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According to an investigation by The Huffington Post, the shapewear beloved by red carpet actresses and normal people going to adult proms is not good for you at all. Doctors warn that Spanx can cause tingling and numbness in the legs, which can lead to blood clots. Blood clots, as you may know, can kill you!
Spanx, founded by Sara Blakely, is the most popular brand of shapewear. There are many options now as far as cut and style go, but the main idea is that it’s skintight underwear that squishes in your stomach so it looks better in dresses.
In addition to giving you a blood clot, Spanx can “worsen acid reflux and heartburn” and “provoke erosive esophagitis,” according to Dr. John Kuemmerle. Dr. Maryann Mikhail warns that the super-tight granny panties can also cause yeast and bacterial infections. Oh, and Spanx can make you pee your pants and pass gas uncontrollably. What, may we ask, is the point of wearing shapewear to a fancy event if it’s going to make you lose control of your bowels?
Spanx aren’t the only body-squeezing clothing item to have serious side effects. As The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012, skinny jeans can cause back pain and “a rare condition called lipoatrophia semicircularis, in which horizontal lesions appear around the thighs.”
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.
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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.
Watch skin reaction
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.”
Not too tight
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.
Use common sense
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 percent. But be smart about your choices.”
Should You Be Worried About Wearing Shapewear?
From Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian’s prominent endorsements of “waist-training” corsets to Meb Keflezighi’s memorable display of compression socks when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon, garments that squeeze and cinch are trendier than ever.
But whether you’re after the smoothing effects of Spanx, the supposed weight-loss benefits of a corset, or the believed performance payoffs of compression workout gear, you may want to listen up.
Doctors warn that there are “real health risks to wearing extra-tight clothing for prolonged periods,” according to a new LA Times report. The dangers of too-tight clothing range from meralgia paresthetica, a condition characterized by burning nerve pain in the thighs (most common in pregnant women and people who gain weight quickly), to gastroesophageal reflux disease-a chronic digestive disease caused by pressure on internal organs which pushes acid backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. Other serious health issues like blood clots, back pain, and difficulty breathing are also a possibility. (Be sure to check out more dangers of wearing a corset for weight loss.)
Oh, and to up the ick factor, since women are more likely to avoid the bathroom while donning spandex, there’s also an increased risk for urinary tract infections, as well as an increased risk of yeast infections and skin irritation which can occur from sweating in tight compression gear.
But doctors aren’t saying you need to ditch your favorite compression gear and shapewear all together. The same doctors from the LA Times said most of these problems go away quickly when clothing pressure is off, so there’s no harm in wearing compression garments for short periods of time if they give you a perceived boost. And, hey, if elite athletes like Meb swear by them there must be some payoff, right?!
Well, studies are mixed when it comes to speed, but research suggests that runners who wear compression gear do experience reduced muscle soreness, as well as lower levels of blood lactate (a measure of lactic acid and exercise intensity), which could translate to a speedier recovery. Even if the research is still inconclusive, there’s certainly anecdotal evidence. “They increase blood flow, which speeds the rate at which you can rid your body of waste products,” said Tom Holland, a Connecticut-based exercise physiologist and triathlete who regularly wears compression garments.
So, go ahead, wear your favorite spandex or compression workout gear, just be sure to remove immediately post-workout so you don’t fall victim to any of these rather unpleasant side effects. And for your own good, just stay away from waist training corsets!
- By Kylie Gilbert @KylieMGilbert
For many women, shapewear is a gift from the gods, smoothing out any frustrating lumps and bumps that peek out from unforgiving fabrics. (We’re talking to you, silk.) A trusty pair of Spanx can be a serious confidence-boosting wardrobe staple for some (if it’s not your cup of tea, that’s totally fine too), and celebrities swear by shapewear during awards season. But is there a price to pay when you’re sucked in by spandex? Some experts say yes.
Wearing shapewear that’s too tight can make it hard to breathe and even cause digestive problems like acid reflux.
Anyone who has ever worn shapewear for more than an hour knows it can be hard to take a deep breath, let alone eat even a normal-size meal. So it’s no surprise that overly tight shapewear—like, if you reach for a size small when a medium is what you really should be wearing—can cause a variety of problems. “It can lead to shortness of breath, if worn too snug, which decreases your oxygen supply, leading to lightheadedness and dizziness,” Mara Weinstein, M.D., a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, tells SELF.
In addition, excess pressure on your body brought on by too-tight shapewear can squeeze your abdomen, leading to abdominal pain, Ruby Greywoode, M.D., a fellow in gastroenterology at the Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. It can also cause or worsen acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). “ shapewear may compress the stomach and prevent its contents from passing properly, and instead it can back up into the esophagus,” explains Greywoode.
It can also cause some unwelcome skin issues.
Wearing shapewear, which often doesn’t allow skin to breathe, can also cause certain uncomfortable skin problems. “It can exacerbate a condition called intertrigo, which is rash due to yeast that forms in the skin folds—underneath the breasts and the groin area especially,” Weinstein explains. “Yeast loves to grow in warm, moist areas,” so a sweaty spot trapped under tight fabric is prime real estate. Good times.
But you don’t have to ditch your Spanx just yet. Just follow these few simple pieces of advice.
Weinstein says you can still wear your shapewear as long as you limit it to short periods of time. That means about eight hours max, which should get you through a night out. Take time off in between wears—that is, don’t wear it every day—and, please, don’t sleep in your shapewear either. “A rule of thumb is to make sure your shapewear is not too tight,” she says. “It’s advisable to go into the store to have a representative help you find the right size rather than ordering online, which can be risky.” If the fabric is rolling or causing bulges, it’s probably too small.
It’s also worth noting that shapewear’s less sexy cousin, compression hose, may actually be a better alternative for some women. Compression stockings, which, unlike most shapewear, go just from foot to hip, can improve circulation and even help minimize varicose veins and spider veins. Since they’re not constricting your midsection, there’s no risk of abdominal pain or shortness of breath. “Compression hose can act as shapewear for the hips and thighs and also serve a dual purpose by improving circulation back to the heart, which prevents the development of spider veins, for example, and can help minimize varicose veins if they are small,” points out Weinstein. Sounds like a win-win to us.
If you’re interested in buying shapewear, you should first read our list of the most common rookie mistakes so you can avoid making them too.
Spanx Make You Look Fantastic But Could Be Hurting Your Health
We love form-fitting, super-sculpting shapewear as much as the next woman, but wow can it bring on a boatload of health troubles. If you’re only shimmying into Spanx (and similar brands) for a hot dinner date or for a fancy gala you attend every year, you’ll be just fine. But if you wear them as a part of your daily professional wardrobe, it might be time to reconsider all of that compression that lasts at least eight hours per day.
Let’s start from the top and work our way down, shall we?
If you wear any shapewear that covers your torso, you’re compressing your internal organs too much and for too long. This pressure impacts how much the diaphragm can inflate, which makes you much more likely to take a lot of shallow breaths rather than breathe at a normal rate and depth. It can also lead to unwanted acid reflux and associated disorders as you push unnecessarily on your entire digestive system for hours and hours at a time. It’s clearly not doing your actual digestion and bowels any favors, either.
Continuing to the pelvic area, you’re more likely to suffer from painful urinary tract infections, uncomfortable yeast infections and other forms of skin irritation when you wear these types of compression clothing for several reasons. First, they’re a pain in the ass to wrestle your way into initially, so a lot of women do their best to hold off on bathroom breaks as long as they can to avoid that struggle all over again. And second, they don’t breathe very well, so the longer you remain in them (especially if you’re particularly sweaty) the more you risk developing an infection. Hello, bacteria.
When you get to the leg region, you can face several problems. Some women experience an intense pain or tingling in their thighs when there is too much pressure on the nerves in the groin area, which is known medically as meralgia paresthetica. Pressure undoubtedly hinders proper circulation as well, which puts many women at risk of developing blood clots and varicose veins.
And if anyone is looking to shapewear for additional muscular support like strong posture, they’re actually just allowing the real muscles that they do have to degrade even further. An over-reliance on things like Spanx can leave them in a worse position than they started, which is obviously not ideal.
It’s surprising that a single piece of clothing can impact the internal body so significantly, but here we are. So if you insist on continuing to wear things like Spanx frequently, just promise us that you’ll at least go to the bathroom when your body tells you it’s time. And don’t be afraid of the reality that if you eat well and exercise, you probably have no real need for these painful items at all.
I am fat. Not the sort of “fat” that thin people think they are—the sort that is easily concealed by forgiving wrap dresses—but actually, legitimately fat. Some might prefer to use the term “plus-size” to describe a body like mine, but I call it like I see it.
You should know I am also from the South, where Dolly Parton, in Steel Magnolias, famously said “these thighs haven’t left the house without Lycra on them since I was 14,” a message that many of us, even into the early 2000s, took to heart.
My first piece of shapewear was a legitimate girdle, swiped from my mother’s lingerie drawer, and it made me feel thin for the first time. I would wear it under my jeans and T-shirts, thinking that it was somehow masking the fact that I was fatter than the other girls. It was the full-bodysuit type of girdle, that promised to smooth away back and belly fat alike. In reality, I looked a bit like an angry sausage—sweaty from the compression and all sucked into a too-tight binding. But I persisted, wearing that uncomfortable monstrosity throughout high school, when it finally fell apart at the seams. Fortunately, the loss of my first girdle cosmically coincided with the invention of Spanx, which promised to be every woman’s shapewear dream come true.
In reality, I looked a bit like an angry sausage—sweaty from the compression and all sucked into a too-tight binding.
Unlike the poorly-constructed, too restrictive garments of the past, Spanx offered smoothing and shaping that didn’t make you completely miserable. Or at least, that was the promise—if you’ve ever sweated through a pair of Spanx at an outdoor wedding, you know that these claims are not exactly scientific. But you shrug and carry on, because you can’t imagine life another way.
Spanx continued to be a regular part of my life well into my 20s, when I would wiggle into a pair before throwing on slacks for work, or use them to blur the “visible belly outline” on anything remotely form-fitting. If you are going to be fat in this society, I thought to myself, it’s important that you erase the most glaring reminders of your fatness—exposed fat skin, visible rolls of flesh—in order to avoid the most virulent hate. Strangers on the street have no problem telling you that you’re fat, and they’re certainly more likely to do it when you’re being visibly, unrepentantly fat.
At some point, the chafing and gastric distress of wearing these restrictive garments all sort of came to a head. There really is no watershed moment for deciding that you no longer want to struggle into one of those pairs of flesh-toned shorts and “Power Panties”—it’s more of a cumulative thing, a barrage of moments like picking the nylon out of your buttcrack in the middle of five-star restaurant, or sneaking off to a bathroom to readjust the shaper that’s settled onto the wrong part of your thigh and rubbed a wicked blister.
Since that day, I haven’t forced myself back into Spanx once, and surprisingly, my wardrobe has gotten so much better.
The first time I left the house in a dress with no Spanx, no shaper, no Lycra on my thighs at all, was equally liberating and terrifying. As a girl who didn’t wear many dresses growing up, not unless forced, I was convinced that I would be showing my entire ass (literally) to someone when the wrong gust of wind came. Even knee-length skirts felt like they could become scandalous at any second. Once discarded by teen-me as too feminine and fussy, I didn’t realize just how much a comfortable maxi or skater dress felt just like pajamas when you haven’t crammed your belly and thighs into a piece of fabric that is too small to contain them underneath.
Since that day, I haven’t forced myself back into Spanx once, and surprisingly, my wardrobe has gotten so much better. I hadn’t owned a dress since my mother was buying them for me, and now I have a closet full of them. I even bought a pair of shorts, something that was never a possibility before because they couldn’t be worn without a pair of shaping shorts underneath. My body is the largest that it has ever been, and at this point in my life, I am able to wear more things than I could even when I was younger and thinner.
My body is the largest that it has ever been, and at this point in my life, I am able to wear more things than I could even when I was younger and thinner.
Still, I haven’t thrown the Spanx or any of the other shapers I own into the garbage just yet. They still fill nearly an entire drawer. I see the nude, slgihtly shimmery Power Panties every time I change clothes, and I remember what they can do on days when your thighs feel too bumpy and your belly too big. There is occasionally a twinge that tells me I should put them back on, that my body deserves to be hidden from sight as effectively as possible, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
In the back of my mind, it seems as if there could always be some occasion, some outfit that could make me start sucking it all back in again. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Ultimately, I can’t help feeling like the shapewear sort of showed me that I actually like—and sometimes love—the way my body looks in clothes. And hey, nothing beats not having to worry about wedgies.
Could You Have ‘Spanx Syndrome’? The Body Shaper’s Hidden Health Hazards
FRIDAY, Mar. 9, 2012 — You’ve got to hand it to Sara Blakely: At age 41, the inventor of SPANX is the youngest woman to make Forbes Magazine’s 2012 list of world billionaires, and she did it all, as the magazine says, “without help from a husband or an inheritance.” Her body shapers have been worn by thousands of women of all shapes, ages, and sizes, from Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer (who famously admitted wearing three at a time on the red carpet) to Miley Cyrus (who called them “a gift from God”) to…well, this writer. And let’s not forget SPANX for Men: Tom Hanks says he wore them to tone up his tush under some baggier skivvies while filming a scene in Larry Crowne. So it may be a bit Grinch-y to point out that these popular undergarments have some health hazards attached — but the fact is, they do.
It all started with a blog post from Orly Avitzur, MD, who wrote on the Consumer Reports site in March 2011 about a 15-year-old patient who was suffering from numbness and tingling in her left thigh. As it turned out, the girl, who played soccer on her high school team, was wearing SPANX under her uniform, causing a compressed nerve in her pelvis as well as stomach pain after meals. But she wasn’t the only SPANX devotee — the entire team was wearing them.
Spandex, the same material that allows SPANX to hold in your muffin top, may make you look sleeker. But its tightness can also squeeze the nerve that runs down the abdomen to below the hipbone, causing a disorder known as meralgia paresthetica. In an earlier post on Consumer Reports, Dr. Avitzer noted that more and more young women were coming into doctors’ offices with signs of the condition like leg pain and aching.
Other skin-tight clothing like skinny jeans or leggings can also cause meralgia paresthetica. A 2007 paper published in the journal Military Medicine reported on two cases in U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq who were wearing protective body armor.
Pain isn’t the only health issue linked to SPANX. On an episode of his popular show, Dr. Mehmet Oz told an audience member who admitted to wearing spandex shapewear every day that their tightness makes it easy for bacteria to move from the anus to the vaginal area, causing urinary tract infections if they’re not washed often. He also advised not wearing shapewear after eating to avoid heartburn.
Most of these potential problems can be averted through good common sense. Like any tight clothing, SPANX shouldn’t be worn for days on end, and it’s a smart idea to wash them after each wearing to get rid of bacteria. Even meraglia paresthetica will go away on its own if you stop wearing tight clothing, although if there’s extensive damage to the nerve, it may take a while.
But no matter the health concerns, it’s a sure bet that most devotees, whether they’re celebrities or your next-door neighbors, wouldn’t give up their SPANX for the world.