What's The Difference Between Nipples And Areolas?

Our bodies dictate so much about how we see ourselves and how we're perceived by our peers. They are the vessels we use to move through the world and we dedicate so much of our lives to trying to make them comfortable. And yet, in a lot of ways, our own bodies are strangers to us. According to Study Finds, a OnePoll survey revealed that nearly three in four Americans don't know most of their organs and how they work. In another survey conducted by OnePoll and commissioned by Intimina, 57% of women said they wished they had a better understanding of the female anatomy.

But knowledge is power, and as far as we're concerned, being in touch with your body is a superpower. With so many questions up in the air about our own bodies, we wanted to clear up one common misconception that will put you on the path to knowing your body better. Turns out, nipples and areolas are not the same thing.

So what's the difference?

While the terms nipple and areola are often used interchangeably in common conversation, they are actually two different areas of the body that serve different purposes. The experts at Cleveland Clinic explain that the breast is made up of 15 to 20 lobes that surround the nipple, like sections of a color wheel. Inside each lobe lives glandular tissue that produces milk, which is carried to the nipple through mammary ducts.

The nipple is the center part of the breast where milk is secreted. It has nine milk ducts and hundreds of nerve endings, which make it extremely sensitive. The nipple is the part of the breast that can become erect through temperature change and stimulation, thanks to smooth muscles that respond to signals from the autonomic nervous system (per Verywell Health).

The areola, on the other hand, is the darker-colored circle of skin that surrounds the nipple. The small raised bumps on the areola can actually be glands that secrete a lubricating oil designed to protect the nipple from chafing, which normally happens as a result of breastfeeding, according to the Cleveland Clinic. During pregnancy, the areolas often grow darker in color (via Medical News Today). Scientists believe this is an evolutionary response that is designed to help nursing infants locate the nipple more easily.