Many of us have stood side by side with our sisters, mothers, grandmas, aunties and friends while they underwent a mastectomy to remove cancer from their bodies. Maybe you even had one. 

But after everything they go through (surgeries, chemotherapy, hair loss, rebuilding, remaking), these strong women are sometimes left struggling with body image. 

A defining characteristic of the breast is the nipple/areola. Naturally, it is a focal point for the eye. If the nipple/areola is removed and is no longer present, patient often tends to focus on the scars that they have in that area. 

In order for your technician to recreate a natural appearance after breast reconstruction, he/she must have experience with the skin and an artistic eye for color and detail. 

To help these patients regain a good feeling in their body, reconstructive surgeons are turning to artists and deciding to specialize in the recreation of the areola. They provide 3D nipple tattoos, which use shadows and highlights to create texture, instead of using tissue to rebuild a nipple. This technique restores a sense of depth and detail to the reconstructed breast.

Many plastic surgeons offices that provide the services of breast reconstruction also provide a nurse or esthetician to tattoo nipples/areolas after the reconstruction. But often, the lack of training in tattoo techniques may leave you as the patient unhappy with the results. Currently, many physicians have chosen to send the patient to an artist with years of experience with the process.

Since this is a literal tattoo, a patient can choose a shape. Some women decide to go for a heart, a star, or another meaningful image tattooed on the reconstructed breast instead of a nipple.

When it comes to complete breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, nipple and areola enhancement are typically the final step. This treatment is a form of micropigmentation, or cosmetic tattooing. 

To explain it better, 3D nipple tattoos are basically real tattoos that use oscillating needles coated with pigment. The needles insert the pigment into the skin. This approach essentially creates a “picture” of a nipple and has no physical dimension, but it can look quite realistic. 

For this type of tattoo, you probably will not need more than one session, although it may require touchup sessions over time (every couple of years or so). 3D tattoos are permanent, just like any other tattoo, and they usually don’t fade away. 3D nipple tattooing can be used to create new nipples and to color-correct previous nipple tattoos that have faded over time. 

To make the position of the new nipple and areola perfectly precise on the breast, there is a technique available, called areolocation. Using a high-resolution laser, the best placement of the new nipple and areola is determined. Then, the nipples are placed for accurate size and color, and then the nipples are tattooed.

If you are worried about how painful this procedure is, there is really nothing to worry about. Usually, the reconstructed doesn’t have the same sensation as before surgery, tattooing is much less painful than usual tattooing. 

The Process of getting 3D Areola Tattooing

When you come into the office, it doesn’t matter if you have old work that needs a color boost, color correction or you are a fresh canvas ready for getting new color. You and your technician will decide the best options together, so you do not have to be nervous if you are not sure what you want: there will be someone professional there to provide guidance. During the color audition, you will also discuss your areola and your preferences. Good practice is to never use only one color but layers color to create a realistic result. Reconstructed nipples or not, the focus will be put on shape, highlights and shadows. You also have an option of adding Montgomery bumps, but that is completely on you. 

In case you really like your pre-mastectomy nipples, they can be recreated. You just have to bring your technician a pre-mastectomy photo, if you have it. This is a time you can have it the way you want. You can pick a color too, if you have any preferences: brown areolas, light pink areolas, smaller, larger, etc. You technician will probably ask you a lot of questions to understand your desired look, and that is good. 

On the Day of the Procedure

Before you get your procedure done, make sure you have had a good breakfast or lunch. It’s important for you to be comfortable and relaxed.

In order to be comfortable, it is advised for you to wear a loose sports bra and a 2 piece outfit, so you can easily take your top off to get the tattoo. You might be provided a disposable robe in the salon, but you might be more comfortable with your jeans or slacks on to keep you warm. Although there usually is no pain, you will be provided a topical anesthetic, if you feel that that is necessary. 

If you have a list of prescription medicines, please be ready to provide the list for your consent paperwork. After the procedure, your technician will provide you with your post procedure care and a few non-stick gauze pads to get started.

Healing Process

You should wait at least 8 weeks for the skin to recover from the original procedure. If you wish, you can follow up and do a little perfecting; that is usually not charged, but depends on the place you are getting this procedure done.