Nipples. We all have them, regardless of gender. But with breasts having been sexualised in women for centuries, we are typically more likely to scrutinise the appearance of our nipples and wonder whether they are too big, thick or long – or perhaps could they be too small? This certainly isn't helped when you consider all the harmful ways that women's bodies are often shamed, with phrases like 'burger nipples' being thrown about.
But, while you may find yourself wondering 'how big are normal nipples?'... the answer is impossible to say; because nipples come in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures, big and tiny, bumpy and hairy, and it's important to remember they're all normal. And they're all absolutely fine as they are.
"Because of an increasingly visual culture, meaning the proliferation of social media images and the fascination with selfies (which are often digitally manipulated), we have distorted the ideals of a 'normal' body image," Harley Street plastic surgeon Dr Dirk Kremer, who runs Harley St. Aesthetics, tells Cosmopolitan UK.
As a result of this pressure to conform, Dr Kremer says that a large element of his work is now "educating patients about what is normal". And that's what this article is all about – demystifying the idea of the perfect nipple and showing how big, long, thick or small nipples can be.
"Even if your nipples take after a common 'type'," the surgeon reassures, "they probably have variations that set them apart from the next person's." Everyone is different, after all – and that's the beauty of being human.
What are the different types of nipple?
"Having extra small nipples is not abnormal in any way," notes the plastic surgeon. "Nipple size is something that you inherit from your parents, just like your breast and foot size or the pattern of your freckles.
"There is absolutely no medical reasoning for the size of your nipple and as long as nipples contain all the structures they need to function correctly, their size or colour doesn't necessarily matter," the expert continues. "The only time that you should worry is if there are sudden changes in size – at which point it is best to consult your doctor or if they are having a significant impact on your self-esteem."
"Areolae [the area of darker coloured skin surrounding the nipple] that are larger are also perfectly normal, and some women have nipples that cover a third of their breast," explains Dr Kremer, adding: "It is also normal for a person to have areolae that change in size and colour over their lifetime."
"It is normal to have small bumps on the flat, brown part of your breast called the areola. These bumps are called Montgomery glands," explains Dr Kremer. "They secrete oil that helps to lubricate the areola. They become slightly larger and slightly red/pink when you are pregnant and breastfeeding."
"Everted nipples are erect and protrude from the areolae regardless of stimulation," explains the doctor. And yep, again they're totally normal!
"Inverted nipples retract inward instead of standing out like erect nipples. Most people are born with this type of nipple and this often changes after we hit puberty," the expert says.
It doesn't change for everyone, however. "Inversion does remain in about 10 percent of women and is perfectly healthy and normal."
"Flat nipples remain at the level of the areolae but may become erect with stimulation," Dr Kremer describes, adding: "Again, this is a completely normal type of nipple."
Hair on the nipples may be a source of insecurity for some, but it needn't be. "It is completely normal to find hair growing around your nipples in the areola, and some people have more hair than others," says the surgeon. "If you have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or another condition associated with elevated testosterone levels, you may find that you have increased hair around the nipples," he notes.
"Protruding nipples stand erect, further than everted nipples, even without stimulation. The exact amount of protrusion isn't clearly defined, and it can vary from person to person so again, all are completely normal," explains the expert. The surgeon recalls having seen patients who want to undergo a nipple reduction, but equally for treatments to make their nipples protrude more – a surefire sign that we may as well love (or, if you're not there yet, try and learn to love) what we've already got. Right?
Unilateral inverted nipples
While unilateral inverted nipples may be less common, they are no less normal. "Typically, this means that one nipple is inverted and the other is everted," explains the doctor.
"With puffy nipples, both the areola and the nipple rise up in a raised mound," describes Dr Kremer.
"A supernumerary nipple is a common, minor birth defect that consists of an extra nipple (and/or related tissue) in addition to the two nipples that normally appear on the chest," explains the plastic surgeon. "Most supernumerary nipples do not cause symptoms or complications. They often are small and go undetected."
So there you have it, your nipples are probably totally normal. Just remember, always see a doctor if you're concerned about a change in your nipples to be on the safe side.
Illustrations by Issy Muir.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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