August 24, 2018

You’ve seen colleagues wearing shirts under their scrubs. Perhaps you do as well. But, is wearing a base layer necessary? And are there certain times when it isn’t appropriate to wear one on the job?

 Below we’ll discuss what a base layer is, the benefits of wearing them underneath your scrubs and when it’s best to do so.

 What is a Base Layer?

 Simply put, a base layer is the first layer of clothing you wear before you put on any other layers. It is the “base” of your outfit, the layer of clothing that rests on your skin and is most commonly a short or long tee shirt.

 Base layers provide an extra layer of insulation and can be worn year-round in pretty much all weather conditions. A good base layer for any purpose, whether exercising, going to a social event or for work, should be made of high-quality fabrics that wick away sweat from your body (helping to keep you dry), allow for flexibility and provide a snug, comfortable fit. Base layers with a loose fit will only bunch up, which makes it uncomfortable to wear, reduces its function and looks sloppy.

Ideal Fabrics for Base Layers

Most base layers are made from one of three types of materials: silk, merino wool and synthetics (such as polyester or high performance flame resistant materials).

1) Silk

It's recommended to wear silk base layer shirts in cool temperatures and for lower activity levels. Advantages of this material as a base layer include:

  • Can be treated to enhance moisture wicking properties
  • Transports moisture more slowly than synthetic fabrics
  • Offers an ultra comfortable feel
  • Adds little to no bulk, making it excellent for layering

Disadvantages include poor abrasion and UV resistance, as well as needing to be washed regularly to avoid odor buildup.  

2) Synthetics

Synthetics include rayon, nylon, polypropylene, polyester, spandex and other synthetic blends. Base layers made with synthetics are best for warm conditions and high-humidity, although can be work in all climates and for a range of activities. Advantages include:

  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Resists abrasion
  • Launders easily
  • Soft, comfortable texture to wear

Disadvantages include vulnerability to staining and odor retention, particularly when worn repeatedly over multiple days.

3) Merino Wool

Merino wool base layers are recommended for colder temperatures, but are good to wear in most weather conditions. While this material is expensive compared to silks and synthetics, advantages of wearing base layers made with this fabric include:

  • Excellent insulating properties
  • Naturally antibacterial, thus doesn’t usually retain odors
  • Moisture evaporation helps to keep skin cool and reduce overheating in warmer temperatures or during high activity levels
  • Soft and comfortable, compared to other types of wool

Wearing Base Layers Underneath Scrubs

Wearing a base layer beneath your scrub top is usually acceptable and even recommended for nursing professionals. However, there are certain nursing jobs where base layers aren’t permitted to be worn.

Generally speaking, if your job involves working anywhere near an operating room, you probably won’t be allowed to wear anything underneath your scrubs due to basic cleanliness and avoidance of contamination through the spread of pathogens. Additionally, wearing only scrubs in a sensitive and sterile environment such as an operating room is seen as more professional.

For most other nursing positions, base layers are usually allowed to be worn under your scrubs. If you fall into this category, you’ll want to keep the fit in mind when looking for the ideal women’s undershirts and tees to wear as your base layer:

As mentioned earlier, you always want your base layer to have a reasonably snug fit. Not only does loose clothing look sloppy, but it can also get caught on objects as you work, which can be unsafe for both you and your patients. For a professional look, aim for a base layer that fits under your scrub top similar to how you would expect a base layer tee shirt to fit under a button-up shirt or light jacket.