini shape, which some women will find flattering. (Also, check out these bikini wax tips.)
Rael – Organic Cotton Basic Panties
$39.90 for three
Although the Rael brand is associated with organic, effective feminine care, these are not period panties. Rather, they’re basic briefs made from 100 percent organic cotton, and they come in eight different sizes. This means you’re more likely to find a pair that fits you properly.
Only Hearts – Organic Cotton Bikini Panty
$21-$25 for one, depending on size
Made of 100 percent organic supima cotton, which contributes to its breathable and light feel, the pair comes with a narrow elastic band. Amazon reviewers rave how wearing them feels like you’re “not wearing anything.” (Find out what your vagina wants to tell you.)
Knitlord – Cotton Breathable Thong
$12 for six
Made of breathable cotton with a 100 percent cotton crotch lining, the Knitlord is one of the most comfortable and well-priced thongs you can buy. It’s also machine washable and retains its color even after multiple washes.
New Balance – Ultra Comfort Performance Seamless Brief
$17 for three
If you’re looking for the ultimate healthy performance panty, you can’t go wrong with this New Balance Ultra Comfort Performance Seamless Brief. Although it’s not made of natural fiber, you wouldn’t want it to be, according to Dr. Gunter, because a performance panty should be more about wicking away moisture than about absorbing it. Its seamless stretchy construction is comfortable under workout clothing, and the fabric, which is designed to eliminate odor, is washing machine and dryer safe (although for brighter colors, you’ll want to use cold water).
Intimate Portal – Under The Bump Maternity Panty
$18 to $32 for five, depending on size
This breathable, absorbable maternity panty has a 100 percent cotton crotch and is cut super low to fit under your rounded abdominal area without binding or pressure (it also works as a postpartum panty, even for those who deliver by C-section). Although it’s not made of organic cotton, it is lab-tested to ensure that it is free from harmful chemicals and heavy metals. And because it’s a maternity panty, the lining is intentionally a light color to make it easier for you to detect any unusual spotting.
Thinx – Organic Cotton Period Brief
$34 for one
Dr. Wesley loves the Thinx period underwear line because, among other things, you can choose your level of absorbency. It’s also leak-proof and easy to rinse and reuse. This particular pair is meant for “moderate absorbency,” which is the equivalent of one and a half tampons. You will be washing your panties more often during your period, but using fewer tampons because of it. (Think you’re ovulating? Here are the signs of ovulation.)
THINX – Speax Incontinence Underwear
$39 for one
Thinx doesn’t just make period panties. They also make panties for women dealing with incontinence, and this pair is specifically recommended by Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. Although Thinx Speakx looks and feels like everyday underwear and is made with soft and breathable fabric, its leak protection is effective and won’t leave you feeling like you’re wearing a diaper.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Vulvodynia
- Kim Langdon, MD, retired, board-certified OB/GYN in Grove City, Ohio, and on the medical advisory board for Medzino
- Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Beverly Hills and an advocate for integrative women’s health
- Cynthia Wesley, MD, OB/GYN, affiliated with Atrium Health University City and Carolinas ContinueCARE Hospital at University in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Jen Gunter, MD, OB/GYN and pain medicine physician in San Francisco, and author of The Vagina Bible
- European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology: "An epidemiological survey of vulvovaginal candidiasis in Italy"