Many people associate wrinkling skin with the natural aging process. Aging is only one of several possible causes of wrinkles on the nipples — some of which may be serious. Nipples may be flat or cylindrical in shape, or sometimes inverted, and may even vary in shape from moment to moment. They’re located on top of a surrounding circle of skin and glands called the areola. Areolas range in color from light pink to brownish black, depending on your skin tone.
If you’ve recently given birth, your nipples are designed to release milk from duct systems that fill up in each breast during pregnancy. During breastfeeding, the cells in the areolas emit fluid that helps lubricate the nipples. The nipples contain muscles that contract and make them more erect (stand up) when stimulated by breastfeeding, cold, or touch. Most people will experience wrinkled nipples from time to time, sometimes permanently, as they age.
Here’s what you need to know about nipple wrinkling and its potential causes.Why do my nipples wrinkle up sometimes?
While most people associate wrinkles with aging, this is only one of several possible causes of wrinkles on the nipples.Dry skin
Dry skin is a common problem. For some people, it can affect the nipples in a way that causes a wrinkled appearance.
Eczema, an inflammatory skin condition, can also affect the nipples. Eczema causes extremely dry skin and, sometimes, blistered lesions that crust over, creating a wrinkled appearance.Hormonal changes
People who are assigned female at birth are likely to experience many changes in the shape and feeling of their breasts over their lifetimes. These changes are primarily caused by changes in levels of the body’s hormones, chemicals affecting the way our bodies grow and work.
Most commonly, hormonal changes happen during:
- pregnancy and breastfeeding
- after weight loss or gain
- throughout each menstrual cycle
One inevitable result of aging for most people who are assigned female at birth are changes in the breasts, including the nipples. With age, breasts lose tissue, elasticity, and glands for making milk. During menopause, the breasts may gain fat but shrink in size.
These changes, which are mostly caused by changing hormones in the body, often cause the breasts to sag. Nipples are also commonly affected by aging, and may shrink or turn in over time, causing a wrinkled appearance.Inverted nipples
Nipples come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Some people are born with or develop inverted nipples. These nipples may appear sunken in, giving a wrinkled appearance. People with inverted nipples can still breastfeed.
Usually inversion and wrinkling isn’t a cause for concern. But if it’s a new development, this could be a sign of a problem that needs to be treated, like breast cancer.
Other people may experience inverted nipples due to stress or changes in temperature. Before a menstrual cycle, you may notice swelling and lumpiness of the breasts and nipple that can appear like wrinkling.Smoking and other lifestyle factors
Smoking and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, as well as exposure to certain chemicals, can cause the skin to wrinkle prematurely. While smoking and sun exposure are factors most often linked to wrinkles on the face, wrinkles may also affect other parts of the body.Breastfeeding
Women who become pregnant, and carry those pregnancies to term, may find that they experience many different changes in the look and feel of their nipples during and after the process. This may happen even if you don’t breastfeed.
But the nipples do a lot of extra work during breastfeeding, and usually change in appearance in preparation for an infant to feed. When you’re preparing to feed an infant, your breasts may increase two to three times their normal size, and the areolas and nipples will enlarge and darken.
Possible signs that your baby isn’t latching on correctly include nipples that are:
Wrinkling may affect nipples immediately after finishing breastfeeding as the breasts shrink back to their normal size.
Following the completion of breastfeeding, many people also experience changes like stretch marks and sagging of the breasts, as well as changes in nipple and areola color.
Some people’s breasts change very little after birth and breastfeeding.Breast cancer
All people can develop breast cancer. While sudden, noticeable changes in the appearance and feel of your breasts doesn’t necessarily mean breast cancer, such changes can be a warning sign.
Women with breast cancer may experience:
- sticky or bloody discharge from the nipple
- crusting or scaling of the nipple
- a new dimpling or inversion of the nipple
These can cause the nipple to appear wrinkled.
Inflammatory breast cancer is one type of aggressive and uncommon breast cancer that can cause inflammation in the breasts that may invert one or both nipples. Other symptoms include:
- pitting or thickening of the skin
Paget’s disease is an uncommon type of breast cancer affecting the appearance of the nipple and areola. It usually affects people assigned female at birth who are ages 50 and older. But it can also affect people assigned male at birth.A key symptom includes a buildup of cells on the nipple and areola that causes:
This may sometimes result in a wrinkly appearance.What about areola wrinkles?
The areolas are the circles that surround the nipple. During breastfeeding, their purpose is to help guide an infant to the nipple and also to release fluid that helps lubricate the nipple for breastfeeding.Just like the nipples, the areolas may appear wrinkly due to the same causes:
- dry skin
- hormonal changes
- inverted nipples
- smoking and other lifestyle factors
- breast cancer, including Paget’s disease
To reduce the appearance of wrinkled nipples, you must treat the underlying cause. In some cases, it may be impossible to prevent or stop wrinkling in the nipples. But there are other cases that are possible to treat at home:If caused by aging, dry skin, and previous breastfeeding
If you’re noticing your nipples are becoming more wrinkled with age, you might try:
- applying aloe vera gel, which is shown to stimulate production of collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin — substances that research has shown are capable of reducing the appearance of wrinkles on the face
- applying a moisturizer regularly to your breasts and nipples, which may reduce wrinkling
- applying lanolin oil, which can soothe irritated and dry skin associated with wrinkles
- eating a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables has been linked to a reduction in facial wrinkles, according to research on older people; for a supercharge of wrinkle-fighting nutrients you might want to try adding superfoods rich in antioxidants into your diet
To address wrinkling during breastfeeding:
- check that your infant is latched onto your nipple properly, as wrinkling may be caused by incorrect feeding technique
- check that you’re changing your breast pads frequently
- keep your nipples clean, and dry them after feedings to prevent skin irritation that may result in wrinkling
If wrinkling affects your nipples during your period, or if you notice they’re starting to wrinkle during menopause, you might want to consider balancing your hormones. This can be done by:
- eating enough protein, healthy fats, fatty fish, and fiber
- exercising regularly
- avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates (like white bread)
- managing stress through relaxing activities or by using relaxation techniques like deep breathing
- drinking green tea (which has benefits for the skin)
If you were born with inverted nipples, or developed them over time, and the cause isn’t cancer, you can try a variety of treatments, like:
- regular stimulation with your fingers, like the Hoffman technique, which involves pressing your thumbs into the base of your nipple to make it protrude
- use of shells or cups, which stimulate the nipple and make it protrude
- use of a nipple retractor device
Some things you can do to slow down wrinkling on your nipples (and the rest of your body) include:
- Protect your body from sun exposure by wearing sun-protective clothing and applying sunscreen. If heading outdoors topless, be sure to first apply a toxin-free, high-SPF sunscreen to your nipples and breasts. Wash it off afterward, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
- Quitting smoking has numerous benefits other than reducing wrinkles like decreased risk of cancer and other diseases. Quitting is often difficult, but a doctor can help create a plan that works for you.
- Apply vitamin C cream to your breasts and nipples. An older 2002 study suggests that it may reduce the appearance of wrinkles caused by sun damage.
Any changes in your breast appearance are reason enough to see a doctor. Doing so can help rule out the more serious causes of wrinkled nipples, and help you arrive at the right treatment plan.
It’s important to check for breast cancer regularly by doing routine breast exams, and going for breast cancer screenings and mammograms if you’re over 40. Breast self-exams can also help you keep tabs on your breast health and possibly help aid in early detection of cancer.
New infections, injuries, inversions to the nipple, or trouble breastfeeding, are all signs you should schedule an appointment with a doctor. These are more serious problems that may require medical treatment.
If you have a permanent inversion you would like to pull out, surgery might be an option. Surgery, with or without partial preservation of milk ducts (which allows you to possibly breastfeed in the future) is usually only done for serious cases of inversion that don’t respond to other treatments.Bottom Line:
It’s pretty common for people to experience wrinkling on their nipples. Often, wrinkled nipples are temporary, caused by changes in hormones, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or for some people, even changing temperatures and sensations. Sun exposure, smoking, and other factors may also cause nipples (and the rest of the body) to wrinkle.
Many causes of wrinkled nipples may be treated at home, and can help minimize the appearance of wrinkles. But in rare cases, wrinkled nipples are a sign of breast cancer or infection, which require medical treatment. If you notice any sudden changes in your nipples or breast, including pain, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a doctor.References:
Written by Erica Cirino on July 22, 2021
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