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Boobs: an owner’s manual

We all have nicknames for them, but whatever they are, a third of us don't check our breasts enough. So, it's time to wise up

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hey look great in a V-neck, become tender around your period and perform amazing feats, like producing milk. But, besides all that, you probably know very little about those two bumps residing on your chest. Being breast-aware is not only the key to keeping them perky, but will also help keep them healthy. So hold onto your bra straps…

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    There’s a perfect time to check them out

    Your boobs are at their smoothest a few days after the end of your period, which means this is the ideal time for you to spot any unusual lumpiness or swelling. ‘Each month your body prepares for the possibility of pregnancy and releases hormones that signal the breasts to change,’ explains Boots pharmacist Meera Shah. ‘As the milk-producing glands grow, breasts can feel bumpy and tender. This is normal and goes away after your period.’ If you do spot anything unusual, make an appointment to see your GP.

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    The right exercise supports them

    Breasts are made up of tissue, fat, milk glands and collagen, but little actual muscle – which means you can’t hugely change their appearance or size at the gym. However, you can help prevent sag by exercising the muscles underneath. ‘Working the pectoral muscle that lies just beneath your chest may make your boobs look firmer and more lifted,’ says personal trainer Julia Buckley. ‘The best moves? Push-ups and chest presses.’

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Working the pectoral muscle that lies just beneath your chest may make your boobs look lifted and firmer
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    Your nipples are great multi-taskers!

    When we hit puberty, hormones cause the body to create melanin (the amino acid that gives hair its colour), darkening our nipples and areolas. During pregnancy they can darken even more, which may help a newborn locate the breast. And scientists are still learning about them: recent research shows that nipple stimulation can directly activate the area of the brain that leads to orgasm.

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    They love Zumba…

    …or anything that gets your heart pumping. Research has found that being physically active may reduce your risk of 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer.

    Maintaining a healthy weight may also help lessen the risk of breast cancer. ‘Post-menopausal weight-gain is a known risk factor,’ says Dr Gio Miletto. ‘Research shows that gaining 10kg or more after menopause increases the risk, as does gaining weight when you’re over 50, because fat cells produce oestrogen, which is associated with some breast cancers.’

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How to check your breasts

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While most lumps usually turn out to be innocent, knowing what to look for – and getting any concerns checked by your GP – is crucial. Sophie Dopierala, health and education manager at breast-check charity CoppaFeel, explains how:

1 Check your boobs, armpits and up to your collarbones for any lumps, swelling or skin thickening. Do this after showering and in front of a mirror a few days after the end of your period. Keep fingers flat and together, and work in a firm, smooth, circular motion using the pads of your fingers. Check regularly, so you know what’s normal.

 

2 It isn’t just lumps you should keep an eye out for. With arms straight out, and then raised, look in the mirror and check for changes in skin texture, such as a rash or dimpling of the skin.

 

3 It’s important to know what your nipples look like, in case you notice they’ve become inverted (pulled in), or if there’s any discharge or crusting.

 

4 Unexplained, constant pain in your boob or armpit is another red flag. If you spot anything that isn’t quite right for you, visit your GP.

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    They’re thin-skinned

    The delicate skin on our chest and boobs requires TLC, especially in hot weather or during a holiday, when you’ll need to protect it from the sun. ‘It’s often exposed to sunlight, so is at risk of getting blotchy or crêpey,’ says dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto from the British Skin Foundation. ‘Moisturise daily using a firming cream that includes vitamin C and vitamin A (or retinol). Use a good-quality sunscreen, too.’

    We love Dr. Ceuticals Neck & Chest Lift SPF15, £19.99/1,999 points (75ml), which supports collagen in the skin and helps protect against sun damage.

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    They bounce!

    When you exercise, your breasts can move a whopping 21cm – up, down, side to side, even in and out! This can cause discomfort and even pain, so tuck them safely into a well-fitting sports bra, or the Cooper’s ligaments (connective tissue that helps support the breast tissue) may stretch, causing sagging. Plus, nipples can chafe, or even bleed. ‘Reduce friction by keeping skin dry, or, for long sessions, apply Vaseline,’ says Meera.

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    They need sleep

    Believe it or not, your boobs may benefit from a good night’s shut-eye. A study has shown that night-shift workers who have disrupted slumber and more exposure to artificial light have a higher risk of breast cancer. And another study has linked too little sleep to more aggressive breast cancers and the likelihood of cancers returning. Struggling to snooze? Consider Kalms Night Valerian Root Extract, £4.49/449 points (50 tablets), a traditional herbal medicinal product for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances, exclusively based on long-standing use as a traditional remedy (always read the label).

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    They get sweaty!

    The area around your boobs has lots of oil glands, making it prone to pimples. ‘When sweat collects there, it can encourage bacteria and cause blemishes,’ says Dr Mahto, ‘so wash soon after exercise, and choose a shower gel with salicylic acid or tea-tree oil.’ (Try Original Source Mint And Tea Tree Shower, £2.30/230 points, 250ml). And don’t forget to dry gently afterwards.

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Did you know?

There are more than 2,200 Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists* offering support in over half our stores if you or a loved one has been affected by cancer. We also have trained Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors, who can help manage the visible side-effects of cancer treatment. For more, go to boots.com/Macmillan

*Ask in your local Boots pharmacy to find your nearest Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist.

Words Laura Potter Photography Alamy, Getty Images, Shutterstock

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