Is a Big Areola Normal?

The size of the area around the nipple is rarely cause for concern

The areola, the dark-colored skin on the breast that surrounds the nipple, can vary in size from one person to the next. Some people are simply born with big areolas, while others have smaller ones. Neither is an indication of any health concern.

Breast anatomy detailed diagram
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Areolas can also change in size as you age, gain or lose weight, or experience hormonal changes during puberty, periods, pregnancy, or menopause. While most of these changes are normal and perfectly harmless, certain changes may warrant an examination by a healthcare provider.

This article explains what areolas are, including reasons that they can suddenly change in size, color, and texture in females and males. It also describes the signs and symptoms of possible health concerns, as well as treatments that can change the size or appearance of areolas for cosmetic purposes or gender affirmation.

For the purpose of this article, "female" refers to people born with vaginas and "male" refers to people born with penises irrespective of the gender or genders they identify with or whether they identify with any gender at all.

Average Size of Areolas

The average size of the areola varies substantially across individuals and life spans. The size tends to increase in relation to a person's breast size.

For comparative purposes, average areola sizes quoted in medical literature are as follows:

  • Average female areola size: 67.1 millimeters, or just over 2.5 inches in diameter
  • Average male areola size: 26.6 millimeters, or roughly 1 inch in diameter

In females, the size of the areola increases substantially during puberty. It may then increase again should a woman get pregnant and lactate.

Males generally have smaller areolas than females. Even so, there is a substantial variation from one male to the next.

While the function of the areolas remains the same irrespective of size, larger areolas may be somewhat less sensitive to touch.

Why Areola Size Can Change

Areola size can change as a process of aging, in relation to hormonal changes or fluctuations, and for other reasons.


The areola changes significantly in size over a lifespan. The first noticeable change takes place around the time of puberty in both females and males.

As the breasts begin to grow, the areolas also get larger and eventually form a raised area with more prominent Montgomery's tubercles. Even so, the areolas may not always appear bigger in relation to the larger size of the breasts.

Weight Gain

Areolas can get bigger if you gain a significant amount of weight due to the stretching of the skin. The color may also lighten.

If you then lose weight, the size may not change all that much (or at all), but the color may darken somewhat.

Hormonal Changes

Changes in the size of the areolas during adulthood are related mainly to the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone which are also found in males.

Each hormone plays a specific role:

  • Estrogen controls the growth of the ducts, which is why the areolas and nipples tend to get firmer and the ducts more prominent during the middle stages of the menstrual cycle (when estrogen levels are at their highest).
  • Progesterone controls the growth of the areola, which is why they grow larger during pregnancy in tandem with steep, progressive increases in progesterone levels.

During pregnancy and lactation, the areola will also become darker as the breast size increases After lactation is finished, the breast size goes down while areola size and color tend to stay the same. The areola may get slightly smaller and lighter, but it is unlikely to revert to pre-pregnancy size and color.

During menopause, decreased hormone levels may not necessarily make the areolas and nipples smaller, but they make them less firm, prominent, and sensitive.

In males, areola sizes can change due to drops in the male hormone testosterone. Having low testosterone (called hypogonadism) alters the proportion of testosterone to estrogen/progesterone. One of the consequences of this (seen mainly in older males) is gynecomastia, or the abnormal enlargement of the breasts. Areola size may also change.

Hypogonadism may be a normal part of aging in some males but may also occur due to genetics, liver cirrhosis, chronic kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In general, it is only necessary to see a healthcare provider about changes to your areola if they involve a rash or other types of discomfort. This is true even during periods of hormonal changes and if one areola is larger than the other.

Conditions that can affect the nipple include nipple eczema, Paget's disease of the nipple, and infection.

Nipple Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that can affect any part of the body. It commonly occurs during breastfeeding, causing thick, scaly skin with raised bumps on the nipples and areolas. Nipple eczema usually affects both breasts at the same time.

Paget’s Disease of the Nipple

Paget’s disease of the nipple is a rare type of breast cancer. It may first appear as a single bump or lesion that grows and spreads over time. This lesion may cause itching or ulcers.

Lumps and bumps that appear only on one areola and increase over time should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. Paget’s disease of the nipple may need to be treated with a lumpectomy.

Subareolar/Periareolar Infection

Abscesses and infection can occur both beneath the areola (subareolar) and around it (periareolar). These are more common in people who are pregnant or lactating. Those that occur outside of pregnancy tend to take place closer to menopause.

These infections can sometimes cause a painful, swollen area or a hardened lump beneath the areola. An abscess may need to be drained and treated with antibiotics.

Changing Your Areola Size

Surgery can be used to adjust the size of the nipples and areolas. This surgery is most often done in the context of breast reduction, but it can also be done for:

  • Cosmetic purposes: They simply prefer the look of a different size areola.
  • Gender confirmation: Transgender people may undergo top surgery, which includes reshaping the breasts and changing the size of the areola to align their physical characteristics with their gender identity.
  • Post-mastectomy reconstruction: Individuals who have undergone breast reconstruction following mastectomy may also need nipple and areolar reconstruction. (If the nipple and areola were removed due to cancer, nipple tattooing will be needed.) In this context, the procedure is considered a medical necessity.

Surgery used to alter the size and shape of the areola can permanently reduce nipple sensitivity and may affect sexual sensation and pleasure. It may also impact a person’s ability to breastfeed.

Other Areola Variations

In addition to size, areolas can vary in their shape, color, texture, and firmness:

  • Shape: Areolas may be round or oval.
  • Color: They can range from dark pink to dark brown, typically in relation to your skin tone.
  • Texture: The areolas are peppered with small, pimple-like bumps called Montogomery's tubercles. These are oil-producing glands that secrete an oil that lubricates and protects the nipples. They also secrete a small amount of milk during lactation.
  • Firmness: Underlying the areolas are a network of nerves and smooth (involuntary) muscles that respond to touch, temperature, and sexual stimulation. These can cause the areolas and nipples to become erect. During breastfeeding, the stiffening of these structures helps a baby latch onto the nipple and aids with the flow of breast milk.


Areolas are the dark circles of skin around the nipples. They vary in size and color and can change over time due to aging, hormonal changes, and weight gain. While females generally have larger areolas than males, the range of potential functions is more or less the same.

People may choose to alter the size or appearance of their areolas with surgery. It may be for cosmetic reasons, gender affirmation, breast reduction, or post-mastectomy reconstruction.

A Word From Verywell

Small areolae are normal. Medium areolae are normal. Large areolae are normal. Areola size is as individual as height or the difference in width between a person’s shoulders and hips.

The size of your areola is not something to worry about, and a change in the size of your areola over time doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can skin-lightening creams change nipple color?

    While there are several skin-lightening creams marketed for use on the nipples, there is very little research about their safety and effectiveness. What little research exists suggests that, at least in some cases, these products can sometimes increase rather than decrease pigmentation.

  • Can men produce breast milk?

    Although the areolas and nipples of females and males vary significantly in size, their structures and functions are basically the same. With the right hormonal stimulation (e.g., a medication or condition), people of any sex are capable of lactation.

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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.
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By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.