Is formaldehyde Victoria’s biggest Secret?

October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s the perfect time to talk about boobies, or more specifically, things that harm them. Like our bras.

In May 2013, I wrote about a horrific rash I kept getting on my breasts, and over time realized that it reoccurred every time I wore a particular Victoria’s Secret bra. I googled around and discovered other women reporting the same thing, as far back as 2008. The culprit? Formaldehyde in the fabric. The problem began when Victoria’s Secret switched from an Indian manufacturer to a Chinese one. Women who wore their product for years suddenly started having reactions. Like myself, they didn’t initially suspect a product they’d been wearing for years without incident.

But, little by little, I figured it out: Stop wearing the bra, and the rash gradually subsides. Put it back on, and it comes screaming back.

It’s the bra.

As for the rash, it’s not just any rash. It itches like poison oak or chicken pox. You can’t NOT scratch it, which causes welts, bruises, broken skin, and even then… you can’t stop scratching.

A lawsuit was filed over the issue (Roberta Ritter v, Victoria’s Secret Stores, Inc., et al, Case No: CV 08 659494) but Victoria’s Secret and its parent company, L Brands, having deep pockets for legal protection, and convinced the plaintiff to drop the lawsuit. Their lawyer’s statement is posted on the L Brands website (follow the links under “Our Bras Are Safe”). The lawyer states that formaldehyde at less that 20 parts per million (ppm) means a product is legally “formaldehyde-free,” therefore declaring that VS products are “formaldehyde-free” because they’re within the legal range.

The remainder of the statement focuses on denigrating Roberta Ritter. Blame the victim, blame the plaintiff — same diff.

On the L Brands website, under “Do your bras contain formaldehyde,” is this statement: “Victoria’s Secret does not add formaldehyde to its bras…”

But: It doesn’t say that formaldehyde isn’t already in the fabric before being purchased to make the bras.

“… and multiple, independent tests confirm that Victoria’s Secret bras are formaldehyde-free or contain only traces which are significantly lower than allowed by the most stringent textile guidelines in the world…”

“Or.” Or! Is formaldehyde there or not? It can’t be both. Unless you’re a lawyer.

“…Dermatologists and various authorities all confirm that even those individuals who are allergic to formaldehyde would not have a reaction at this low level.”


I have a few “various authorities” who beg to differ.

Since I began writing about VS bra rashes here on this blog, women came out of the woodwork reporting the same horrific rash associated with VS bras exclusively. Most disturbing — their complaints are current. The bras are still on the shelves. Even though Victoria’s Secret knows their products may cause excruciating discomfort to some of their customers — they’re still selling them. And of course they are! Removing ALL the formaldehyde from their products now would be acknowledging the problem!

As for the reliability of the lab results on the formaldehyde content of VS bras, I’m skeptical. Not all the bras cause a rash. I still wear some of my VS bras with no problems. The only one that caused the rash was the 100 percent cotton bra in heather gray. Beige or black — no problem. Only the gray. Others also report that the rash only occurs with a particular style of VS bra. With hundreds of bra styles in hundreds of colors, unless they’re all tested, as far as I’m concerned, the lab results are meaningless.

On my blog, I advise women to put those bras in a ziplock bag for evidence, to see their doctors and get the diagnosis of “allergic contact dermatitis” documented, and to take photos of the rashes. Since no lawyers seem to be interested in this case, I’m hoping a government agency will take notice. The issue of formaldehyde in fabric is much larger than simple breast rashes. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, recognized by both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. Could formaldehyde in bras, to which our breasts are regularly exposed, contribute to breast cancer? Don’t you think it’s time someone found out? Maybe those of us who react to formaldehyde are lucky. We take the bras off. Those who keep wearing them are being exposed to formaldehyde every day.

So far, I’ve contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was no help. They said the bra itself didn’t cause the injury, the chemical did, and referred me to the Environmental Protection Agency. Both phone numbers they gave me connected elsewhere. One was some unidentified entity offering Walmart gift cards for only $1.99, and to “have your credit card ready.”

Great. Our federal government at work. But who else is there to turn to?

Yes, I hit some dead ends, but I’ll keep searching for the needle in the governmental haystack responsible for monitoring chemicals in fabrics. I’ll lobby for another look at “acceptable” amounts of formaldehyde in fabrics. If you’re allergic to formaldehyde, the “acceptable” amount is zero. If the product contains formaldehyde, it should have a warning label, just like products containing eggs, peanuts or dairy.

There’s the real irony — despite the misery their product has caused, VS customers would come running back if the products containing formaldehyde were labeled so we could purchase something else. We can’t find another product we like as much.

The simple solution would be for Victoria’s Secret to use truly — not legally — formaldehyde-free fabric. Sadly, Victoria’s Secret would rather lose our business than admit there’s a problem. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. Since I began blogging about this, and googling “Victoria’s Secret bra rash” shows a link to my blogs with many women reporting the same problem, Victoria’s Secret started paying attention. They follow me on Twitter. And I rather doubt it’s because they love tweets about my cats.


30 thoughts on “Is formaldehyde Victoria’s biggest Secret?

  1. Thanks for blogging about this issue. Just want you to know that it isn’t exclusively Victoria Secret’s bras. I bought a bra recently at Macy’s, Vanity Fair brand I finally figured out that it was causing my itchy rash. When I don’t wear this bra, the rash starts to go away. When I wear it – bamb – rash comes back.


    • Hello, Lisa! Well, this makes sense. It is the fabric that’s the real issue, and if Chinese fabric makers are getting away with this, of course they will keep doing it, and for other companies. Be careful to read the labels when you buy bras. If they are made in China, regardless of the brand – don’t buy it.


  2. Well, the fabric itself may have been made in China. I fear this issue is probably out of control. I suppose the best we can do is to recognize the rash and when we realize we’re wearing fabric containing formaldehyde, to get rid of the item. Which really SUCKS because it means wasting a lot of money on trial and error. It seems to me that products should be labeled if they contain formaldehyde, to alert those who are allergic to it.


  3. I bought my first bra from there a year ago -I’m 46 years old – broke out and thought it was due to the cold winter. Purchased my second bra about I month ago only to have it happen again. That’s when I knew it had to be the bras. Same rash – same look – same misery! I showed husband and he was mortified! I sent an email to Victoria Secret 3 days ago – I have not heard back but on the website it says that you will get a response within 24 hours:(


    • Hello Jamie, well – welcome to the club. It seems that other bras are turning up with formaldehyde too, but Victoria’s Secret seems to be the biggest offender. Your story sounds like everyone else’s. You should have a doctor look at the rash and document it. :/
      In the meantime – there’s not much you can do to rectify the situation, other than try and find a different product. Sadly, NO ONE has returned to this blog and reported that they found an acceptable substitute. But – we’re all still looking.


  4. Right now at this moment I am with my 13 year old daughter at the doctors office because of the VICTORIA SECRET BRA. She is in so much pain she can’t reach for things because her back is so badly effected. I wish I could post the pictures so you can all see what its doing to her.


    • Unbelievable! I heard back from Vanity Fair (finally) and customer service said that her bra never hurt her! They offered to send me another bra if I sent her my bra. I have a discoloration on my breast from the bra – I think I’ll try to send it to a lab for testing. Does anyone know where to have testing like this done? Maria, what did the doctor say caused your daughter’s reaction?


    • Maria, oh my gosh, I am so sorry this is happening to your daughter. So traumatic at that age! Good for you, taking her to the doctor! Did s/he diagnose allergic contact dermatitis? Isn’t it horrible that VS doesn’t care about this enough to simply post a label on their products, warning of the formaldehyde content?
      Lisa, if you scroll through the posts on this blog, there was someone who had the chemical testing done. Maybe you can contact her?


  5. You can always always ALWAYS contact your states Attorney General with this complaint. If every woman who got this rash reported this and the styal/make/item number to their Attorney Generals office it would sure as hell get those bras off the shelf quick. Lawyers cannot say no to the decision the Attorney generals office makes, and they fight their assets off to protect us. Especially if there are a ton of the same reports. I hope everyone who reads this comment writes a letter to your states attorney general and it WILL do something.


    • Kasmira, that is an excellent idea – if everyone on this blog writes to their attorney general – and maybe Congress representatives and senators – we might get somewhere. I think the focus must be the labeling of fabrics containing formaldehyde, because VS got out of their lawsuit by placing the blame on particular customers who are sensitive. We should ask for a law that labels allergy-causing chemicals in fabric so we can purchase something else.
      And yes… if everyone notes WHICH bras cause the problem, because it’s only certain ones.
      Thanks for the suggestion!


      • Victoria Secrets got out of the lawsuit? I wonder, If customer’s ASK are they supposed to tell if the product contains Formaldehyde? Here’s another quandary, the bra that caused my rash was one of two of the same style that I bought that day. One was beige and one was blue. Only the blue one caused the rash (and actually it was only the right cup of the blue one). I don’t know if this means that the contaminant only came in contact with the inside of the right cup – I’ve seen others post similar situations. My point is, even if they have the style and brand, that particular style may test negative. It may be an erratic result of the manufacturing process, hard to pin down.


        • Hello Lisa,
          Yes, VS got out of the lawsuit basically by placing all the blame on their customers. And your experience was the same as mine – the grey cotton bra caused a rash, the black and beige did not. They have the capacity to test batches of fabric, or to demand that the fabric be formaldehyde-free, but VS will not do so, because they will accept no admission of responsibility for the issue. I think it will be up to consumers to A) not purchase their products and B) work for labeling on garments if they contain formaldehyde.


  6. I’m having a reaction from the Ring Strappy Back Push-Up Bra. The red one. And I have a rash from the matching underwear on my hips. What a nightmare! It’s beautiful but it gave me such a bad rash. It’s so itchy! What do I do? I spend almost 100 dollars for this set. 😦


    • Hi Ann, so sorry to hear you are having discomfort. 😦
      Several people have reported that Victoria’s Secret will give you a refund on items causing the rash. So, you have two options: go and get your money back, or keep the items and have them tested for chemicals – if they test positive, put them in a baggie because maybe someday a lawyer will take interest in this situation. But whatever you do, don’t throw them away. I threw mine away before I realized that the rash problem wasn’t just me – it’s rampant.
      But… if enough people return their items and get their money back, at least it may send a message to VS that they must start alerting consumers to which of their products contain formaldehyde.
      In the meanwhile, the unfortunate issue with the rash is that it takes a couple weeks to heal. It would be good to see your doctor to have your rash documented.
      Good luck….


  7. Hi, I am so glad to find this blog. I too, have red welts all around the area where my Victoria Secret bra lies, but only on the bottom on my right side, under my breast and around to the middle of my back. The two bras that I have are VSX sport bras. The black one seems to cause the reaction more than the pink one. It is all very upsetting because I could not work out today, due to the soreness of the welts. I called the store where I purchased the bras this morning and they said they would give me a full refund or exchange them. I have never had this reaction to any other VS bras and I wear them daily. So disappointed because I need a lot of support when I work out and I like to try the bras on instead of ordering them from a catalog. If anyone can recommend a good substitute I would be interested in hearing what it is. In the mean time, I will contact the attorney generals office. Thank you so much for your informative blog.


    • Hello Cathy, well, you are in the same dilemma as the rest of us. No one has found a product they like as much…. we are such loyal customers, and VS clearly doesn’t value that loyalty. The soreness and welts are excruciating. I literally scratched myself bloody, and into bruises. The itching was so sever, I couldn’t stop, and nothing helped it. AND! Until I figured out it was the bra, I continued to wear it, making it worse!
      Please let me know how you did with the attorney general’s office!


      • Hi Debra, Well as it turns out I went to the doctor and I ended up having shingles, not a rash from the VS bra. The shingles were very painful and I wish it was a rash from the bras instead, however, I am now fully healed five weeks later. I have gone back to wearing my VS sports bras and am doing just fine now.


  8. For the past year I’ve been having weird rash is heat that are similar to when I was breastfeeding and got mastsis. I have not breastfed in 2 1/2 yrs, so is knew it could not be that. I’ve been to the gyno and even had a sonogram done on my breasts, but nothing was found. Just when I think it has gone away, again I feel this awkward, very uncomfortable rush of heat in my breasts. I finally figured out it is due to my bras- one a Victorias Secret gel pad and the other just regular padding. I am so worried this has done some serious damage. Please let me know if there are any new class law suits to join. Thank you for posting this. It is nice to know I am not alone.


    • Hello Lisa, so sorry you are also experiencing this highly uncomfortable problem. I do not know of any class action suits, but there are so many of us now, maybe an attorney will take an interest. It is upsetting that VS doesn’t value its customers enough to stop exposing them to harsh chemicals!


  9. Thank you for the information! I’ve never wore a VS bra until this last November. I got wireless bras because I cannot stand wires and I have noticed the itching lately. So, I searched in Google and I found your blog. I cannot return them to the store by now, so I keep wearing them. It hasn’t been serious for me (yet), but yeah, I scratch after I wear them.


      • Well, for two years my breast have been itching like crazy. I went to the dermatologist when the itching first started and my doctor had no clue. I came across all this info about VS bras and it clicked. I stopped wearing mine 2 weeks ago and the itching stopped within 24hrs. I’ve managed to wear a brand of sports bras that do not cause itching but I need regular bras. I can’t find anything organic or brands made in the USA for a 36 DD. Help!


  10. hi there jpicklo… welcome to our unhappy little club. We love VS bras, and those bras are causing immense discomfort. And to date, no one has found a comparable product without the allergen-infused fabric. I also rely on sports bras here and there (Champion brand) and have some Vanity Fair and Avenue bras that don’t cause itching, but are just dumpy and unflattering. But – that’s better than that horrific itch and welts. Glad you’ve found some relief. All of us on this page are searching for an alternative. Pity that VS doesn’t care enough about all these loyal customers to do something about it.


  11. @cgee2 – Good deal that you went to the doctor! Shingles, eh? Only on your breasts? That seems a little odd, but OK. But, if you are wearing your sports bras without incident, that’s good news then! Glad you went to the doctor!


    • The shingles were on the right side below my breast and along the bottom of the bra line to the back. I am glad I went to the doctor too! Thanks for your blog and that recommendation! If you have shingles and get to the doctor within 72 hours the anti-viral medication they give you is much more effective. Hopefully, I won’t have a relapse!


  12. My 13 year old daughter purchased a VS bra. Three weeks ago with her own money — $40. About that time she started getting welts/hives periodically across her back and chest and up her neck. Couldn’t figure it out. Went to the allergist. Nothing positive. Tonight she was getting dressed. Within 2 minutes I watched these long red welts covering her. She’s the one that said I think it’s the bra. She took it off and 20 minutes later they were gone. So happy to find this posting. She has no receipt or tags but I personally am going to try to get a refund.


    • Hello Amy, so sorry to hear your young daughter experienced this issue, but glad you discovered the answer so quickly. Those who don’t suspect it’s the bra continue wearing them, start scratching…. become bruised, raw and suffer horribly. VS knows they have an issue but won’t admit it publicly. However, I have been told that they will refund your money with no squabble.


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