Health And Wellness

What It Means If You Have Big Areolas

Photo: Getty
woman with donuts as areola

"Size doesn't matter" is something every man has heard in his life, often whilst sitting on the edge of his bed being patted platonically on the back in a "there, there" motion. You may not realize, however, that many women have curiosity and/or concerns about the size of certain female body parts — our areola, the pigmented area of the breast surrounding our nipples.

From the time we start maturing and developing as young girls, we all have at one point or another become hyper-aware of our areola. You may have asked yourself questions like, "Why do I have huge areolas? Are they bigger than average? Do women with big nipples and big areola face potential health issues?"

At that certain time of the month (i.e., when you have your period), your areola might be extra sensitive or sore. And if you become pregnant, you may find yourself with big, dark areolas you've never seen on your body before. Heck, some little hairs might start growing around the perimeter at times. (Plucking or laser hair removal is an easy fix to get you out of your hairy situation — just a little tip while we're on the subject).

Isn't being a woman just the best?

If you have questions regarding your areola — be they chest-pepperonis, dinner plates, or half dollars — we've got the answers to the questions that you may be too shy to ask.

Below are 12 of the most common questions about areolas, answered:

1. What are areolas? Are they the same thing as nipples?

If you've come this far and you don't exactly know what we're talking about, your areola is the colored area surrounding your nipple, the center portion of the breast which is linked to the mammary glands (where milk is produced).

Just like breasts themselves, there are many different types of areolas in relation to shapes, sizes and colors from light pink to black areolas. Think of them as unique snowflakes.

“This is no different than the various shapes of eyes or colors of eyes from person to person,” Susan Hoover, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, told SELF Magazine.

If you're seriously self-conscious about your areolas, there is a procedure you can undergo to change their shape and size.

RELATED: There Are 7 'Types' Of Breasts: Which Kind Do You Have?

What should a normal areola look like? 

“It is quite normal for areolas to come in different shapes and sizes," explains board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. John Paul Tutela. "I would not be concerned about the health risks. However, when you stop growing you can seek out areola reduction surgery.”

Areola reduction surgery is a procedure that takes about 30 minutes with fairly light levels of anesthesia.

It's recommended only after your breasts are completely done growing and once you're done having kids, as there is some risk the surgery may result in damaged milk ducts and an inability to breastfeed, although this is rare. Scarring, temporary or permanent loss of sensation and infection are also potential negative side effects of this surgical procedure.

2. What is the average areola size?

If you're wondering what an average areola size is, researchers say it's about 4 cm in diameter. More specifically, the areola is typically three times smaller than the size of the breast itself, and three times larger than the nipple.

If yours are bigger or smaller than that, there is no reason to panic or feel self-conscious about them. The areolas you're born with are not the areolas you end up with.

The size of an areola truly means nothing, as it's just breast tissue that is determined by genetics. Areola size is also not always correlated with breast size because even women with small breasts can have large areolas, and vice versa.

3. Are large areolas genetic?

Areolas are genetic, like the size of your breast or your feet or your freckle pattern. According to the National Coalition For Sexual Health, Katharine O'Connell White, MD, MPH, said that genetics has the biggest role in the size, appearance, and even color of your areolas.

Physical changes to your body that happen through puberty, periods, and pregnancy can change the size, color, and shape of your areola. Your areola also has a purpose, and its tissue and fiber can help your nipples contract when you're cold, aroused, or breastfeeding. 

For those who are self-conscious about their areola, there are procedures to make them smaller. You can pay for a breast augmentation surgery to decrease the size of your areolas, but from a medical perspective, it is deemed unnecessary.

According to Dr. White, there is nothing wrong with having bigger areolas and beauty comes in all shapes and sizes: "Whether you've been pregnant or not — it's just a part of who you are, and it's what makes all of us different." 

RELATED: There Are Only 8 Types Of Nipples In The World — Which Do You Have?

4. What happens to your areola during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Large areolas can be a sign of pregnancy. If you get pregnant, your areolas will likely grow bigger and darken in appearance, and you might feel like you have huge nipples as they can grow as well. This happens so that the baby can find the nipple and latch on more easily to be breastfed. Isn't your body amazing?

When you're pregnant, your areolas serve as an important purpose for your baby and act as a bulls-eye to see where the nipple is. This is because of the contrast in colors, as babies have poor eyesight after being born.

According to the American Optometric Association, babies' eyes and visual system aren't fully developed and their vision is abuzz with all kinds of visual stimulation: "Babies have not yet developed the ability to easily tell the difference between two targets or move their eyes between the two images." That is why the areolas serve an important purpose.

After pregnancy and breastfeeding, your areolas may decrease back to their original, pre-pregnancy size, they may stay that new, larger size and color, or they may end up with an entirely different look altogether.

5. What happens to your areola during puberty?

During puberty, your hormones, specifically estrogen, cause the size and color of your nipples and areolas to grow and darken.

Interestingly, as your breasts grow larger, your areolas may appear smaller because of the relative size difference and sometimes areolas can project from your breast which can seem like you have big puffy nipples.

And your body doesn't stop there...

6. How does your menstrual cycle affect your areola?

You may have noticed your breast size changing at certain points in your menstruation cycle.

The ebb and flow of estrogen causes some women's breasts to swell during the second half of their monthly cycle, and some women notice their areolas appear darker during this time.

7. What happens to your areola during sexual arousal?

Your areolas may also expand during the heat of the moment.

During the stage of sexual arousal just prior to orgasm, your breasts "may increase in size by up to 25 percent." Blood flow to the nipple area makes the nipples "look less erect."

RELATED: Why Do Nipples Get Hard? The Science Behind The Phenomenon

8. Do oral contraceptives affect your areola?

Because birth control pills contain varying mixes of estrogen and progesterone, taking them may lead to changes in the size and shape of your areolas similar to those experienced during puberty.

9. How does weight gain or loss affect your areola?

As is the case with skin on any other location of the body, your areolas may shrink or stretch as you gain or lose weight. The skin of your areolas may or may not shift back to the way they were prior to fluctuations in weight over time.

10. What happens to your areola during menopause?

In contrast to what happens during puberty, decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels during menopause may cause your nipples and areolas to have a smaller, paler appearance.

11. When should you be concerned about the size, shape, or color of your areola?

If you find that only one areola is getting bigger and the other one is not, seek an opinion from your doctor.

Two health conditions that can cause changes to your areola include diabetes and breast cancer.

How diabetes may affect your areola:

One possible symptom of diabetes is hyper-pigmentation of the skin, which develops in response to insulin resistance. In some cases, women with diabetes may notice their "areolae may darken and develop symmetrical lesions or velvety plaques."

How breast cancer may affect your areola:

Again, your nipples and areolas will go through lots of changes all the time, but if you experience any of the following, you may want to seek further guidance from your doctor:

1. Lumps or bumps that don't go away

2. Changes in color or size outside of puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight loss, hormone therapy, or other known and easily explained factors

3. If the areola skin appears thicker than normal, has a different texture similar to that of an orange peel or is inflamed

4. Pain or discomfort that does not go away

12. What do men think of women with big areolas?

You may be thinking, "Okay, childbirth is beautiful. I get it," but right now you're more concerned about feeling embarrassed when taking your shirt off in front of a guy.

The truth is that most guys simply do not care about areola size. They're just happy to see a pair of breasts! So there's no reason to feel self-conscious, whether yours are small, large, or somewhere in between.

RELATED: 10 Guys Reveal Their Unfiltered Thoughts About The Size Of Your Areolas

Christina Wright is a New York-based freelance writer covering entertainment, beauty, interior design, and all things fashionably interesting.