What to Know About Eczema on Nipples

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 28, 2023
4 min read

Eczema is a noncontagious skin condition that is painful and itchy. It is often harmless, although it can be uncomfortable physically and emotionally for the individual who has it. When it affects the sensitive skin around your nipples, it may leave you at risk for other, more serious, skin conditions. Learn how you can treat eczema on your nipples and protect yourself from future skin damage.

When it comes to eczema, children younger than five are the most diagnosed demographic. Eczema is a lifelong condition that has no cure. Over time, your eczema breakouts may calm or even disappear, but they may flare up again when an irritant is introduced to your skin.

There are several skin conditions that may affect your nipples, and eczema is just one. Other common skin conditions affecting your breast may include:

Both children and adults are susceptible to eczema. Certain kinds of dermatitis may only affect certain areas, and it is common for a person with preexisting eczema to develop other patches. Places with thin or sensitive skin, like eyelids or nipples, are especially prone to eczema.‌

Some external irritants may make your eczema worse:

  • Makeup
  • Some lotions and skincare items
  • Hair dye
  • Pollens‌
  • Airborne dust
  • Household cleaners
  • Laundry products

Signs of nipple eczema may include: 

  • Dry, itching skin
  • Patches that appear red or brown and gray
  • Tiny raised bumps that leak fluid when scratched or irritated
  • Skin that grows thick and scaly, even forming scabs 
  • Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching‌
  • Nipple discharge

Before self-treating, talk to your doctor. You may have a more serious health condition that needs to be addressed. Eczema may look similar to other skin conditions like:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer – This aggressive form of breast cancer develops if cancer cells begin producing inside the lymph nodes of your breast. Symptoms include thickening skin, rash, infection, pitted skin, redness, and swelling. 
  • Mastitis – This condition is most common in breastfeeding mothers when milk ducts are clogged from an overproduction of milk. Your breast may swell and feel painful, be red and warm to the touch, and produce nipple discharge. 
  • Breast abscess – If you have a bacterial infection, it may cause pus buildup under your skin. Symptoms include redness, swelling, inflammation, fever, and warmth.
  • Mammary duct ectasia – This non-cancerous health condition happens when a milk duct stretches out, and the cell walls thicken. It may lead to a thick discharge, a noticeable lump, redness, and tenderness around the nipple‌
  • Paget’s disease of the breast – This rare breast cancer causes the nipple skin to grow darker. Your nipple may itch or tingle and appear flaky, crusty, or leak.

You should see a doctor if your eczema is:

  • So bad that you lose sleep and can’t function during the day
  • Have a skin infection with open sores, scabs, and oozing yellow puss‌
  • Persistent despite over-the-counter remedies 

These are all signs of infection. If your condition worsens, it could lead to other health conditions.

Higher risk for other conditions. Eczema leaves your skin raw, leaving you more susceptible to bacteria entering your bloodstream. Talk to your doctor about treatment options, especially if you're breastfeeding, as treatment may be different for you. 

Treatment options. While eczema cannot be completely cured, there are many treatment options to improve symptoms. If one treatment plan doesn’t work, you can try another until you find the right products and strategies for the severity and symptoms of your eczema. 

Treating eczema on your nipples. Taking care of your skin condition is the best way to improve your symptoms. Moisturize your skin at least twice a day using fragrance-free products such as:

  • Creams
  • Ointments
  • Lotions‌
  • Petroleum jelly

In some people, food allergens can cause eczema flare-ups. You may need to cut something out of your diet like:

  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Wheat‌
  • Milk

‌To avoid stressing sensitive skin, you can also try:

  • Shortening your time in the bath or shower
  • Using warm instead of hot water
  • Using gentle soaps with mild ingredients
  • Avoiding antibacterial soaps and deodorants ‌
  • Applying moisturizer while your skin is still damp from the shower 
  • Discuss with your doctor on how to take bleach baths

Avoiding irritants. It may take some trial and error to find a product that works best for you, since certain products can contain irritating ingredients. Since the skin around your nipples is thin and sensitive, try a product that is mild. If you’re worried about a product causing irritation to your skin, talk to your doctor about ingredients to avoid. Check all product labels for those ingredients before choosing one to try.

Keep in mind that the products your loved ones use can also affect you. If you hug them, lotions, perfumes, and detergents may rub off on your skin and clothing. You should eliminate irritants from your home where possible.

Things that may worsen your eczema include: 

  • Dust and pollen
  • Laundry detergents
  • Sweat
  • Stress
  • Strong soaps‌
  • Obesity

While this condition may be uncomfortable, there are a variety of factors to approach with dealing with nipple eczema. By keeping track of when your skin improves or worsens, you may be able to track down your source of irritation. This process is different for everyone, and may be sped up with a doctor's help.‌