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Why does the areola get bigger and darker?

There are a few key reasons why a person’s areolas may appear to get bigger and darker during certain times:

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal fluctuations are a major cause of areola changes. Here are some examples:

  • Puberty – Rising estrogen levels cause breast tissue and areolas to grow.
  • Menstruation – Monthly hormonal shifts can lead to temporary areola changes.
  • Pregnancy – High levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone stimulate breast and areola pigmentation.
  • Breastfeeding – Prolactin and oxytocin impact areola size and color.
  • Menopause – Declining estrogen can cause areolas to shrink and lighten.

Areola Size

The areola can appear larger due to:

  • Breast size increase – As breast tissue grows, it stretches the areola outward.
  • Pregnancy – Fluid retention and enlarged milk glands under the areola add size.
  • Weight gain – Fatty tissue expansion pushes the areola boundaries.
  • Aging – Over time, skin loses elasticity causing the areola to widen.

Areola Darkening

Darkening of the areola occurs when there is increased stimulation of the cells that produce melanin pigment. Causes include:

  • Hormone changes – Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and other hormones increase melanin.
  • Pregnancy – The areola must darken to provide visual contrast with the breast to aid breastfeeding.
  • Inflammation – Swelling from infection, trauma or hormones enlarges blood vessels under the skin which can darken the area.
  • Medications – Birth control pills, estrogen replacement and medications that interact with melanin can alter areola color.

Other Contributing Factors

  • Genetics – Areola size and pigmentation are inherited traits.
  • Weight changes – Areolas stretch and shrink as weight fluctuates.
  • Breast surgery – Procedures like augmentation or reduction can impact areola size.
  • Health conditions – Diseases affecting hormones and melanin cause color changes.
  • Nipple stimulation – Sexual arousal and breastfeeding induce temporary areola darkening.

When to See a Doctor

It’s normal for areolas to change over time. But atypical pigmentation or sudden enlarging of the areola can signal an underlying problem. See a doctor if you notice:

  • Rapid areola darkening unrelated to pregnancy/periods
  • New asymmetric pigmentation of the areola
  • Areola bleeding or discharge
  • Irregular areola borders or shapes
  • Areola changes accompanied by breast lumps or nipple inversion

Sudden areola changes or differences between breasts could indicate health conditions like:

  • Hormone imbalances
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopausal issues
  • Infections
  • Medication side effects
  • Cancers involving hormones, like breast or ovarian cancer
  • Melanoma or other pigment-producing skin cancers

When Areola Changes Are Normal

Typically, areola changes are simply a natural response to normal hormonal fluctuations. Here are some common examples:

  • Puberty – Areolas widen and darken during breast development.
  • Menstrual cycle – Temporary monthly changes in size and pigment.
  • Pregnancy – Enlargement and darkening helps guide the newborn to latch during breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding – Ongoing darkening provides visual contrast for the baby.
  • Menopause – Declining hormones cause contraction and lightening of the areola.

Additionally, non-hormonal factors like age, weight gain, nipple stimulation, and genetics can alter the areola independent of any medical problem.


The areola commonly changes in size and pigmentation during times of hormone fluctuations like puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. Darkening and enlarging of the areola provides visual contrast and targets the nipple for latching during breastfeeding. While areola changes are typically benign, abnormal pigmentation or unilateral enlargement should be evaluated by a doctor to check for potential medical conditions involving hormones, medications, infections or skin cancers.