Is Polyester Underwear Bad For Your Health?

 A man wearing black briefs stands in front of a blue couch and large wall mirror.

Underwear is an article of clothing that many of us probably don’t register putting on every day. It’s simply a habitual necessity, but did you know that your underwear can affect the health of your genitals? The general consensus between experts is that natural fabrics are the healthiest choice for underwear but a lot of underwear is made of synthetic fabrics, namely polyester. The bad rap that polyester fabric gets may have you questioning: is polyester underwear bad for your health? That’s what we’re here to find out!

Why do we wear underwear in the first place? It’s mostly to protect our privates! That’s why getting your hands on that perfect pair of underwear is so important! You don’t want the barrier that’s meant to protect your intimates to be causing extra problems. Before we can answer the question “Is polyester underwear bad?” we have to look at some polyester underwear facts and determine what makes for a great pair of undies. Let’s get right into it!


A woman wearing white panties stands in a bathroom with her hands on the back hemline of her underwear.

When questioning “Are polyester underwear bad?” It's best to start with the reasons why polyester underwear is so popular. The main feature that makes polyester underwear unique is how lightweight it is. This makes it a popular choice for people trying to avoid panty lines because polyester is a great fabric for seamless, near-invisible underwear. 

Before we get to the traits that make polyester underwear bad, here are some of its attractive qualities:

  • Tight and Supportive Fit

Polyester underwear is the most popular choice for workout underwear (especially for men) due to how supportive the fabric is. Because polyester usually clings to the skin and conforms to your unique shape, it also helps to hold everything in place (ahem, your crown jewels, gentlemen). The tight, lightweight nature of polyester also makes it easy to forget you’re wearing undies in the first place. They’re sure to stay in place throughout your whole workout without distracting you by moving around. 

  • Allows Full Range of Movement

While the draw of polyester underwear is the tight fit, it’s in no way restrictive. Polyester is lightweight enough to make for underwear that moves with your body. It is often stretchy while still remaining form-fitting. 

  • Water Repellant

A big draw of polyester underwear is considered to be its moisture-wicking properties. However, on its own, polyester is not a water-resistant fabric. In fact, it traps moisture. However, many brands make workout underwear with “moisture-repelling technology.” This type of underwear uses polyester as a base but is actually blended with other synthetic materials to achieve a moisture-wicking nature. 


A woman wearing a black bralette and black underwear stands with her hands on top of a wooden chair in a space full of art sketches

Out of all the qualities that can determine whether polyester underwear is good or bad, I’m sorry to say more evidence points towards the side that makes polyester underwear bad. The cons of polyester relate to both your health and its harmful effect on the environment. When you start considering all of those downsides, the cons begin to outweigh the pros. 

Before we can make an informed conclusion let’s take a look at the things that make polyester underwear bad:

  • Can Irritate Skin

The synthetic contents in polyester fabric are known to cause itchiness, redness, and rashes when coming into contact with the skin. Some people are more inclined to be affected by this type of irritation than others. The problem with polyester underwear specifically is that these harmful skin irritants are also coming into contact with the most intimate, vulnerable part of your body. Wearing polyester undies all day can result in some major discomfort in the evening.

  • Non-Breathable

The other big downside of polyester undies is the fact that they don’t allow any airflow to let your genitals breathe. It can get warm and downright swampy down there so wearing underwear that lets your downstairs breathe is a must! Not only does the non-breathability of polyester affect your comfort, but it also creates the perfect breeding ground for bad bacteria (which can lead to various infections). 

  • Harmful To The Environment

black skull and crossbones on yellow sign

Polyester fabric is essentially a form of plastic. Its production produces around 27.2 kg of carbon emissions per kg of woven fabric. The disposal of residue from this process often results in soil and water pollution. The dyeing process is responsible for a majority of the harmful environmental impact because it requires a lot of energy, water, and the handling of toxic chemicals. 

While many plastic products (like PET water bottles) can be recycled, polyester fabric is extremely difficult to recycle and often requires the addition of new polyester to prevent the degradation of the fabric. That kind of defeats the purpose, huh?


 A woman wearing purple underwear leans against a window sill.

After processing all that information, the answer to “Are polyester underwear bad” seems like a pretty clear “yes.” At the very least, polyester shouldn’t make up the majority of your intimates drawer. That said, what other options are there? Quite a few, actually! And all the ones worth mentioning are made of natural fabrics which are always the healthier choice for your body!

A smiling man wearing brown boxer briefs stands in a fenced backyard

Hemp underwear is pretty much the polar opposite of polyester underwear. They’re breathable, antimicrobial, and usually made using low impact dyes. Growing hemp and transforming it into fabric are processes that use up significantly less water and other resources than the production of polyester. Hemp is also the strongest natural fiber. A pair of hemp undies is sure to last you a lot longer than anything made from polyester. That natural strength and durability also mean that hemp underwear offers a similar level of support without suffocating your genitals. 


Most sources will let you know that cotton is the best choice for underwear and that remains somewhat true (although I still prefer hemp because it has all the same benefits as cotton but with more structural integrity). However, traditionally produced cotton is quite unsustainable so I recommend looking for undies made from organic cotton. 


Tencel fabric is made from cellulose, more commonly known as wood pulp. It is sustainably sourced from beech trees and the production process is waste-free. It functions similarly to cotton, in terms of its breathability and softness, but it has a silkier texture. 


Hands holding a pair of white silk underwear above a red box

Silk is a great option for underwear, although often considered luxurious. It’s a breathable and absorbent fabric, not to mention how soft and delicate it feels against your skin. While traditional silk comes with some ethical dilemmas (such as the use of live silkworms and questionable workplace conditions, including the use of child labor), there are many underwear options on the market made from ethical, sustainable silk. There are many vegan silk alternatives out there namely ones made of lotus roots or banana leaf fibers. Recycled silk is an option as well! 


I’m including this option mainly so people know that it exists, not because it’s my recommendation for the best type of underwear! Many brands and companies are beginning to use recycled textiles instead of newly produced synthetic textiles. Now, this recycled polyester isn’t made from existing polyester fabric but it is made from recycled plastic water bottles (which pose many environmental problems as well). 

While this option is much better for the environment than traditional polyester, the downsides of polyester underwear concerning your health remain the same. That said, for occasions when you might prefer polyester (ie. working out or swimwear), try looking out for recycled options to lessen the burden on our planet!


 A man wearing green briefs stands in front of a white wall surrounded by potted plants.


Yes. The production of polyester releases a carcinogen called antimony which is linked to causing cancer. Polyester also contains Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used to make the fabric waterproof. It can also contain formaldehyde, a finishing agent that is also linked to causing cancer, and Perfluorochemicals (PFCS), which are included to make the fabric stain-resistant and are linked to several health issues. 


There have been enough studies performed to suggest that the answer to this question is yes. One study, using dogs as the test subjects, showed evidence of a decrease in sperm count in the dogs that wore polyester underwear. While a lot of existing research pertains to male fertility, there is some evidence that wearing polyester underwear can have harmful effects on pregnant women and even lead to failed pregnancy. 


A woman with an arm tattoo, wearing a black bralette and matching underwear sits on a bed with white sheets

While the answer to the question “Is polyester underwear bad” leans more towards polyester underwear being a bad choice, there’s no need to panic if you do sometimes wear undies made of synthetic fabric. Yes, polyester underwear can have adverse effects on your skin and overall health. And yes, there are many other sustainable, natural underwear types to consider before going for polyester. 

However, an occasional jaunt in polyester underwear is not the end of the world. If you have some pairs of polyester undies in your drawer you don’t have to dash to get rid of them right away (though I would recommend wearing them less frequently). Simply move away from repurchasing them and try to find a healthier option that suits you best!

What’s your go-to choice for underwear fabric? If it’s polyester please share why! And let me know if anything shared in this post is making you think twice about that preference!

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