We don’t usually spend too much time thinking about our nipples until they come out to play or feed. So when something’s off — like itchiness — it can be kind of alarming. Not to mention plunging your hands into your bra to give ‘em a good scratch in public is generally frowned upon. Because of this, finding a quick fix is a must. Here are the possible causes of itchy nipples — and how to stop the itch.

Eczema
The skin condition affects about one in 12 adults, causing dryness, scaliness, redness, crusting, bleeding, and itchiness — and nipples are not exempt. Keep moisture in your skin by using a gentle lotion, and cut down on fragranced soaps and creams that might be irritating skin in the first place. If that doesn’t help, ask your dermatologist for advice; they may be able to suggest a specific ointment or cream.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Your skin stretches fast as your breasts grow during pregnancy, which can irritate the skin around your nipples and cause itchiness. Keep your nipples moisturized (with a hypoallergenic cream) and avoid further irritation from fabrics like wool. Breastfeeding can also do a number on your nipples, from the sucking and biting, as well as from breast milk residue. Some experts recommend cocoa butter and vitamin E lotion after showering to keep skin supple and prevent itching. You can also grab soothing, nipple-specific cream or organic nipple balm.

Friction
Changed sports bras recently? If your nipples spend a lot of time chafing against the material — for example, if long runs are part of your weekly workouts — you may end up with itchiness, irritation, soreness, dryness, and even cracking and bleeding. Try applying a layer of petroleum jelly on your nipples to protect from chafing, and don’t delay your post-workout shower — the salt in your sweat dries out your skin, which can leave you itchy once your skin dries.

Cold weather
Winter can leave you feeling dry and itchy from head to toe, including your nipples. Up your moisturizing game and stay away from potentially drying and irritating bath and body products.

Your laundry detergent
Unless you’re a nudist, your breasts are almost always covered by either a bra or a shirt, which means whatever laundry detergent cleans those bras and shirts ends up on your skin. If detergent is the culprit behind your itchy nipples, it’s likely that other parts of your body are feeling the itch too. If that’s the case, try switching to a hypoallergenic option to see if that helps.

The serious (but unlikely) stuff
Sometimes, itchy nipples are a symptom of breast cancer or Paget disease. But don’t panic — they most likely won’t be the only symptom. In the case of breast cancer, they’ll often be accompanied by tenderness, sudden inversion of one or both nipples, dimpling, and a change in skin texture. And with the rare Paget disease, you’ll also see unusual discharge and flaking skin.

Bottom line? It’s totally normal for nipples to feel weird, but a dermatologist should be your go-to if nothing is soothing them or you’re having other symptoms. If your symptoms (like flaky skin or redness) come and go, don’t be afraid to snap a pic to show your doc at your appointment. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner your nipples can get back to their regular activities.

Diana Vilibert is a freelance writer and copywriter living in Brooklyn, NY. She loves flea markets, martinis, to-do lists, traveling, and wearing leggings as pants. You can see more of her writing at www.dianavilibert.com and follow her on Twitter at @dianavilibert.