Chances are you’ve had an itch practically everywhere on your body—and you’ve scratched it without giving it much thought. But when it comes to itchy breasts, it feels like a whole different matter. Not only can it feel a teensy bit embarrassing, but it might also raise some concerns. If you’re wondering why your breasts itch, the answer can be plenty of things.
Rest assured though, that in most cases, itchy boobs are perfectly normal. “Itchy skin can affect any part of your body and the skin on the breast is very sensitive in general,” says board-certified dermatologist Julie Russak, MD, FAAD. “A number of conditions, from just dry skin to more serious internal disease manifestations, can be a cause. The skin on the breast is subjected to constant physical irritation due to always being covered by tight clothes, tight underwire bras, and sports bras, and also by itself due to the body's anatomy. There is a lot of skin-on-skin contact leading to the trapping of moisture, maceration of the skin, and itch.”
The list of things that can cause itchy breasts is surprisingly long, ranging from common harmless triggers to more serious underlying health issues that will require a doctor's visit. We asked Russak, along with OB/GYNs Kelly Culwell, MD, MPH, and Hiamine Maass, DO, MPH, and endocrinologist Amber Klimczak, MD, for the scoop behind each of those reasons, so you’ll always know why your breasts itch and what you can do about it.
Meet the Expert
- Julie Russak, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in New York City.
- Kelly Culwell, MD, MPH, is a board-certified OB/GYN who has specialized in women’s reproductive health for more than 18 years.
- Hiamine (Minnie) Maass, DO, MPH, is an OB/GYN with Viva Eve.
- Amber Klimczak, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist based in New Jersey.
Between your bras and your tops, there are a lot of different types of materials that come in contact with your breasts—and there’s a chance your skin may not like some of them. “If you find that you're particularly sensitive to certain fabrics, whether it be the fabric in your bra or the fabrics of your sweaters, then you may have to avoid those,” advises Culwell. “For example, I can't wear fabrics that have wool. Wearing different layers might help some people.” Synthetic fabrics are common culprits, particularly polyester and latex, especially for those with sensitive skin.
One of the most common causes of itchy breasts is a simple one: dry skin. “Dry skin causes a breakdown in the natural skin barrier, further leading to loss of moisture from the inside and leaving the skin more exposed to allergens from the outside, and therefore, inflammation,” explains Russak. “Once inflammation starts, it becomes a snowballing cascade that leads to the release of more pro-inflammatory cytokines from inside the cells that cause itching.” Luckily, the solution is simple, too: Repairing the natural skin barrier with quality hydrating and emollient skin creams can help.
This skin condition can be caused by an allergic reaction or exposure to certain irritants, leading to red, sore, and swollen skin. “There are various types of dermatitis, and all have different causes and presentation,” says Maass. These are the most common:
- Seborrheic Dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis is “a common and relapsing condition that presents as red and scaly patches often found in areas that have a high concentration of sebaceous glands such as the scalp, nasolabial folds, nose, and eyebrows,” Maass says. Though it isn’t as common, it can sometimes occur in the chest area.
- Atopic Dermatitis: Also known as eczema, atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes itching and red plaques. Most frequently occurring in children, it’s commonly found on flexural areas such as wrists, elbows, and knees. It can also be a common cause of itching of the nipple.
- Contact Dermatitis: “[Contact dermatitis] refers to any dermatitis that happens with direct contact of the area to a substance,” Maass explains. “The two types of contact dermatitis are allergic and irritant-induced. Allergic dermatitis occurs when the skin is exposed to a substance and this triggers an immune response. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is exposed to a substance that causes a physical, mechanical, or chemical irritation of the skin.”
Yep, yeast infections aren't limited to the vaginal area; yeast infections can also be a culprit for itchy breasts. “Yeast likes to live in places where there are folds, and where it's kind of dark and damp," Culwell says. "So, underneath the breast is an area where females will sometimes get yeast infections that can definitely cause itching. It can cause redness under the breasts and sometimes a whitish discharge. It's pretty common.” Usually, an over-the-counter topical antifungal is all you need to treat a yeast infection in the breast area, but see a physician for official diagnosis and treatment.
Laundry Detergent, Soap, and/or Body Wash
“Sensitive skin, like the skin on the breasts, is super sensitive to fragrances and other allergens often found in scented detergents and soaps,” Russak says. “Therefore, try to look for hypoallergenic products with no fragrance added and no soap that can strip skin of its natural oils and dry skin out even more, making it itchier.”
Anyone who has ever had a sports bra go rogue on them and cause friction during a workout knows the itch and irritation that can bring on. “Especially when you're talking about sports bras, try to find ones that fit well,” Culwell says. “Make sure they’re comfortable—not too tight but comfortably tight—so there's not a lot of movement. That also prevents some of the chafing you get with other types of bras. Stick with fabrics that are smooth and don't have a lot of seams or any kind of adornments or things like that that could cause irritation.”
If you feel an itch coming on during a heatwave or even post-workout sesh, you’re not alone. “Skin under the breasts is more sensitive due to constant skin-on-skin contact and is, therefore, more susceptible to heat rash,” Russak says. Typically the skin becomes red and itchy, though sometimes heat rash can trigger a cluster of tiny bumps or blisters. Wearing fabrics with breathability is one of the best ways to prevent it. Doctors will recommend a low-potency steroid or antihistamine to help soothe the irritation.
It’s no secret that your hormones are all over the place during pregnancy, and these hormonal fluctuations can lead to itching. “Stretching of the skin when the breasts start to grow during pregnancy can also cause itching,” Maass says. “There are some other pregnancy-related conditions such as pemphigoid gestationis, polymorphic eruption of pregnancy, atopic eruption of pregnancy, and pustular psoriasis of pregnancy can lead to rashes and itching as well.
Just like on any other area of skin, sunburn can majorly bring on itching. Treat it like anywhere else and apply aloe to soothe it. “It's not an area that gets a lot of sun, so making sure that you use sunscreen is incredibly important. That's an area that's going to be more likely to get sunburned because it hasn't had exposure,” Culwell says.
“Allergic reaction to most common antibiotics, but any oral medication or food, can cause itchy skin and therefore itchy breasts,” Russak says.
“Breastfeeding can cause the skin of the nipple to break down, crack, and become irritated,” Maass says. “Sometimes an infection can occur, such as a yeast infection. All of these can cause itching of the nipples.”
"Another aspect of breastfeeding that may lead to an 'itching' feeling of the breasts is the milk let-down response," says Klimczak. "When a baby starts to nurse the nerves are stimulated, which results in milk being released into the milk ducts. When the milk lets down, it causes a tingling sensation that may feel like temporary itching to some women. The feeling usually subsides within a minute or so; rest reassured that this is a normal response."
“Some metabolic imbalances such as hypothyroidism lead to dry skin everywhere on the body. But in skin folds where there is moisture trapped from perspiration due to skin-on-skin contact, such as under breasts, instead of dry skin it can present more with intertrigo,” which is inflammation, Russak says. “Since hypothyroidism also leads to skin microbiome disbalance, it can lead secondary to yeast overgrowth in those areas and cause further skin irritation and breakdown.”
It might seem harmless to skip washing your bra a few times, but that can definitely lead to itching. “Make sure that your bras are clean and that you use fragrance-free detergents and soaps,” Maass says. “Change your clothing as necessary when sweating to avoid additional irritation and possible growth of bacteria or fungus.”
Though it’s not as common, you can get psoriasis on the breasts, a common condition that should be treated by a board-certified dermatologist. “Typically, topical steroid creams are the first things that are used to treat both eczema and psoriasis,” Culwell says. “But if you know it's more serious, there are other oral medications that can be given.”
Some forms of breast cancer can lead to itching. “Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer,” Maass says. “It normally presents with skin changes that can resemble the skin of an orange. Women typically report pain, a rapidly growing breast lump, and itching of the breast.”
Though it’s rare, Paget’s disease of the breast is a type of cancer that can occur in both men and women. “Mammary Paget's disease is usually a manifestation of the underlying breast cancer (there is a lump often present under the skin) that presents as an eczema-like patch on the nipple and then spreads to the areola,” Russak says. “It usually starts asymptomatic but can evolve into an itching or burning sensation on the skin.”
Most of the time, itchy breasts are nothing to worry about—they're just a nuisance. But with that being said, it's never worth taking a risk when it comes to your health. If nothing in your routine has changed (including soaps, detergent, clothing, diet, and medications) and itching is a new symptom for you, it’s time to follow up with a doctor for an evaluation. “If the itching is also associated with a newfound lump, nipple retraction (or an inverted nipple), pain of the breast or nipple, changes in skin texture of the breast or nipple, or there is bloody, yellow, green, or brown discharge from the nipple, that also means it’s time to see a doctor,” Maass says. “Also, women who have itching associated with fevers, especially those who are currently breastfeeding, should seek the help of a physician.”