Some countries are banning lace underwear. Is there a true medical reason?

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published May 14, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan banned lace underwear in 2014 based on the fabric’s lack of moisture-wicking ability. 

  • The ban was part of a Moscow-led Customs Union regulation rule that said any clothing that touches skin must be made with at least 6% cotton. 

  • Experts do think that there’s good reason for people with vaginas to avoid underwear made from synthetic fibers, as the lack of airflow could lead to infections and rashes.

Certain countries—including Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan—have banned certain types of underwear, including those made from lace. While this ban originally took place in 2014, recent news reports are revisiting the story and asking the question: Why?[][] 

The ban stemmed from a Moscow-led Customs Union regulatory rule, which required all clothing that comes in contact with the skin must be made from at least 6% cotton—for “safety reasons,” according to a 2014 article published by CNN. CNN also reported that the regulation was approved in 2011, but was not enforced as law until 2014.[]

The regulation was based on the need for hygroscopicity—which refers to, in this case, a fabric’s ability to absorb moisture. At the time, Kazakh women took to the streets to protest the regulation, even leading to some arrests. The ban also led to people making their own underwear using 3D printers, writes the Moscow Times.[][][]

“Most luxury lingerie is made of materials with less than 4% cotton — and will not be allowed,” CNN reported at the time. Clothing—not just underwear—that did not meet the new requirement was not to be imported, made, or sold in Russia, Belarus, or Kazakhstan.[][]

According to a statement released by the Union, regulation minister Valery Koreshkov said, “Compliance with the specified hygroscopicity indicator can be achieved by manufacturers through the use of modern technologies, combining various types of materials, including innovative, new design solutions.” MDLinx is unaware of any additional statements released about the ban from the Eurasian Economic Commission, as was expected in 2014.[] 

According to the Associated Press, more than $4 billion worth of underwear was sold in Russia each year (as of 2014). “Analysts have estimated that 90%of products would disappear from shelves if the ban goes into effect this summer as planned,” they reported.[]

What do healthcare practitioners say about these bans?

In response to the ban, Yahoo UK asked sexual and reproductive healthcare expert Deborah Lee of Dr. Fox Online Pharmacy if she thought a similar ban could happen in a country like the United Kingdom. The response? She found it hard to believe.[] 

"The right to clothing is a human right, and choosing what to wear is accepted as a form of self-expression,” she told Yahoo UK. “It does make sense to raise awareness in women about the potential health risks of wearing fashionable, but less hygienic, underwear, so they can choose for themselves.”

Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, chief medical officer of Bonafide Health, tells MDLinx that while many patients can wear any type of material against their vulva, there may be others whose skin is more sensitive—leading to infection or skin rashes. “Fabrics that are moisture-wicking or absorbent tend to be best tolerated since bacteria and yeast thrive in dark moist environments,” Dr. Dweck says. “Synthetic fabrics don't allow the area to ‘breathe,’ thus potentially increasing the risk of rash or infection.”

Additionally, Dr. Dweck says that patients may want to opt for organic cotton and other natural fibers, as “these materials are harvested without pesticides—some of which may have ill effects including endocrine disruption properties.”

Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, a board-certified physician assistant specializing in sexual medicine, women's health, and urology, specifies that patients may want to avoid lace, nylon, satin, and pure polyester underwear. “Along with [the type of fabric], cut and compression can also be damaging to the genitals. Thongs and spandex materials limit airflow and breathability leading to more retained moisture,” Fosnight says. 

“Fabrics such as cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp allow the genitals to breathe. These fabrics can actually wick away moisture. Research shows that to promote optimal vulvar health, good air circulation is a must,” Fosnight adds. 

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