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Fact: Everyone has nipples. (Kind of like how everyone poops.) However, it’s easy to notice—and compare—the look, shape and size of your nipples with others, screen actresses, best friends or otherwise, and realize that there’s definitely a nipple spectrum. And while the many differences you spot may give you pause, fear not: Chances are, whatever you think is weird about your nips is totally normal. Including:
1. You’ve got hair on your nips.
Really, it’s fine. “Hair around the nipples is generally linked to hormonal changes,” Kecia Gaither, M.D., an ob/gyn and women’s health expert based out of New York City, tells SELF. “Secondary to puberty, pregnancy, menstruation or menopause. Birth control pills may also stimulate hair growth there,” she says. So a few strands shouldn’t freak you out. In certain situations, though, a condition known as hirsuitism can occur where a wealth of hair grows because there’s excessive production of male hormones. “This can stem from medical diagnoses like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and Cushing syndrome,” Gaither tells SELF. So while a few hairs isn’t anything to stress about, a whole lot of ‘em should get you calling your doctor.
2. Your nipples are big or small.
The size of your nipples means nothing. Like really, nothing. There are all different sizes and shapes. Don’t believe us? Check out this (NSFW) gallery for a reality check on the wide range of what nips really look like. And if you had any kind of worry about your nipple size having any association with your health, don’t. “The size of your nipple has no relevance to cancer risk, for example,” Maggie DiNome, M.D., director of the Margie Peterson Breast Center at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA tells SELF. Likewise, Debra Patt, M.D., a medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist with Texas Oncology, a practice in the U.S. Oncology Network, agrees: “Generally the size variability in the nipple and nipple-areolar complex is not a medical condition, just physiologic variability.”
3. Or are not the “right” color.
Whether your nips are so pale you can see your blue veins (oh, hey) or are a rich shade of brown, you needn’t worry—they’re totally normal. They’re called the areolae (singular: areola), and come in a rainbow of hues. Don’t stress it. “Nipple color is not indicative of health in any way,” Patt tells SELF. “There’s natural variability in nipple color, just as there is in skintone variability with—and within—different ethnicities,” she adds. DiNome agrees that color is not usually indicative of breast pathology but, “a rash, crusting or a lesion on the nipple or areolae may (be),” she says.
The exception here is if they’ve suddenly turned red. Now, if you know why they’re red—let’s say you went running and they chafed against your sports bra—then you’re cool. Otherwise, head to the doc and let him or her know how their color has changed. It could be a a potential sign of of breast cancer (or specifically, Paget’s disease of the breast, a rare type of breast cancer), along with scaliness, thickening, nipple pain or skin irritation, Gaither tells SELF. “With any major nipple changes, seek evaluation from your health provider,” she adds.