This review provides a summary of the current state of optical breast imaging and describes its potential future clinical applications in breast cancer imaging. Optical breast imaging is a novel imaging technique that uses near-infrared light to assess the optical properties of breast tissue. In optical breast imaging, two techniques can be distinguished, i.e. optical imaging without contrast agent, which only makes use of intrinsic tissue contrast, and optical imaging with a contrast agent, which uses exogenous fluorescent probes. In this review the basic concepts of optical breast imaging are described, clinical studies on optical imaging without contrast agent are summarized, an outline of preclinical animal studies on optical breast imaging with contrast agents is provided, and, finally, potential applications of optical breast imaging in clinical practice are addressed. Based on the present literature, diagnostic performance of optical breast imaging without contrast agent is expected to be insufficient for clinical application. Development of contrast agents that target specific molecular changes associated with breast cancer formation is the opportunity for clinical success of optical breast imaging.