April 24, 2012
Question of the Week: “Every time I strip off my sports bra after a workout, I have angry red lines on my chest, especially along the neckline and around my ribs. Could I be allergic to this bra?”
The short answer is “Yes, absolutely!” as I’ve personally heard from women who’ve had allergic reactions to elastics, dyes, or other fabric treatments in their sports bras. The heat, sweat, and friction you experience during a workout only aggravate any potentially touchy skin problems you may have.
Here are the most frequent triggers:
• Latex allergies. Although almost all sports bras now use spandex instead of latex rubber to give power to fabrics and elastics, it’s possible that some latex may be present in “vintage” bras or obscure brands from unknown sources. It’s easy to avoid by buying well-known brands and double-checking labels to make sure latex is not listed.
• Chemicals in fabric dyes. It is rare to find natural dyes in athletic clothing because they tend to fade quickly with the constant “sweat-it-up-and-wash-it-again” treatment we give our workout gear. The synthetic dyes needed to keep your favorite sports bra brilliant pink, wash after wash, can trigger fiery skin rashes in some susceptible women. The dyes used to produce some colors are more aggravating than others: blue, black, green, and violet fabrics are more allergy-aggravating than grey or beige. If you have really sensitive skin, sticking to white sport bras (while boring!) could be your best defense against breakouts.
• Hot workout conditions. If you suddenly plunge into exercising in hot environments, your sports bra can give you prickly heat rash. Overheated, sweat-soaked fabrics can actually cause protein molecules in your sweat ducts to swell and rupture, which produces the nasty red rash! In addition to making sure you’ve gradually acclimated yourself to hot conditions, you can protect yourself by choosing quick-drying bra fabrics that help move the moisture away and prevent rash-causing sweat retention.
• Surplus friction. Sustained friction from a too-tight (or too-loose!) sports bra can cause skin-breaking abrasions that are not only painful but set you up for infections. Hot and sweaty conditions increase the amount of friction inflicted on your delicate skin. To minimize the damage, choose a bra that feels sleek inside and out (including stitching and fasteners), and fine-tune the fit around your chest so your bra stays comfortably put rather than shifting around and “flossing” you raw. Use a sport lube for extra protection.
I’m always interested in hearing more about this “touchy” subject, so if you’ve had your own nasty reaction to a sports bra, I hope you’ll share it here!