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Illustrations by Ruth Basagoitia

If you want to see average abs, just look around. If you want to see great abs, look in a magazine. But when it comes to nipples and vulvas, you’re pretty much on your own.

It’s time to free the nipple, or at least demystify it a bit.

Your areola is the colored area around each nipple. Like breasts themselves, areolas come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

They can range in size from penny to pepperoni slice to salad plate. They can be anywhere from the palest pink to the deepest brown. And they can point up, down, or all around.

Many women worry that their areolas or nipples don’t look “normal,” but there really is no normal. Take a look at these pictures of real breasts to get a sense of how varied boobs can really be.

large areolasShare on Pinterest
Illustrations by Ruth Basagoitia

The average areola is 4 centimeters in diameter. However, areola size can depend on several factors, including breast size.

Some research suggests that the areola is typically three times smaller than the breast that it’s on. It’s usually three times larger than the nipple it surrounds.

Yes. It isn’t uncommon for the size of your areolas and nipples to change throughout your lifetime.

During puberty, your ovaries begin producing the female hormone estrogen. This causes your nipples to grow and your areolas to darken. At first, you may only have small mounds of fat beneath your areolas.

As your breasts continue to grow, your areolas will appear smaller in proportion.

The size of your areolas and nipples may also change while you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, your body produces hormones that prepare you to breastfeed. Your breasts and nipples may grow considerably, and your areolas may darken.

Your breasts should return to their previous state once you stop producing breast milk.

Areolas are part of your skin, which means they can stretch. When you gain weight and your breasts get bigger, your areolas may grow, too. Your areolas may or may not return to their previous size after you lose weight.

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Illustrations by Ruth Basagoitia

If your areolas are considerably darker than your breasts, it can draw more attention to their size.

Areola and nipple colors vary widely. People who have darker skin often have darker nipples than people with paler skin, but not always. Nipple and areola color can vary considerably among people of the same ethnicity.

The only thing that commonly affects the color of areolas is pregnancy. Doctors theorize that nipples and areolas grow and darken to make them more visible to infants.

There is no easy way to change the size of your areolas. If you’re concerned about their appearance, talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. They can discuss your options for areola reduction and answer any questions you may have.

Surgery

Areola reduction surgery is considered an elective procedure, which means that insurance doesn’t cover it. Although the surgery is relatively simple, it can be expensive.

To do this, your doctor will remove the pigmented tissue and use it to reconstruct a smaller areola. They’ll place a permanent stich inside the breast to prevents the areola from stretching out again. The incisions are made along the border of the new areola, so surgical scars are usually well hidden. The healing time is usually minimal.

Areola reduction surgery can be done alone or in combination with a breast augmentation or breast lift.

When done alone, only local anesthesia is used. This reduces your risk of surgical complications.

This surgery can interfere with your ability to breastfeed. It can also decrease the feeling in your nipples, a common side effect of breast surgeries.

Topicals

Some people suggest using skin-lightening creams to reduce the appearance of large areolas. You shouldn’t use skin-lightening creams without your doctor or dermatologist’s approval.

Your doctor may recommend prescription creams used to treat hyperpigmentation, such as hydroquinone or retinol. These can lighten dark skin, but it may take anywhere from six months to several years of consistent use before you see results.

Your doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter cream containing:

  • 2% hydroquinone
  • azelaic acid
  • glycolic acid
  • kojic acid
  • retinol
  • vitamin C

Don’t buy any skin-lightening or bleaching cream manufactured outside of the United States. Skin-lightening products manufactured abroad often contain chemicals that can cause serious damage to your skin and overall health.

If you’re concerned with the appearance of your areolas, make an appointment with your doctor. They can answer any questions that you have and may help you feel more at ease.

If you want to explore areola reduction, your doctor can refer you to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss your options.