Breast Eczema: What You Need to Know

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

If you've got eczema, you're not alone. In fact, this condition affects more than 31 million Americans. Eczema is a skin condition that can affect multiple areas of the body, including your breasts.

Inflammation occurs when your body overreacts to substances called allergens. This condition typically causes dry, itchy skin. Unfortunately, there's no cure for eczema, but symptoms can be managed with medications and a good skin care routine.

Woman with itchy chest

Maria Fuchs / Getty Images

Symptoms

Breast eczema can affect your nipples, skin that's around or between your breasts, or skin across your chest. Symptoms can include:

  • Redness or warmth in the affected area
  • Itchy and/or painful skin
  • Dry, crusted, or scaly skin
  • Swelling
  • Liquid oozing from the skin

Although it's tempting to scratch your irritated skin, this can lead to bleeding, which increases your risk of infection. Look out for swelling, pain, or pus draining from your skin. See your doctor if you suspect you have an infection.

Causes

It can be a challenge to determine the cause of your breast eczema—symptoms don't always occur right after you've been exposed to your trigger. Eczema can develop from exposure to chemicals in everyday household products, such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, body washes, and other cleansing products. If you have other allergies, you are more likely to develop eczema as well.

Be on the lookout for these irritants that are common eczema triggers:

  • Fragrances
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Nickel and other metals
  • Antibacterial ointments
  • Thickeners, such as cocamidopropyl betaine (which can commonly be found in cosmetics and personal hygiene products)
  • Antibacterials in personal care products, such as isothiazolinone
  • Formaldehyde
  • Dyes, such as paraphenylenediamine
  • Soaps and other cleansing products

Breast eczema can also be triggered by exposure to certain clothing fibers, such as wool and polyester. Dry skin is also more prone to an eczema flare-up.

Nipple Eczema

Eczema can affect your nipples. While it isn't common, pain, redness, and flaking skin around your nipple can be a sign of a rare type of cancer called Paget's disease. See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis—particularly if your eczema symptoms don't improve with treatment.

Diagnosis

Eczema is typically diagnosed by a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders, or an allergist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of allergies. However, your family doctor might be the first medical professional to recognize your symptoms.

Patch Test

Breast eczema is identified during a physical exam performed by your doctor. However, additional testing is needed to figure out what is causing your inflammation because more than 15,000 different allergens can cause allergic skin reactions. A patch test is a common way to identify the specific allergen that's causing your symptoms.

Allergic skin reactions are different than some allergies that cause immediate symptoms. Skin reactions can take hours or days to show up. During a patch test, your doctor will place small amounts of many different possible allergens on patches, which are then applied to the skin on your back.

Patient undergoing a patch test in allergy clinic

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

The patches must be left in place and kept dry until testing is complete. After 48 hours, you will go back to the doctor to have the patches removed. The doctor will look for a reaction, or redness, under each of the patches. You might also have itching or pain in the affected area.

After another four to seven days, you will return to the doctor again for another exam. Some allergic reactions take this amount of time to show up.

Unfortunately, patch testing might have to be repeated with different substances if your first round is unsuccessful in diagnosing your allergen. However, this short-term discomfort can help you avoid your allergen and save you from long-term symptoms.

Keep a Diary

Consider keeping a diary of what you are wearing and the body washes, lotions, and other personal care items you are using to look for trends in your breast eczema symptoms. This can help your doctor identify the underlying cause of your allergy and help you avoid triggers.

Treatment

There's no cure for breast eczema, or eczema on other parts of the body. The best treatment for breast eczema is avoiding the allergen that's causing your symptoms. This might require you to change up your hygiene products or avoid wearing bras or shirts made out of a particular material.

Prescription medications or creams might be needed to treat your breast eczema, but other treatments can help reduce your symptoms during a flare-up.

  • Take cool or warm showers: While hot showers might be good for sore muscles, they are bad for breast eczema. Hot water can damage the top layer of your skin, causing more inflammation. Soaking in the tub for 15 to 20 minutes can also reduce dryness. Pat your skin dry with a towel—rubbing can further irritate your skin.
  • Use unscented soaps and shampoos: Choosing products that are unscented or "made for sensitive skin" can help you avoid some allergens.
  • Be gentle: Don't scrub your skin if you've got breast eczema. While exfoliating can be helpful for removing dead skin cells, it can make eczema much worse.
  • Lock in the moisture: Use a cream or an ointment to moisturize your skin—most lotions are water-based and tend to evaporate quickly. Apply your cream or moisturizer right after you pat dry to help keep your skin moist.
  • Rinse and rinse again: To reduce exposure to potential allergens in your bras or other clothing, double-rinse your laundry to remove any detergent residue.
  • Minimize your stress: Living with breast eczema can be very stressful. Stress causes your body to release certain hormones, including cortisol. Too much of this hormone can lead to skin inflammation. This vicious cycle can worsen your breast eczema symptoms.

Breast Milk for Eczema

Breast milk contains antibodies and other substances that help repair skin cells. In many cultures outside the United States, breast milk is used to treat skin problems such as eczema and diaper rash. If you're breastfeeding, your options for cream and ointment treatments will probably be limited if your symptoms are on or near your nipples. Rubbing a few drops of breast milk into your nipples can help soothe irritated skin.

Coping With Stress

There are several things you can do to help decrease your stress levels to help control your breast eczema flare-ups:

  • Try guided meditation.
  • Attend a yoga or tai chi class.
  • Explore new hobbies.
  • Join a support group.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Limit sugar, caffeine, or alcohol if they trigger symptoms.
  • Exercise regularly.

Use caution when exercising—getting hot and sweaty can aggravate your symptoms. If you sweat a lot, be sure to shower and change your bra and shirt soon after your workout.

A Word From Verywell

While breast eczema can negatively impact your quality of life, there are many lifestyle changes that can help reduce symptoms. Each person will experience different triggers, so seeing a dermatologist to assess your allergies can be helpful. A doctor can also work with you to find your best options for treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes breast eczema?

    Eczema occurs when your immune system overreacts to an allergen—any substance it views as "foreign" to your body.

  • How common is breast eczema?

    Eczema affects many parts of the body, and over 31 million Americans have been diagnosed with this condition.

  • Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of eczema?

    Breastfeeding has not been shown to affect your risk of developing eczema.

  • Does breast milk treat eczema?

    Breast milk can soothe sore nipples, but more research is needed to determine if it is effective for the treatment of eczema.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eczema Association. What is eczema?

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin infections. Updated May 22, 2020.

  3. National Eczema Association. Eczema causes and triggers.

  4. Breastcancer.org. Eczema of the nipple. Updated October 18, 2018.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Patch testing can find what's causing your rash. Updated March 15, 2021.

  6. American Academy of Family Physicians. Eczema and atopic dermatitis. Updated April 24, 2020.

  7. National Eczema Association. Eczema and emotional wellness. Updated 2021.

  8. Witkowska-Zimny M, Kamińska-El-Hassan E, Wróbel E. Milk therapy: unexpected uses for human breast milk. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):944. doi:10.3390%2Fnu11050944