Do bras cause saggy breasts?

For Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports scientist from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Besançon, France, this very question inspired a substantial 15-year study, the results of which were reported in April 2013.

For as long as the brassiere has been around, lingerie enthusiasts have convinced us that wearing one every day improves overall posture, helps prevent back pain and might even stop ptosis – the medical term for drooping or sagging breasts.

Anatomically, breasts are composed of soft mammary glands, milk ducts, fat tissue and Cooper’s ligaments. As no muscles are present, there are no completely foolproof exercises a woman can do to truly prevent ptosis, in the same way that you might do sit-ups to tighten up your abs, although certain exercises might keep the ligaments tighter for longer. It makes sense therefore, that we could be easily persuaded to wear a bra to prevent the sag of age.

In the Western world, ever since puberty prompts teenagers to venture into the training bra aisle of their local department store, it is rather drummed into the fairer sex that a bra should be worn daily. Certainly the wearing of this garment can help improve the appearance of breasts for both greater and lesser-endowed ladies, camouflage nipples in appropriate situations (such as with see-through blouses worn as office wear) and provide comfort and support during exercise. Equally, well-made underwear can make you feel sexier and give you an extra boost of confidence when wearing tighter clothing, but do bras actually help maintain the uplift they temporarily provide every time they’re worn?

With this in mind, Professor Rouillon embarked on his study back in 1997, during which he regularly measured the changing breast positions of 320 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35 using a simple slide ruler and caliper. His research revealed the following about the women who chose not to wear bras during the course of his research:

‘Medically, physiologically, anatomically — breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity,’ Rouillon concluded confidently on French radio in April. ‘On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra!’

However the Professor was quick to point out in the Anglo-French newspaper The Local that, ‘these are preliminary results. The small sample of 320 young women is not representative of the entire population – that would require something like 300,000 subjects.’ Rouillon went on to stress that women shouldn’t bin their bras as a result of his findings, since there would be no benefit gained by a well-endowed 45-year-old mother of two.

Interestingly, Rouillon’s study isn’t the first of this type – a 1990 report from Japan’s Otsuma Women’s University claimed findings that wearing a bra increases ptosis, which was echoed 13 years later by another French researcher, Dr Laetitia Pierrot, who also claimed less droopy breasts after a one year study of the effects of going bra-less.

So where do these rather confusing results lead us? In the case of Rouillon, it’s only really to ascertain that a small group of younger women had slightly perkier breasts after a period of time sans upholstery.

There is to date no evidence that wearing a bra reduces or prevents ptosis. ‘Bras don’t prevent breasts from sagging,’ says Robert Mansell, Professor of Surgery at the University Hospital of Wales. ‘With regard to stretching of the breast ligaments and drooping in later life, that occurs very regularly anyway.’ Former Playtex CEO John Dixey agrees: ‘We have no medical evidence that wearing a bra could prevent sagging, because the breast itself is not muscle, so keeping it toned up is an impossibility.’

It has been medically proven that age, genetics, pregnancy (although interestingly not breastfeeding) and being overweight will directly correlate to the degree a woman’s breasts will sag over time. Smoking is also a key factor in ptosis, as it breaks down the elastin protein in skin, which is necessary for giving support and a more youthful appearance.

In conclusion, there is no bra in existence that will allow your breasts to stand up to the pull of gravity after the hooks are undone. It is however just slightly possible that, in younger women at least, wearing a bra might cause sagging. Ultimately it’s up to you whether you decide to wear supportive underwear or not – just make sure that if you do choose to wear a bra, it’s comfortable and fits correctly.

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