Is It Really Normal to Have Nipple Hair?

Read this before feeling weird about your nipples.
Nipple hair

If you’ve ever noticed a rogue nipple hair, it probably prompted an array of emotions including confusion (um, hi, what are you doing here?) and annoyance (what does one even do about unwanted nipple hair?). But, in most cases, having hair around your nipples is actually perfectly ordinary. Think of it this way: You have hair all over you body, so your breasts shouldn’t be any exception.

Pretty much everyone has some level of hair on their breasts.

What people typically call “nipple hair” usually isn’t on the actual nipple at all. Instead, this hair often pops up on the areolae, aka the pigmented circles surrounding your nipples, and other non-nipple breast skin. “It is extremely common for women to have hair around the nipples,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF.

The exact percentage of how many women have breast hair isn’t known, since this isn’t something that has been studied at large or that women usually report to their doctors. Still, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., agrees, telling SELF that breast hair is “very common.”

But…why does it exist? Biologically speaking, humans likely developed body hair for many reasons, some of which scientists haven’t yet fully pinpointed. Hair around your nipples may be a holdover from when body hair was an important part of regulating your temperature, Dr. Zeichner says. Since things like air conditioning, heaters, and fuzzy sweaters can do that now, the hair around your nipples doesn’t seem to serve any present-day purpose. Consider it boob decoration.

There are a few factors that can determine how much (or how little) hair you have on your boobs.

Like any other kind of body hair, breast hair can vary in amount, thickness, and color from person to person. Similarly to your pubic hair, it can also look different from the hair on the rest of your body, Dr. Zeichner says.

You may notice more hair growing around your nipples if your hormones are fluctuating more than usual, like during pregnancySherry A. Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. The pregnancy-induced surge of estrogen can prolong your hair’s growth phase, so just like the hair on your head can seem especially long and lush when you’re expecting, so can the hair on your breasts, Dr. Wider explains. It’s all normal.

If you notice that you’re producing a lot more hair here than you used to, it could be a sign of a condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause excessive hair growth on your face and body. This type of hair growth is known as hirsutism and can happen because of elevated male hormones, like testosterone, which are a common characteristic of PCOS, Dr. Ross says.

Keep in mind that having hair around your nipples without any other symptoms isn’t a sign of PCOS, Dr. Wider says. But if you’re noticing a lot more than usual and you’re also getting hair on your face, coupled with symptoms like bad acneand irregular periods, it’s worth flagging for your doctor. They can evaluate you and, if necessary, recommend treatment like birth control or other medications to prevent excessive hair growth.

Bottom line: Hair surrounding your nipples is usually just a part of having breasts.

There’s no reason to feel weird about it, or like your breasts need to be as smooth and hairless as a baby dolphin. But if you really can’t stand having breast hair, you can pluck it just like you would pluck your eyebrows (and it might hurt, just like it can with your eyebrows). The skin around your nipples is delicate and can be easily irritated, Dr. Zeichner says, so razors and wax are dicier options than simply tweezing.

If you have more hair around your nipples than you care to pluck, a dermatologist can talk to you about electrolysis (a procedure that involves inserting a tiny needle into the hair follicle and sending in an electric current to destroy the root) or laser hair removal, Dr. Zeichner says. (Just keep in mind that laser hair removal runs the risk of creating skin discoloration or other side effects, so you want to make sure you see someone who knows what they’re doing.)

Again, having hair around your nipples is super normal and not something you need to stress about or consider removing if it’s not bothering you. But, if it does bother you or it seems like a sign something’s up with your health, talk to your doctor to discuss ways you can nip any bothersome breast hair in the bud.

Here’s Why One Boob Is Sometimes Bigger Than the Other

Go ahead, check yours out.
Uneven boobs

You and your boobs go way back. You probably know them so well by now that you could pick them out of a lineup if you had to. That’s because boobs are a little like snowflakes—each with their own unique shape, texture, and characteristics. Even in the same set, one boob may be a little bigger or perkier than the other.

If you have asymmetrical breasts, you’re not alone—this is incredibly common, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. “It is actually more common for women to have different breast shape and size than absolutely symmetrical breasts,” Nazanin Khakpour, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. “They are sisters, not twins.”

The differences can range from being really subtle to being really…not subtle, Therese B. Bevers, M.D., professor of clinical cancer prevention and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SELF. “Some women have a one or two cup size difference between their breasts,” she says.

A lot of it has to do with genetics, but losing or gaining weight can play a role, too.

If you’ve always had breasts that aren’t perfectly identical, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you—it’s simply the way they are, Sherry Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. Your ears, eyes, feet, and labia aren’t carbon copies, she points out, so why should your boobs be identical? A lot of this is dictated by your genes, she says, and if your mom and grandmother have mismatched boobs, the odds are pretty high that you do, too.

Your boobs are also partially made up of fat (along with connective tissue and milk ducts), and their size can be influenced by weight changes. When you gain and lose weight, it doesn’t always happen uniformly all over your body—and the same is true with your boobs, Dr. Bevers says. As a result, “it’s definitely possible to gain or lose weight asymmetrically in the breasts,” she says.

Sometimes an underlying medical or skeletal condition like scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, or deformities in a woman’s chest wall, can create the appearance of asymmetrical breasts, Dr. Wider says. But these are less common causes than genetics and weight changes.

While asymmetrical breasts are completely normal, you should pay attention if this is a new thing for you.

If you develop new asymmetry like a sudden increase or decrease in the volume of a breast, you should take note, Dr. Khakpour says. That’s especially true if that change comes with other symptoms like skin retraction, or thickening, dimpling, or a change in color of your breast, she says. “That should be brought to the attention of a physician immediately as these may be the first presentation of certain types of tumors,” she says.

That said, don’t panic and automatically assume it’s cancer. “It’s most likely weight gain or loss,” Dr. Bevers says. She regularly sees patients who complain that their bra is fitting tightly over one breast but not the other and, after a workup comes back clear, she discovers that they recently gained or lost some weight.

Still, if one boob suddenly seems a little…off, check in with your doctor, says Dr. Bevers. “There’s a very good possibility that it’s benign, but any new symptoms warrant medical attention.”

6 Things That Can Actually Impact Your Breast Size

It’s more than just your genes.
Various breast sizes

Most body parts, like your arms, legs, feet, and ears, grow to a certain size and then stop. Your boobs, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Your breast size and shape can go change throughout your life.

Of course, your boobs tend to have a standard size that you consider your “normal.” And, while they may deviate here and there, you probably eventually come back to this size. While it’s easy to think that your cup size was predestined, there are actually a lot of things that affect boob size. Here are the biggest factors that influence the overall size of your breasts.

1. Your family history.

Your genes dictate your hair and skin color, how tall you are, and a bunch of other things including, yup, your breast size. But your genes are more likely to predict your breast baseline—not your actual size. “Women often are born with their breast size, but it can change in their lifetime,” Nazanin Khakpour, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be a C-cup if your mom and sister are, but it’s definitely more likely for you than someone who comes from a family with a history of A-cups.

2. Your weight.

Breasts are made up of supportive tissue, milk glands and ducts, and fat, and how much you have of each is unique to you. Some women have more supportive tissue than fat and vice-versa. If your breasts contain a decent amount of fat, you could see a difference in your boob size when you gain or lose weight, Sherry Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. That said, you probably won’t see a huge change if you gain or lose a few pounds. “It usually has to be a significant weight gain or loss to change your breast size,” Dr. Ross says.

3. Pushups, bench presses, and other pectoral exercises.

If you started lifting recently and noticed your boobs seem a little perkier lately, that may be related. Doing pectoral exercises can strengthen your pecs, which sit behind your breast tissue, and can cause your boobs to push out a tiny bit more than usual, Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., of SoHo Strength Lab and Promix Nutrition, tells SELF. Keep in mind that these exercises won’t actually increase your breast size—but they might grow the muscle behind the breast, which could make them appear a little bigger.

4. Your birth control.

Your birth control can do more than prevent an unintended pregnancy and help regulate your period: Hormonal birth control methods like the pill, the shot, and the hormonal IUD can actually impact your breast size, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. This is largely due to water retention, she says—and it’s unlikely to last. “It’s usually most noticeable when someone starts birth control,” Dr. Wider adds.

5. Pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy boobs are a legit phenomena—a woman’s breasts can grow several cup sizes during pregnancy thanks to hormonal changes like increases in progesterone, Dr. Khakpour says. Your breasts may swell up even more when you’re breastfeeding thanks to your milk coming in, but they typically go back to normal about three to six months after you stop nursing, Dr. Khakpour says.

And if you have a few kids, the effects may be more pronounced. “Some women may experience changes in breast size and shape after multiple births and breastfeeding,” Dr. Khakpour says.

6. Your age.

Your boobs probably aren’t the same now as they were when you were 15, and it’s likely they’ll look different down the road. Most women’s breasts will become less perky with time, and that’s totally normal, Dr. Ross says. “It’s largely due to a change in skin elasticity and stretched ligaments,” she says.

While it’s normal for your boobs to change, there’s often a reason behind it that you can pinpoint. But, if you find that you’re experiencing sudden breast changes and you don’t know why, it’s important to talk to your doctor. While it’s likely due to something you haven’t thought of, it could be a sign of a tumor or growth in your breast. Again, don’t panic if you notice changes, but it’s best to get it checked out, just in case, Dr. Wider says.

Why Your Boobs Get So Sore During Your Period

Nope, it’s not just you.

Sometimes it’s easy to think your boobs have mystical powers, especially when it comes to predicting when your period will arrive. For some women, sore, sometimes painful breasts are a good tip-off that Aunt Flo is about to make a visit. While the heads-up is nice, sore breasts can be uncomfortable as hell.

Of course, this doesn’t happen to everyone before their period. And if you fall into the sore-boob camp, you’ve probably dealt with it for your entire period-having life and never given it much thought (other than wondering why you have this not-so-fun side effect on top of the utter joy of actually having a period). But there’s a very real reason why sore breasts around your period are a thing, and even better, there are ways to find relief.

Breast soreness related to menstruation has a medical name: cyclical mastalgia. As you can probably guess, it has a lot to do with hormones.

The jury is still out on the exact mechanisms behind breast soreness during your period. But experts do know that hormone levels fluctuate before and during your period, and that can impact how your boobs feel, Sherry A. Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, tells SELF.

Specifically, increasing levels of estrogen in the first two weeks of your cycle can cause your breasts to get bigger, while increasing amounts of progesterone during the second half may make your milk ducts puff up. “Together this results in swelling and breast tenderness,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. Hormonal fluctuations can also lead to fibrocystic breast changes (i.e., developing non-cancerous lumps in your boobs) before your period, which can contribute to tenderness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

You may have heard that tender boobs are common during pregnancy, and it’s due to a similar mechanism. During pregnancy, progesterone levels continue to rise in a woman’s body, so breast soreness may happen and last for some time even though your period is MIA, Dr. Wider says.

Sore breasts might seem like a fact of life, but you don’t need to just suffer through the experience.

Taking an NSAID like Motrin or Aleve can help with the inflammation, Susan Loeb-Zeitlin, M.D., an ob/gyn at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF. Making sure your bras fit correctly can also help, she says, since having a too-loose or too-tight fit can make your boobs feel worse.

If you’re on combined hormonal birth control and boob soreness is new to you, it’s worth looking into other options, Dr. Ross says. Birth control impacts everyone differently, but some forms that use less estrogen can help reduce the pain. You can also try putting a warm compress on your boobs to promote blood flow, Dr. Wider says, which can help relieve muscle tension that makes breast soreness worse.

In the vast majority of cases, breast tenderness around your period is normal and harmless (other than making you uncomfortable). But in some very rare cases, breast tenderness can be a sign of breast cancer, Dr. Loeb-Zeitlin says, specifically a rare and aggressive kind called inflammatory breast cancer. This is more likely if the tenderness is on one side and you’ve never experienced it before. Again, that’s not common and really not something you should stress about, especially since inflammatory breast cancer only makes up 1 to 5 percent of breast cancer diagnoses in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. If you’re having sore breasts along with symptoms like nipple discharge, dimpling, or a rash, head to your doctor just in case.

And even if the only thing you’re dealing with is period-related boob soreness, you can and should still bring it up with your doctor if it’s bothering you. Together, you can figure out the best way for you—and your breasts—to find some relief.

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