After the months spent dealing with breast cancer treatment and the multiple surgeries required for a bilateral mastectomy it’s so nice to finally get to the last part of the process. 3D nipple tattoos after mastectomy are the final touch; that last piece that can really make you feel finished. Here is a little about my experience and some of the things you need to consider for yours.
What are 3D Nipple Tattoos?
Well, they are pretty much what they sound like – tattoos to give the appearance of nipples. They are generally done on women who have had a mastectomy, with or without reconstruction, due to breast cancer, but can also be done after top surgery for transgender or non-binary people.
The 3D aspect means that shading and other artistic work is done by the tattooist to give a more realistic appearance, rather than flat discs of colour.
3D Nipple Tattoos can be done on a flat, post-mastectomy breast or it can be done after nipple reconstruction to create the areola and give colour.
Even with nipple reconstruction and 3D nipple tattoos, the nipples don’t actually “work” or have any sensation, so they are simply for appearances only.
Why have 3D Nipple Tattoos?
So if they don’t work, why bother having 3D nipple tattoos? Great question, and it’s probably not as straight forward as you imagine.
The obvious answer is that it makes you feel more normal when looking in the mirror – and yes that is true.
For me the decision was made hand-in-hand with nipple reconstruction (you can read more about that here). If I chose reconstruction, I was also getting the tattoos – and that’s exactly how it worked out.
Strangely enough though, there are certainly reasons for not getting 3D nipple tattoos done. I was surprised to find I didn’t entirely dislike my nipple-less (is that a word?) boobs. They were perfectly smooth and all the one colour – I could go braless under anything and there was no fear of nipples being spotted through the fabric.
It was almost a thrill to have these new perky boobs that didn’t droop down to my belly button without a bra, maybe now I wanted to walk around feeling free and comfortable? I thought about this long and hard, and tried it out a few times, but it just felt weird, and I decided that I was not going to consider this as a benefit to not getting tattoos – because I would likely always wear a bra anyway.
Another reason for not getting 3D nipple tattoos is because you want to go even bigger and better and get one of the amazing artworks done across your whole chest. Some of these are absolutely stunning, and I did briefly consider it. But I’d never had a tattoo and really had no plans to ever have one, and I thought that might be step too far for me.
Another thing to consider when having 3D nipple tattoos done is the cost. Mostly they are not covered by any kind of medical insurance. (There are exceptions, but I will explain why that may not be the best option further down.) The tattoos are done over 2-3 sessions and cost me around $600AUD in early 2021. If I need them touched up in the future it’s around $200AUD per session.
There are occasionally opportunities to have the tattoos done free or cheaply when people are learning or for promotional purposes or even sometimes it’s offered by a charity – so keep an eye out if you are in this situation.
Why Go To a Traditional Tattooist
As I mentioned above, I’ve never had a tattoo done before, so going to a tattoo studio was a little intimidating. All those skulls and black-and-white graphics and big burly men with tattoos and beards! (Yes, I was stereotyping in my head – I knew no different!)
While not all 3D nipple tattoos are done by a traditional tattoo artist in this setting, there are benefits to going to one rather than having a cosmetic tattoo done – which is often what is offered by your surgeon’s office or other medical setting.
Cosmetic tattoos are done with a different type of ink using a different method, and as such only last 1-3 years. This means that you will need to go back regularly to get them re-done. You can see a longer explanation here but remember it is written by a business that does cosmetic tattoos.
The traditional tattoos will last whole lot longer – just like a regular tattoo. They might occasionally need a touch up to look their best forever, also just like regular tattoos, but they won’t need to be re-done altogether.
Getting My Tattoos Done
I needn’t have worried about going to a tattoo studio because I was met there by the best 3D nipple tattoo-artist in the world! Yes, big call, but she has to be up there! If you happened to be in South Australia, I absolutely recommend contacting Aleisha from Pink Lotus Australia to get your tattoos done!
Pink Lotus may sound familiar to you, and that’s because I have recommended them before. Even before I decided to get my permanent 3D nipple tattoos I had some temporary tattoos from Aleisha and they helped me to make the decision. Her range has increased since then to many more decorative temporary tattoos and other options – take a look at the link above.
Before my appointment I had been advised to get two specific types of numbing agents. One was a numbing liquid that Aleisha used when tattooing that I had to source from a compounding pharmacy interstate. It’s a legal requirement for this to be used. It was also suggested that I get some Emla numbing patches from the pharmacy and put them on an hour beforehand.
This might all sound a little redundant since, like most women after mastectomy, I had no feeling in my boobs. I decided to be absolutely sure about that though, so did as I was told 🙂
Aleisha made me feel comfortable right from the start. Soon she was drawing on the outline of my new areola and mixing up just the right colours.
It took her about an hour to complete each session. The first session was mainly providing the background colour for the tattoos. The second session about four weeks later built on that colour with the 3D elements like shading around the nipple and the addition of Montgomery Glands.
I didn’t have any pain during either session, feeling comfortable just leaning back while Aleisha did her thing. We chatted along the way about all sorts of stuff.
After each session the 3D nipple tattoos looked much darker than what they would end up being later. At least 50% darker is fairly normal, but I think mine were even more than that. Mine felt really dark after my first session because I had quite a bit of bleeding under the skin, but it faded considerably before the second session.
Looking After the Tattoos
Once home, after care was required just like any tattoo. For the next two weeks I went bra-less as much as possible to air the tattoos out, while also smearing them with a tattoo care cream provided by Aleisha twice a day.
Both times the skin over the 3D Nipple tattoos tattoos became a little dry and peeled off, happening about a week later. Once that happened they were fine.
It’s now almost twelve months afterwards, and I am still happy with my tattoos with one small caveat. I took closeup photos recently and noticed in them that one side is a little patchy. I don’t notice it in the mirror unless I look really closely, the light and colours of the photo have certainly made it stand out more than it does naturally.
While there is no rush, I will likely contact Aleisha sometime soon and see if she recommends a touch up.
However it goes, I do have to admit I am glad I decided to go down the path of having my nipples reconstructed and tattooed. It does make me feel normal when I catch an unexpected glimpse in the mirror.
Want to read more of my story? Here are some of the key posts
- Lumpectomy and Finally the Results
- My Bilateral Mastectomy with Tissue Expanders
- Exchange Surgery – From Expanders to Implants
If you are just starting on this journey yourself, here are some other posts that may be of help to you
Have you joined a breast cancer support group on Facebook but been completely overwhelmed by some of the posts? It’s fantastic that these groups are an open forum and all sorts of questions, worries and issues are addressed, but sometimes they can be too much. In fact sometimes they can be downright scary.
If you would still like to join a support group on Facebook but not be faced with some of the scarier aspects when you don’t want to see them, come and join Positive Breast Cancer Stories. Here we share positive stories, celebrate milestones and encourage each other rather than deal with the technical information >>
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