Most of the time, color changes in the areola are benign. However, there are occasions when a change in the color of the nipples needs medical attention. Causes of darkening nipples include:
Read on to learn more about each of these circumstances that can lead to a person's nipples darkening.
1. Oral contraceptives
Oral contraceptives may cause hormonal changes, which can make the area around the nipples appear darker.
Birth control pills may affect the body in a similar way to other hormonal changes. They may cause the area around the nipples to darken, but this should clear up once a person stops taking the pill.
Birth controls pills can also cause melasma, which is when brown or grey pigmented patches form.
A person's estrogen levels spike during puberty when the ovaries release the hormone. This spike in estrogen causes the breasts to develop.
The nipples may undergo changes that usually include darkening and elevation from the surrounding skin as the breasts grow.
As a fetus grows in the womb, the breasts start to prepare for the baby that will soon be born.
The body produces additional estrogen and progesterone to help prepare for milk production to feed the newborn infant. The breasts change when this hormone production occurs.
It may be noticed, during pregnancy, that the breasts become sore and swell. The nipples will also darken, which is believed to help the baby identify the food source.
Darker nipples in pregnancy are temporary. After pregnancy and breast-feeding, the nipples will lighten again.
Nipples may become darker during breast-feeding to enable the infant to locate the food source.
As described above, breast-feeding causes many changes, including darker nipples.
Scientists think that the areolas may darken to help a newborn latch on to its mother's breasts. But hormonal fluctuations that enable milk production are also likely to cause some change in the color of the nipples.
Newborns have very poor eyesight, and darker nipples may be an evolutionary way of helping a newborn find their food source. The nipples will return to their previous color over time after breast-feeding has ended.
5. Hairs around the nipples
It is not uncommon for a person to have tiny hairs that grow around the nipples. These tiny hairs may be darker than some of the other hair on an individual's body.
The dark hairs can make the nipples appear darker when they grow close to the nipples.
Menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle. The ovaries prepare to release an egg for fertilization during this cycle.
In turn, the breasts experience changes at different points in the menstrual cycle. These alterations occur because the menstrual process is driven by changes in hormone levels in the body.
Breasts will go through some changes during ovulation, as well. Breasts may become tender or swell as the hormone levels change. Similarly, an individual may notice that the nipples become darker while the cycle takes place.
Paget's disease is a type of cancer that initially forms in the nipple.
Paget's disease of the breast is a rare form of cancer that begins in the nipple area.
The early signs of Paget's disease include darkening nipple color along with other signs and symptoms that include:
- flattened nipple
- yellow or bloody nipple discharge
- flaking or thick, crusty skin around the nipple
- itching or tingling around the nipple
People may develop this cancer at any time in their lives after puberty. However, it is more common in older adults than younger people.
If a person has any signs of this cancer, they should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
When to see a doctor
People see natural changes in their nipples and breasts as their bodies develop and age. Many life events, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and breast-feeding can all cause the nipples to darken.
However, a doctor should be seen if any of the following are noticed:
- only one nipple changing color
If someone suspects they are pregnant, they should also consult a doctor immediately.
Nipples naturally change in color over time and due to many different biological events during a person's life. The color change is nothing to worry about, and the nipples will usually lighten again after the normal body changes have occurred.
An individual should consult a doctor to rule out underlying causes and get treatment if nipple-darkening is accompanied by any other symptoms not related to normal events.