Nipples can be injured, sometimes seriously. Injuries to the nipples are most common during breastfeeding. They can also occur when a person accidentally snags or pulls out a nipple ring or during intense exercise.

Smaller injuries can heal with proper care. However, if a nipple is completely damaged or removed from the body, it won’t grow back.

While rare, one or both nipples can be lost in an accident. This can happen with severe physical trauma, such as a bike accident where a person’s body scrapes along the ground. They can also be lost due to illness; in breast cancer surgery, for example, it is sometimes necessary to remove one or both nipples.

Nipples are much more than skin; they are complex body parts that are needed for breastfeeding.

The nipples are located on the breasts in the center or darker areas of skin called areolas. In women, the areola contains tiny glands. These glands release oils during breastfeeding that help keep breasts clean and lubricated during breastfeeding.

Milk is produced in breast tissue and is released during breastfeeding, through the nipple, to the baby. When a woman loses her entire nipple, it’s impossible to recreate one that will function again during breastfeeding.

Some people may feel self-conscious about losing one or both nipples. Surgeons have developed nipple reconstruction techniques that can leave both men and women with a nipple that looks close to the original nipple that’s been lost.

This surgery can make it possible for a person who has lost one or both nipples to regain confidence about their breasts.

After a person’s injury or surgical incision has healed, they may receive a reconstructed nipple from a plastic surgeon. The surgeon cuts a star-shape into the area where the new nipple will be located. Then they take the skin from this incision and sew it together to form a new nipple. Lastly, the surgeon will tattoo a new areola around your reconstructed nipple.

While our nipples are made of skin, they don’t just grow back when injured like the rest of the skin on our bodies. Smaller nipple injuries like tears, chafing, and fissures may heal over time with proper care with a bit of scarring.

Yet with more severe nipple injuries, like nipple removal from breast cancer surgery or serious injury, the nipples don’t heal on their own.

Living without a nipple might make you feel self-conscious. The good news is that if you lose one or both nipples, modern surgeons can help reconstruct very realistic look-alikes.

If you’ve experienced a nipple injury, make sure to visit your doctor so that you can get the proper care. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of receiving plastic surgery to reconstruct your nipple (or nipples) if your injury is severe.