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8 Underwear Mistakes That Can Mess With Your Health (and Style)

Of course you would neeeever wear dark panties under light clothing. But all-over lace or barely-there thongs, you might—with consequences that go beyond embarrassing.

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The crotch is not cotton

Ideally, the whole kit and caboodle will be woven from these natural fibers, but at the very least, the center stretch should be lined in cotton to keep your nether region fresh and dry. Synthetic fabrics—like polyester and lace—can trap heat and moisture, irritating the skin and creating an environment for bacteria or fungus to overgrow and multiply. Silk (sorry) has the same effect. Save the fancy for special occasions, but otherwise stick with cotton—the fabric is light and breathable and can help reduce your risk of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and other less-than-pleasant issues. (Related: Here are 13 things your vagina secretly wants you to know.)

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The size is too small

Muffin top: that might be reason enough to make sure your skivvies fit well. And if you can, try before you buy: "There isn't a universal sizing system for brands," Miriam Hernandez, an intimate apparel stylist and designer, told TotalBeauty.com. "I've seen mediums that fit like extra smalls." So if you need to go up a size, do it in the name of unwanted pinches, panty lines and bulges—and perhaps even more importantly, for your vaginal health. Tight-fitting undergarments (and pantyhose for that matter) can keep you lady bits hot and sweaty—and not in the good way you're thinking, but more along the irritation- and infection-promoting lines. And about your man's parts in his tighty-whities: wearing briefs may up his chances of getting jock itch, but they won't mess with his sperm counts (myth!). Read more about these other myths about infertility.

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They come out of the washing machine smelling like flowers

Down-there skin can be sensitive and easily irritated by the perfumes used to give your laundry detergent the powerful lavender scent. The chemicals in fabric softener and dryer sheets can also cause a little itch and burn. Your best bet: detergent labeled hypoallergenic, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. (Related: These are other ways you might be messing up on laundry day.)

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You despise VPLs

...which likely means you adore thongs. But in an effort to avoid visible panty lines, you may be providing a direct lane for bacteria to travel from the back door to the front, raising your risk of infection. "If you have a little bacteria...in the back part of the fabric and you're physically active, the material may move," Jill Rabin, MD, associate professor of clinical obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told huffingtonpost.com. "All it has to do is move an inch or two and...that thong may be depositing colonic bacteria into your vagina or urethra." Plus, that little strip, especially if it's not made of cotton, may irritate vaginal tissue.

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You ignore the stains

Ewww all you want, but it's still important to eyeball discharge to check for changes. There can be a little more, or less, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle—but if it's clear to white, it's normal. Gray or greenish discharge, instead, could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis—an infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that normally live in the vagina. Discharge that looks like pus, or has a foamy or cottage-cheesy texture, may also indicate a problem. And if you're not yet grossed out: a little vaginal odor is normal, too, but strong, foul and noticeable may mean infection or other issues. Here's what else your vaginal discharge might reveal about your health.

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You sit in your sweaty underwear

After yoga class or a workout at the gym, you head home to shower, but have to stop at the bank real quick, pick up a few groceries for dinner, grab a cup of coffee, and an hour later, you're still in your icky workout undies. The combo of warm and wet can irritate the skin on the outside of your vagina (or vulva), leading to inflammation; become a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast; and may raise your risk of intertrigo, a rash that can appear in skin folds and creases that's caused by friction, lack of air circulation, and moisture.

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You sleep in your skivvies

For most women, not a problem. For others, however, going commando at night might do their vagina good. Women who suffer from chronic inflammation of the vulva or vagina are prone to vaginal yeast infections, itchiness and irritation, and are likely better off if they sleep without underpants, Alyssa Dweck, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Mount Kisco, New York told livescience.com. Since yeast and bacteria thrive in moist, warm places, a little aeration now and then may provide some relief. If you feel uncomfortable in the buff, opt for a loose pair of cotton underwear, or snag a pair of boxers from your hubby's drawer.

iStock/Francesco Scatena

You wear white under white

No, it's not going to mess with your physical health, but please file this under "neeeevers" as well: white underwear under white anything will show—bright, clear, and embarrassing. Undies as close to your skin tone as possible won't. You're welcome.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest