Nipple Tattooing After Breast Cancer Surgery

During treatment for breast cancer, many men and women undergo surgery to remove one or both breasts (mastectomy), followed by breast reconstruction. While this process can sometimes spare the nipple, many people are left without a nipple and areola.

Nipple tattooing provides a nipple and areola replica on the new breast. The tattoo can help patients feel more self-confident and complete after their cancer treatment surgery.

Miami Cancer Institute provides on-site nipple tattooing services for our patients who have had breast reconstruction surgery. The service, provided by Suzanne Moe of SUMA Ink, is available by appointment and can be scheduled with your surgery team.

How does the nipple tattooing process work?

Nipple tattooing is a non-invasive, non-surgical procedure that involves implanting ink just below the top layer of skin (dermis). The customized ink color, combined with shadowing techniques, can give the illusion of depth and dimension, or a “3D” nipple tattoo.

The tattooing session

Once you have scheduled your appointment for the tattooing, you will work with the artist to develop the size, shape and color of the nipple and areola. The pigments are blended carefully to fit your skin tone or to match an existing nipple.

After you have completed the design and coloring, the artist will draw an outline before starting the tattoo.

Although many people do not have sensation in their reconstructed breast, a topical numbing cream will be applied to ensure the procedure is as comfortable as possible.

The tattoo process usually takes two hours or less.

After the procedure

Immediately after the session, the tattoo will be cleaned and covered with a sterile barrier. It is important to keep the area clean and dry for the first two weeks.

You may notice that your tattoo is brighter and darker immediately after the procedure, but the colors will lighten over the next few weeks.

You will schedule a follow-up appointment eight to ten weeks later to evaluate the tattoo with the artist and add more color or size, if needed.

How do I make an appointment?

You can schedule a nipple tattooing session through your plastic surgery team. Your surgeon will need to clear you for the tattoo procedure.

Common Questions About Nipple Tattooing

  • It is important to contact your insurance company to clarify whether you have coverage for the nipple tattooing procedure

  • After a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, most people lose sensitivity in their new breast. However, pain tolerance varies for each person and the type of surgery performed.

    To ensure you have a comfortable experience, we use a medical-grade numbing cream on the tattoo area. The area may feel like a minor sunburn for a few days after the procedure.

  • We follow strict sterilization and sanitation standards for tattooing in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements. The system is 100 percent disposable and single-use.

    Keep in mind that while tattoos don’t generally have any adverse health effects, they do cause small trauma to the top layer of skin. Tattoos make take longer to heal for people with post-radiation treated skin, diabetes or autoimmune disorders. People taking immunosuppressants may also have a longer healing time.

  • It is important to let your reconstructed breast completely heal before getting a nipple tattoo. The amount of time you have to wait will depend on your specific surgery and healing process. Your plastic surgery team will clear you for tattooing when it is safe to do so.

  • For the first 10-14 days after the tattoo, it is important to keep the site clean and apply a healing ointment twice per day. Avoid direct sunlight, swimming or soaking in water during this time.

    You should be able to return to work and daily activities right away, and moderate exercise is safe.

    Over time, your tattoo will soften, and the color will lighten as new layers of skin grow over the tattoo. Avoid scratching or picking at the tattoo while it is healing.

  • Most people only need one tattoo session. However, eight to ten weeks after your initial tattooing session, you will meet with the artist again to see how your tattoo looks after healing. During this follow-up appointment, you can ask for any color or size adjustments, if needed.

  • Tattoos are permanent and will last a lifetime. However, as you age, you will notice the tattoo softening. Many people feel this lightening matches the natural aging process.

    Keep in mind that exposure to direct sunlight and individual body chemistry can cause tattoos to fade faster. If this happens, you can undergo a color touch-up if you would like a darker tattoo.

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