How to bind your chest safely, according to experts

Emilee Geist

Chest binders can be useful for anyone who wants to flatten the appearance of their chest. <p class="copyright">GC2B</p>
Chest binders can be useful for anyone who wants to flatten the appearance of their chest.

  • To bind your chest, experts recommend using a chest binder for the safest and most effective results. 

  • If you are unable to purchase a chest binder, you may be able to use a sports bra, or wear loose-fitting clothing to effectively flatten the appearance of your chest. 

  • However, there are many health risks that come with chest binding, so it’s important to understand how to do it properly. 

  • This article was medically reviewed by Zil Goldstein, the associate medical director of Transgender and Gender Non-Binary Health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York.

  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Chest binding flattens your chest to create a masculine or non-binary appearance. Since breasts are seen as a traditionally feminine characteristic, chest binding can help individuals alleviate gender dysphoria, which is a discomfort toward one’s physical or perceived gender expression.

When done correctly, chest binding can effectively flatten your chest without major health risks. When done incorrectly, you may risk adverse health effects like obstructed breathing and cutting off circulation to your extremities, says Ellen Selkie, MD, an adolescent pediatrician who specializes in LGBT+ youth at Michigan Medicine. 

The best way to chest bind is by using a garment specifically designed for chest binding, says David Rosenthal, MD, the medical director of the Center for Transgender Care at Northwell Health in New York. 

However, if you are not able to purchase a chest binder or prefer another option, you may be able to use sports bras or kinesiology tape, like TransTape, as a safe replacement to flatten the appearance of your chest, though experts recommend a commercial chest binder. 

Here’s what you need to know to bind your chest safely, with a binder or without.  

What is a chest binder? 

A chest binder is a garment designed to flatten the appearance of your chest — but still be flexible enough to allow the rib cage to expand and let you breathe. Binders can cover your torso and extend down towards your diaphragm. Others extend down to the hips. 

The length of garment depends on your preference. Some people only want their chest compressed. Others may opt for full-torso compression to flatten hips, stomach, and otherwise create a more masculine appearance. 

Where to get a chest binder

Binders are typically sold online and cost around $30. Some of the most popular brands include GC2B, founded in 2015 by Marli Washington, a trans man who studied product design at the University of the Arts Industrial Design. Underworks also sells chest binders, though they’re not specifically made for transgender individuals. 

Selkie stresses the importance of finding a properly fitting binder when you first start. Tight binders can cut off breathing, irritate your skin, or give you back pain — and loose binders won’t give you the proper chest compression you want. 

If purchasing your binder online, have a good look at the binder sizing chart and mark down your own measurements with a tape measure. The GC2B sizing chart, for example, requires measurements around the chest and between your shoulders. For a binder, chest measurements must be taken around the nipples, as it has the most breast tissue. Always round up when taking torso measurements. 

“Some people might think that going down a size will make their chest look even flatter, but properly sized binders are already designed to be tight and going any tighter could cause health problems,” Selkie says. 

Selkie also recommends looking at the site’s binder return policy in case yours doesn’t fit, as well as redoing your measurements if you gain or lose more than 15 pounds to ensure you get the right binder size. 

How to put on a binder

You can try putting on a binder like you would a sports bra — pull it over your head and then stick your arms through. However, binders are especially tight when you first buy them, so you might find it difficult to put on. 

If the sports bra method of putting on the binder doesn’t work for you, consider this alternative method of putting on a binder: 

  • Flip the binder inside out. Then turn it upside down and step into it like you’re putting on a pair of shorts.  

  • Pull the binder over your hips until it reaches your chest. The binder should be covering your stomach, but may feel a little too tight around your hips. If your binder makes audible tearing noises as you pull it up your legs, stop immediately. You could rip your binder and damage the compression material.

  • Put your arms through the arm holes. The binder should fit snugly around your shoulders and chest, providing an even compression. 

  • Adjust the binder. Move your breasts in a position that feels comfortable, yet compressed. In the end, your binder should feel like a larger, tighter sports bra. You shouldn’t feel like you’re being cut or squeezed. 

How long you should wear a chest binder

Both Selkie and Rosenthal say that you shouldn’t wear a chest binder for more than eight consecutive hours, otherwise you’re more likely to experience back pain, breathing problems, and other side effects. 

Overall, you should take plenty of breaks every hour or two when you first use your binder, and set aside one day a week in which you don’t use your binder at all so that your body adjusts to the compression. 

Remember to follow these important tips to wear your binder safely: 

 

When to see a doctor

Commercial chest binders can be used without medical supervision, but you should stop using the binder and see a medical professional if you experience the following side effects.  

On rare occasions, Selkie says, binding can cause: 

Otherwise, take off your binder and consider purchasing a looser version if you experience:

  • Back pain

  • Skin problems such as rashes, acne, sores, and skin infections

  • Restricted breathing 

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness or chest pain

  • Bruising, redness, or sweating

  • Dehydration or decreased urine output 

According to GC2B, discomfort is a sign that your body needs a break from binding. However, many people experience these side effects. For example, a 2015 study published in Culture, Health, and Sexuality found that nearly 54% of the 1,800 chest binding participants experienced back pain.

You should not wear your binder through the pain. Some tips, like keeping a straight posture, can help you stave off an aching back. But overall, Rosenthal says you should talk to your doctor and look for a more comfortable binder if you experience any of the side effects above. 

How to bind your chest without a binder 

While chest binders provide the safest binding experience, it’s possible to safely bind your chest without a chest binder. 

Certain drag performers, for example, don’t want to permanently compress their chest while singing or dancing, but they still need the appearance of a flat chest. 

If you don’t have a binder, three safe ways to create the appearance of a flatter chest are with a sports bra, baggy clothing, and TransTape. These will not completely flatten the chest for many people, so those who still dislike the appearance of their breasts and prefer not to use a chest binder may consider a mastectomy, or “top surgery,” to permanently flatten the chest. 

Sports bra

Rosenthal says sports bras effectively reduce the appearance of breasts, and tight sports bras may even help flatten a small chest. Those with a larger bust may consider doubling up, wearing a sports bra about one size lower underneath your regular size. 

As with a chest binder, though, you should stop if you experience discomfort when doubling up on sports bras. Don’t wear purposefully tight bras for more than eight hours. 

Loose-fitting clothing  

Rosenthal also notes the transformative power of wearing baggy clothes. Loose-fitting clothes, such as baggy sweatshirts or T-shirts, can reduce chest prominence and reinvent your appearance.  

 

Even throwing on a big zip-up hoodie over any clothes can help hide your chest. Try keeping one around on days you’re taking a break from your binder. 

TransTape

There’s also TransTape. It’s similar to the kinetic tape used for athletic injuries, but is specifically designed for chest compression. 

“It might not be as effective for people with larger chests, and for people with sensitive skin it might cause some irritation, but is definitely an alternative to binders if used correctly,” Selkie says. 

Here’s how to bind your chest with Trans Tape: 

Takeaways 

Overall, if you are questioning your gender, dislike the appearance of your chest, or want to change your gender expression, you may find chest binding a valuable way to feel more comfortable in your own skin. 

While alternative methods can be safe if done correctly, Rosenthal says that it’s most effective to use a chest binder. 

“Binders that are meant for binding specifically are typically going to have the best results — they’re going to be safest,” Rosenthal says. 

If you want to read more about chest binding, transgender-oriented or LGBTQ+ sites like Transguys and Minus18 have more information. Transbucket offers information on transitioning, and LGBTribe is an online support group for LGBTQ+ people. Organizations like DCATS and Point of Pride help give binders to those who can’t afford them. 

And if you ever need a quick refresher on the do’s and don’ts of chest binding, check out this tip sheet from the LGBTQ+ service organization, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

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