Why Do Some People Have Puffy Nipples? An Investigation

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smiling woman in a bra

Puffy nipples are one of those physical features that people seem to either love or hate.

For some people, seeing them is an easy way to get turned on. For others, they’re a strange feature that might even be a mark of embarrassment. (Hint: Don’t be embarrassed. Nipples of all kinds are awesome!)

Regardless, puffy nipples are a pretty common (yes, normal!) trait in both men and women.

You might even have them yourself.

They aren’t really a sign of something wrong in most cases, but rather, a simple sign that your body is unique — as all of ours are.

What causes puffy nipples?

Well, if you have nipples that seem to jut out a little extra, you shouldn’t freak out. Noticing a change in the “puff” of your nipples isn’t usually a sign that you’re sick or that you’re going to die. It just means that you’re built a bit different than what you might be used to seeing on TV or online.

Puffy nipples are nipples that have a little bit of excess tissue in the areola region. In some cases, nipples can get puffy due to a lack of muscle tone in the chest area as well, but that’s highly unlikely.

RELATED: The Real Reason Some People's Nipples Are So Sensitive

Even though they aren’t necessarily a warning sign of poor health, most people who have puffy nipples tend to wonder what causes them. This is doubly true if you just recently noticed that your nipples have started to get a little bit puffy as of late.

Here are 3 common causes of puffy nipples (if you suddenly start seeing more of them):

1. Genetics

Like many body quirks, puffy nipples aren’t always hereditary nor are they always predictable.

Some people are just naturally born with them, though it’s a bit rare. Like many other traits we have, one of the most common causes of puffy nipples is simply our genetics.

Most people who are genetically predisposed towards having them will start to notice their nipples getting more puffy by the time they hit puberty, with some people noticing developing puffy nipples during their teen years.

2. Hormones

Having puffy areolas are also a sign of hormonal changes in both men and women. Another major reason why people tend to get puffy nipples is due to hormonal fluctuations.

Women, for example, tend to get puffy nipples during pregnancy or as a part of their monthly menstrual cycle. If you’re a woman who gets swollen, puffy nipples right before your period, you’re not alone.

Men, on the other hand, may have puffy nipples as a sign of lower levels of testosterone in their system.

In fact, many men who suffer from gynecomastia, which is the enlargement of breast tissue in males, first notice the extra breast growth happening when their nipples get puffier.

Due to the way that hormones tend to shift as we age, it’s not unusual to develop puffy nipples happen during puberty or during a person’s later years.

That being said, most people who have a little puffiness going on will only have it as they transition from one hormonal stage to another.

3. Medications or recreational drug use

As common as hormonal changes are, there are other reasons why someone could develop puffy nipples seeminly out of the blue. According to Dr. Douglas Steinbrech, one of New York City’s most well-known plastic surgeons, “Puffy nipples can be caused by multiple reasons. Hormone imbalance during puberty, anabolic steroids, certain medications. Marijuana use can also increase the chance of having puffy nipples.”

Medications and recreational drugs can cause puffy nipples as a side effect — including some cardiovascular drugs, antipsychotics, antiandrogens, and antifungal medications.

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

If the appearance of your puffy nipples is affecting your self-esteem, there are ways to get rid of them, too.

What surprised me the most about this investigation was learning how many people were embarrassed by them! 

There are a multitude of forum posts discussing how embarrassed people are for having puffy nipples and how they are considering getting plastic surgery for it. (And yes, there are plastic surgery procedures that correct the excess tissue found in nipples.) Even so, if you have puffy nipples, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about having them. 

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According to Dr. Steinbrech, around 12 percent of all men and women have puffy nipples — and trust me, there are plenty of people out there who find them attractive.

We have enough to worry about in the world without also being self-conscious about what our nipples look like.

If you want to find out how to reduce the size of your puffy nipples, there are some ways you can lessen their appearance without having to undergo plastic surgery to permanently get rid of puffy nipples:

1. Change your diet and exercise routine.

For men especially, weight gain is a culprit when it comes to what causes puffy nipples. If you're overweight, try changing up your diet to get to a healthy weight. 

Along with a healthier diet, exercise can drastically change your body's appearance.

2. Get your hormones checked.

If a medical issue is causing your puffy nipples, getting a full workup can help you and your doctor come up with a treatment plan. Meeting with your doctor also gives you the chance to discuss any current medications that you're on to see if they might have something to do with your nipples' appearance.

3. Plastic surgery.

For some people, plastic surgery is the best option for getting rid of puffy nipples.

"The exact type of surgery varies depending on each patient's unique characteristics," Dr. John Paul Tutela, a celebrity plastic surgeon based in New York and New Jersey, tells YourTango. "If the skin is tight and there is only excess fatty tissue in the chest, liposuction alone might be successful. For this to work, the skin has to have enough snap back to retract against the chest wall. Sometimes more fibrous fatty tissue is present and would need to be excised through a small incision."

RELATED: 15 Reasons You Have Sore Nipples (Or Are Experiencing Breast Pain, In General)

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a health and lifestyle writer based out of Red Bank, New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter.