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What Is Chest Binding?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 09, 2021

Transgender and gender nonbinary people may experience gender dysphoria when they compare how they present themselves with their gender identity. Chest binding has become a popular practice to make a person's presenting gender and gender identity more compatible. 

Chest binding is a process of flattening your chest to make it more male-presenting. This is a common step in the female-to-male transition. There are a variety of methods for chest binding, but practicing proper safety when chest binding is crucial.

Two of the main types of binding involves the use of fabric binders or special binding tape. Choosing the best type of binding for you will make sure you avoid complications such as breast pain, skin irritation, and infection. 

Types of Chest Binding

There are several ways to bind your chest. Some are safer, more comfortable, or more effective. The most popular method of chest binding is with a dedicated binder. 

Binder. A binder is a piece of compression clothing that flattens your chest down. Binders come in a half-length (crop top style) or full-length (tank top style). The style you choose depends on your own preference and comfort.

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Kinetic tape. This type of medical tape is for your skin and can be used to bind your chest. Do not use other tapes or binders, such as duct tape or plastic wrap. Products not meant for use on your skin can cause irritation and do significant damage to your skin. If you have sensitive skin, you may experience irritation from binding tapes. 

Sports bra. As an alternative to a dedicated binder, a good sports bra with high compression can serve as a binder. Sports bras won’t provide as much compression as a binder but can be a stepping stone to binding later. 

Binder Sizing

One of the most important parts of selecting the right binder for you is getting the correct size. If it’s too big, it won’t compress enough. If it’s too small, it can be uncomfortable and may damage your physical health. Trusted vendors provide sizing guides and measuring tips to ensure you get a properly sized binder. 

Chest Binding Safety

Symptoms. Getting a properly sized binder will prevent complications. If your binder is too small or too tight, it can:

  • Restrict breathing
  • Irritate your skin
  • Break skin around the edges of the binder
  • Cause overheating
  • Bruise or fracture your ribs 

Even if you’re symptoms aren’t severe, long-term use of a poorly fitted binder can lead to chest and back pain. Change binders if you experience any pain while wearing your current binder. 

Binding and underlying conditions. Because of the potential risks with chest binding, people with underlying conditions may be at risk for further complications. Consult with your doctor if you are interested in chest binding and have the following conditions: 

Chest binding duration. The longer you bind, the greater the risk of injury. It’s recommended that you shouldn’t bind your chest for more than 8 hours per day. If you are in a scenario where you will need to keep the binder on for longer, such as at work or school, take a break and take off the binder when you go to the bathroom or another private location. 

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When you take the binder off at the end of the day, breathe deeply several times to ensure you aren’t experiencing any pain and to let your muscles stretch. It’s recommended that you take at least 1 day off a week from chest binding. 

Exercise. If you intend to exercise in your binder, you should wear a larger size to provide you with room to move. Avoid going to the gym in your binder if you can. Stop immediately if you begin to experience pain while exercising in your binder. 

You can also swim in your binder. They aren’t waterproof, so give it plenty of time to dry out. Wearing a wet binder can lead to skin irritation. 

Binder Hygiene

The manufacturer of your binder will give you specific instructions on how to properly care for your binder. It’s important to keep your binder clean to prevent acne, fungal infections, and other skin conditions. The same goes for you. Take extra care of the skin being covered by your binder to prevent oil build-up and irritation. 

Where to Get a Binder

Chest binders and trans tape can be purchased from a variety of online vendors. Choose a reputable binder vendor rather than a big online retailer because they can provide adequate resources for use. 

There are also nonprofit organizations such as Genderbands that allow people to receive free binders and educational materials about chest binding. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

26 Health: “The Art of Chest Binding.”
Fenway Health: “Binding Resources.”
Genderbands: “BINDERS.”
Pride in Practice: “Chest Binding: A Physician’s Guide.”
UCSF Transgender Care: “Binding, packing, and tucking.”

University of Missouri LGBTQ Resource Center: “Health.”

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