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Dress for Success—and Your Health

Are you a slave to fashion? You might be doing damage to more than just your pocketbook. For women, ill-fitting, irritating, or otherwise inappropriate clothing and accessories could contribute to health issues ranging from back pain to crooked toes to eye infections. Avoid these faux pas by shopping smarter—and healthier.

What lies beneath

First things first: Good undergarments are the foundation of any look. Given their important functions and their close proximity to sensitive areas, your bra and underwear should be selected as much for function as for fashion.

Not only does a properly fitting bra support your breasts, it can also prevent pinched nerves and neck and back pain. But researchers suspect most women don't know their 32As from their 36Bs. Check that:

  • The front band touches your sternum.

  • No skin bulges above the side or back of the band.

  • Your breasts don't bulge out of the cups, and cups aren't wrinkled.

  • Straps don't dig into or slip off shoulders.

  • Underwires rest on your ribs and sternum, not on your breasts.

When it comes to bikinis or briefs, all-cotton styles allow air flow to your nether regions, reducing irritation and infection. And thigh-high or knee-high stockings may prove more comfortable than pantyhose.

Smart steps

Your feet take on a weighty task. During the average day, they'll endure several hundred tons of pressure. The right footwear can mean the difference between easy striding and painful pacing.

Keep these tips in mind when picking your new kicks:

  • Aim low. Heels higher than two inches overload the ball of your foot, causing pain and numbness. They can also contribute to ankle injuries, instability, and falls. But flats can also lack support, so wear them for limited periods and try adding inserts.

  • Go natural. Choose boots and shoes made of leather instead of synthetic materials. They allow air to flow in and keep feet dry. For sandals and flip-flops, leather prevents blisters.

  • Miss this point. Pointy shoes that pinch your toes can aggravate hammertoe, a painful bend in your toe joints. Seek out styles with deep, roomy toe boxes.

Shoes don't have to look like your grandma's to be comfortable. Stylish "comfort" or "performance" pumps blend the support of an athletic shoe with the look of a dress shoe.

In the bag

The perfect clutch or hobo can put the finishing touch on your look. But if it's too heavy or improperly positioned, it can restrict blood flow at your shoulder, squeeze nerves in your neck, affect your balance, and cause pain down to your lower back.

Choose a bag that's proportionate to your body size and no bigger than what you need. Have several on hand—small purses for short errands, and knapsacks or backpacks for longer trips. Avoid tote-style bags that place heavy loads on just one shoulder; place longer straps over the opposite shoulder to evenly distribute weight across your back.

Back-friendly features include individual compartments that help you distribute weight evenly, and wide padded straps that don't put too much pressure on your shoulders. Bags made of microfiber and fabric are lighter than those made of heavy leathers. No matter which satchel you select, make sure it weighs no more than 10 to 15 percent of your weight when it's fully loaded.

Beads and baubles

Necklaces, earrings, and other adornments should help you sparkle and shine—not itch and swell. But many people have allergic reactions to metals in jewelry, especially nickel, which is used in pieces that are made of gold, metal alloys, or chrome.

This allergy, known as contact dermatitis, often begins when you first pierce your ears. To prevent it, wear only stainless steel or solid gold studs for the first three weeks, until the piercing has completely healed. See your doctor or an allergist if you develop symptoms of nickel allergy, including a red rash that looks like poison ivy. If you're already nickel-sensitive, look for jewelry labeled nickel-free.

Making it up

Since ancient times, women have used makeup to make their eyes brighter, their lips redder, and their lashes longer. In modern times, the FDA regulates cosmetics to help keep consumers safe. But you still play a role in choosing and using them correctly:

  • Read labels. The FDA requires that cosmetics list all ingredients. Check for any components you're allergic to and avoid eye makeup that contains kohl, which contains bits of heavy metals like lead.

  • Skip double-dipping. Use products only for their intended purposes—for instance, don't use lip liner on your eyelids. You might contaminate your eyes with bacteria from your mouth, or expose them to unsafe ingredients.

  • Don't dye it. Eyebrow and lash dyes have been known to cause serious eye injuries. Stick to mascara—but never share or swap tubes, don't keep it for longer than three months, and avoid applying while in a moving vehicle.