What’s that? Is it the insatiable, maddening desire to scratch? We all get itchy – but itchy boobs in particular, it turns out, are a surprisingly common affliction. Don’t believe me? Ask Google. Literally. Just like 62,400,000 others have done recently. So much so, it’s now a growing search term.
In fact, there are many reasons you could be fighting the urge to scratch and almost all of them are nothing to worry about. But for clarity, we spoke to Dr Clare Morrison, GP & Medical Advisor at Medexpress and Dr Zoya Diwan, Medical Director and Founder of Trikwan to get to bottom of itchy boobs. (And, if you weren’t itchy before, I bet you are now).
For context, that’s more than itchy scalp searches (14,700,000) and itchy knee searches (2,800,000) combined. So what is it about our knockers that are causing us jip?
Are itchy breasts common?
“It’s very common to get itchy breasts, as the skin here is sensitive, and breasts are exposed to a variety of potential triggers,” says Dr Clare. “These include sweat, friction, cyclical hormone changes, and bra-related problems, for example.”
“One of the most common causes is usually an external irritant such as a new body cream, material of a bra or a new body wash,” adds Dr Zoya.
Do different areas of itchiness suggest different causes (for examples on the nipple, in between breasts, underneath or on the breast tissue)?
“Like the rest of the body, the skin of the breasts is subject to any skin disorder, such as dryness, eczema (also known as dermatitis), psoriasis, allergies, insect bites and infections. Itchiness of the exposed parts of the breasts and upper chest can be caused by sunburn, and sun allergy. Itchiness of the nipples is often caused by chafing, aggravated by running for example. It is also common if the bra causes irritation, by being poorly fitted, or made from synthetic materials,” says Dr Clare.
“Breast-feeding is particularly hard on the nipples, due to moisture, friction, and sometimes infection. Itchiness between the breasts is commonly caused by excessive heat and sweating. This may lead to sweat rash, pimples, and (in more extreme cases) yeast infections,” says Dr Clare. Again, this might come back to your bra, particularly if you do a lot of sports, “this is because they obtain a lot of sweat and moisture which can leave the skin irritated,” explains Dr Zoya.
“Underneath the breasts, the trapped moisture can encourage skin infections, which can be bacterial or fungal,” adds Dr Clare, so make sure you opt for underwear and clothing that’s breathable if you’re more prone to sweating.
If you’re generally itchy all over, this is likely to be caused by an external irritant like your washing powder or shower products. If so, “you are likely to experience itching in both breasts,” says Dr Zoya. “Dry weather can also cause itching all over your body, including on the breasts and nipples,” adds Dr Zoya, while “itching under, between, or on your breasts without a rash could be caused by growing breasts.”
What could be the cause if it’s accompanied by a rash?
“Itching accompanied by a rash can be caused by the following:” says Claire.
- Eczema (dermatitis). This causes a sore itchy red or pink rash, sometimes with pimples.
- Psoriasis. This causes a flaky crusty rash, with overlying silvery scales.
- Urticaria. This causes pink blotches that look like nettle rash.
- Skin infection. This will cause an angry-looking painful red warm rash, sometimes with pustules. It can be bacterial or fungal.
- Heat rash. This appears as small red spots. It is also known as ‘prickly heat’, and is caused by sweats ducts becoming blocked.
- Cancer. Although innocent causes of a rash are much more likely, breast cancer can occasionally cause a rash on the nipple, or elsewhere on the breast.
What could be the cause if it’s not accompanied by a rash?
“Itching without a rash can be caused by the following:” she adds.
- Dry skin. As with the rest of the body, dry skin can cause itching.
- Hormone fluctuations. These include premenstrual changes, pregnancy, and hormonal contraceptives. They can make the breasts more sensitive, and cause swelling.
- Clothing. Irritation and itching can be caused by synthetic materials in the bra, or other clothing in direct contact with the breasts.
- Allergies. For example allergy to fragrance, laundry detergent, fabric conditioner, soaps, toiletries, etc. can cause itching and irritation.
Is it anything to worry about?
“Itchy breasts are not usually anything to worry about,” reassures Dr Clare. However, “in some very rare cases itching breasts along with a rash can be be an early sign of inflammatory breast cancer or Pagets disease,” says Dr Zoya. “These are both a rare form of breast cancer that starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the nipple and nearby area. It can look a lot like eczema, with crusted, scaly, and itchy skin and can give the breasts an ‘orange peel’ type appearance. These symptoms would usually only be present on one breast or nipple and you may also see a discharge,” she adds. “It may also be associated with a lump in the breast or armpit,” says Dr Claire. If you’re experiencing those symptoms alongside itchiness, it’s worth getting a professional opinion, otherwise it’s unlikely to be something sinister.
How can we treat it?
“To treat itchy breasts, the key is to avoid whatever is causing the problem. Avoid strong perfumes, and heavily fragranced fabric conditioner or laundry detergents,” advises Dr Clare. “Protect exposed skin from sunburn by applying a sun-blocking moisturiser and wear a well-fitting, cotton bra that gives sufficient support for your lifestyle.”
“For dry skin use a moisturiser. To treat eczema apply a mild topical steroid, such as hydrocortisone cream. Urticaria usually responds to antihistamines,” she adds.
“Usually a simple over-the-counter topical cream or gel can help soothe itching breasts,” agrees Dr Zoya. “If you have itching that feels like it’s coming from under the skin of your breast, you may prefer to use an antihistamine. If you do suspect you have an allergic reaction or your skin is irritated, try switching up your current bath products, soaps, washing powder and other cosmetics.”
What should we do if the problem persists?
“See your GP if the problem persists,” advises Dr Clare. “They will examine you, and diagnose the problem. If there are any worrying features they will be able to refer you to the breast clinic for further investigations.”