When you get dressed in the morning, you might consider the weather, your post-work plans, and how you seriously need to do laundry ASAP. But you probably don't think much about your health.
While proper hygiene and common sense can generally keep you safe, these hazards could be hiding in your closet:
1. Super-skinny jeans: Skinny jeans can compress nerves in the groin and legs, reducing blood flow to the lower legs. This can lead to muscle damage, swelling, and numbness. While these symptoms might sound a bit extreme, they recently caused a 35-year-old woman who squatted repeatedly while wearing skinny jeans to spend four days in the hospital, according to a freaky case study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.
But compression isn't the only issue: When you wear clothing that's too tight, the fabric rubs against your skin, which disrupts the skin barrier that protects you from infections, explains Josh Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. On top of that, skintight clothes make you sweat more, which creates a welcoming environment for viral, fungal, and bacterial infections, such as folliculitis, which can turn hair follicles into icky red bumps. While stripping down can help resolve things without a medical intervention, you could need cortisone cream, antifungal cream, or antibiotics to get rid of the rash. If skinny jeans are your go-to: Opt for ones that have a little stretch, wash them after every couple wears, and avoid squatting in them for prolonged periods of time, which can pinch the nerves and lead to bigger problems.
2. Control-top tights (and other restrictive shapewear): Stockings and Spanx might seem pretty harmless, but they can be just as destructive as denim. Experts say that too-tight shapewear can squish your organs and trigger stomach pain and acid reflux. If you still insist on wearing it, save it for special occasions and limit the time you spend sucked in there.
3. Rompers: These one-piece outfits are a breeze to put on, but they're a real bitch to take off when you have to pee. It's why you probably take fewer bathroom breaks (and drink less water) when you wear your romper.
When you ignore the urge to pee, urine hangs around in the bladder where it can cause pain just above the pubic bone or in the lower back, fever, pain during sex, and other symptoms that accompany bladder infections, explains Jill Rabin, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine in New Hyde Park, New York, and the co-author of Mind Over Bladder.
You're no better off if your stay-in-this-romper strategy is to just drink less: This can also agitate a bladder infection—and affect every other system in your body, including the digestive system, which will almost definitely slow down without the liquid that keeps everything moving along. So drink up and schedule potty breaks at least every three hours.
4. Last night's pajamas: People forget about nightwear, but it's just as important to change your PJs as it is to change your underwear, Dr. Rabin says—particularly for people who sleep without underwear. You don't want to put dirty PJs next to your urethra because bacteria can get up there, she adds. An easy solution: Sleep in clean pajamas every night (or at least layer clean underwear between you and your PJ bottoms).
5. Thongs: When you let a skimpy pair slip between your rectum and vagina, the fabric can carry rectal bacteria and viruses that could cause a vaginal infection. (It's why you shouldn't wear thongs in certain situations where your immunity is already compromised.) Your best bet is to wear a thong that fits—ill-fitting undergarments are more likely to shift around.
6. Leggings: Leggings hug the body, and the closer clothing is to your body, the more it rubs against your skin, picking up sweat and oil in the process. In other words: Your leggings might just be the filthiest clothing item you own. Wear them to the gym (or IRL) more than a couple times between laundry days, and you can set yourself up for fungal infections like ringworm, which can lead to scaly skin patches that peel or flake, and rashes, Dr. Zeichner says.
7. Bathing suits: A warm, moist bikini bottom makes a lovely home for yeast and bacteria to flourish. Synthetic fabrics can keep that moisture in place, explains Owen Montgomery, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you're prone to infections (you'll know because you'll get them all the time), a bathing suit that's wet can really increase your risk. But you don't have to skip the swim. Instead, change into dry bottoms as soon as you step out of the pool. And because ill-fitting bikini bottoms can reduce air circulation in the crotch area, which can also set you up for infection, make sure your bathing suits fit properly—the edges shouldn't leave indentations on your skin. A little give can also prevent sweat gland blockage and the itchy red bumps that result from it, Dr. Zeichner says.
8. Colored underwear: Fabric dye can irritate the delicate skin around your vagina—especially if you already have sensitive skin or you're prone to recurring vaginal infections, says Dr. Montgomery. While brand new, colored underwear made of a synthetic material is likely to be the worst offender, white cotton is always your best bet, he adds.
9. Jeans—or any pants that have a rivet button clasp: Because this hardware tends to contain nickel, one of the most common skin irritants, it could trigger a rash just below your belly button, Dr. Zeichner says. If you've ever reacted this way, there's an easy fix: Just paint the rivet with clear nail polish or iron on a small patch. Either solution will provide a barrier between the metal and your skin.
10. Underwire bras: Like rivets, your bra's underwire (and its claps and any metal strap adjusters) is likely made of nickel. To protect yourself without forgoing support, replace any bra with an underwire that pokes out, position the bra clasp cover between the metal and your skin, and paint strap hardware with nail polish if you get itchy in that area.
11. Sweatbands: Of course sweatbands sop up sweat, but they also collect bacteria that can stick around even after the fabric dries. If you're predisposed to breakouts, a repeat wear can redistribute the bacteria and exacerbate acne. It might not lead to imminent death but can have a significant psychosocial impact that affects quality of life, messing with your self-esteem and affecting your social life, just as much as life-threatening conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, Dr. Zeichner says.
12. High heels: Besides the obvious risk of falling victim to gravity (and making a fool of yourself), wearing high heels even a few times per week for a few years can lead to an ankle muscle imbalance that can set you up for injury, according to a recent study published in International Journal of Clinical Practice. Luckily, the researchers say that heel lifts (stand barefoot and come up onto your tippy toes) and heel drops (stand on the edge of a stair and slowly lower your heel over the edge) can help if flats aren't an option.
13. Flip-flops: Experts say that flip-flops expose your feet to all the gross things: bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can trigger an infection if you have so much as a hangnail or a microscopic skin tear and a not-so-top-notch immune system. On top of that, your sorry excuse for sandals can cause heel pain, disfigure your toes, and affect your posture to trigger a host of other aches and pains. So save your flip-flops for the gym shower and pool deck, and rely on more supportive footwear to take you everywhere else.