Updated: May 8
The nipple refers to a smaller area than most people think. It is at the very center portion of your breast. The areola is the darker-coloured area surrounding the nipple. The areolae can range from pink to red to brown to dark brown or nearly black. They are generally paler among people with lighter skin tones and darker among people with darker skin tones. You might have noticed that your nipples are darker than they used to be. Or, maybe they haven't changed at all. Either way, it's a pretty common occurrence and there's hardly any need to worry about how dark your nipples are getting. But if you're still curious as to why might happen, here are some common reasons.
Puberty is a time of hormonal changes, and it's normal for girls to experience darkening of the nipples during puberty. This is due to the increased production of oestrogen which causes the bust to develop, including pigmentation (colouration) changes in your skin.
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. Your bust may become tender or swell as the hormone levels change; similarly, you may notice your nipples becoming darker.
When you are pregnant, your body produces additional oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help prepare the breasts for milk production in order to feed the newborn infant. You might notice your bust getting noticeably larger and your nipples darker.
Scientists think that mothers having darker nipples may be an evolutionary way to help newborns to find and latch on more easily. The nipples should return to their previous colour over time after you stop breastfeeding.
5. Oral contraceptives
Birth control pills may cause your nipples to darken as they contain synthetic versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone to control your menstrual cycle. They may affect your bust and nipples in a similar way to menstruation, pregnancy and other hormonal changes. The nipples will lighten again once you stop taking the pill.
In some cases though, melasma may develop as well; this condition causes brown or grey-pigmented patches on your face (and sometimes other parts of your body) due to an increase in melanin production by cells in these areas.
Paget's disease of the nipple, also known as Paget's disease of the breast, is a rare condition associated with breast cancer. It begins in the nipple area and may extend to the areola. It causes eczema-like changes in these areas. It's usually a sign of breast cancer in the tissue behind the nipple. If your nipple turns red or purple and the colour change is accompanied by a change in texture, itching or yellow or bloody discharge from one or both nipples, or there are other changes to your bust, talk to your doctor right away so they can do tests and scans to rule out other conditions such as infection.
Keep in mind...
Some women have darker nipples all the time; others have lighter ones all the time; still, others experience varying degrees of pigmentation depending on changes in their hormonal levels. While these are usually no cause for concern, there are some nipple colour and other changes that can indicate an underlying condition that may need evaluation. Remember that nipple discolouration isn't usually a sign of breast cancer, but rather a natural part of being a woman.