Q: Why does the darker circle around the nipple exist? Why do some people have extra nipples?

A: Just like with breasts, there’s no one way that nipples are supposed to look. Both nipples and areolas (the circular skin around your nipple) come in different sizes and colors, from light pink to brownish black. The color of your nipples usually relates to your skin color. Nipples may have hair, stick out, be inverted, etc! Some individuals may have two nipples on one areola or may have no nipples at all (athelia)! Your nipples can get hard (erect) and pop out when you’re cold, sexually excited, nervous or if something or someone touches them. This depends on the person and it’s up to you to tell your partner your thoughts on the subject.

An extra nipple, known as supernumerary nipples, polymastia or polythelia are usually smaller than normal and vestigial (nonfunctional, without accompanying mammary glands). It is estimated that one in 18 people have an extra nipple. They tend to occur along a roughly curved line that extends from near the armpit, through the center of the normal breast and down to the lower abdomen. This distribution is very similar to the location of nipples on mammals that have multiple nipples along the underbelly. The good news is supernumerary nipples do not cause problems and do not need to be removed!

Nipples develop while a human embryo is growing in the womb. Normally, the embryo’s milk line tissue stays thick and forms your nipples while the rest of the thickened skin softens up again. But in some cases, parts of the milk line ridges don’t become regular ectoderm tissue again. When this happens, supernumerary nipples can appear where the milk tissue stayed thick and ridged after birth and development into adulthood.

 

Q: Do feminine hygiene products that advertise pH balance really work?

A: With the influx of feminine cleaning aids, it might surprise you to know that vaginas are actually capable of taking care of themselves with minimal assistance. Glands inside your vagina and cervix secrete fluids that help to flush out old cells daily, keeping the vagina clean. This process depends on that proper balance of microorganisms — and it’s why douching is unnecessary and even potentially harmful. Unless you’ve been directed to do so by a medical professional, it’s good to avoid aggressive cleansing and deodorizing with products that have fragrances and dyes, especially because it can lead to allergic reactions.

Here are some tips to avoid irritation or infections: Keep your vulva cool, clean and dry. Wash the vulva once a day with warm water or mild soap. It’s a good idea to thoroughly rinse off any soap you do use, and to towel off completely once you’re done bathing or showering. And if you’re menstruating that week, don’t forget to change tampons or pads regularly (at least four to five times a day), plus washing the genital area more often during this time to tone down any unwanted smells. Still, keep in mind that any sudden changes in vaginal discharge should prompt a visit with a health care provider.

In addition, you might also consider the following prevention strategies: Avoid hot tubs or highly chlorinated pools. Use only white, unscented toilet paper and wiping from front to back. Use cotton-only tampons and menstrual pads. Opt for cotton underwear over synthetic fabrics or silks and satins. Wear loose-fitting clothing when possible. Quickly change out of damp or sweaty clothing. Wash and dry undergarments in a separate load without scented detergents or fabric softeners.

 

Special thanks to healthline.com and goaskalice.columbia.edu for their assistance in answering these questions.

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