Most mastectomies result in the loss of your areola and nipple. Many people choose to not have their breasts reconstructed. Many do. There’s no right or wrong answer, but for those looking for a little work, there are a few options, and one of them is getting a nipple tattoo. It’s a tattoo on your breast that is made to look like a 3D nipple and areola. Here’s what to know.
What Is a Mastectomy?
A mastectomy is a surgical operation done to remove a breast. It is most often done as a way to get rid of breast cancer or possibly to prevent breast cancer in high-risk people. There are a few types of mastectomies but most end up with the patients' nipple and areola being removed.
After a mastectomy is done, patients have the option to have breast reconstruction surgery. Reconstruction surgery can happen right after the mastectomy or later once the patient has fully healed from the mastectomy.
Usually, breast reconstructive surgery does not include the nipple. You get the overall shape of the breasts back with the use of implants or tissue from other parts of your body. Nipple reconstruction, if it’s done, is a whole other surgery done after the breast has healed from its other surgeries.
Typically, most people aren’t warm to the idea of going back under the knife when they are finally healed, and that’s where nipple tattoos can help.
What Is a Nipple Tattoo?
A nipple tattoo is a medical tattoo option for mastectomy patients after breast removal. If they wish to recreate the shape of their breast, they can get reconstructive surgery. Sometimes people get nipple reconstruction. Others get a nipple tattoo.
A 3D nipple tattoo is a cosmetic tattoo that recreates the look of the nipple by tattooing skin-colored pigment into the skin, and shading is used to create a very 3D look on the flat surface of the breast. If you were to take a picture of a 3D tattoo nipple, it would look as if the person actually had the raised characteristics of a nipple, but in reality, it’s flat to the touch.
It’s not likely that a 3D nipple tattoo will hurt as much as you think it would. The skin of the breast after a mastectomy is not nearly as tender as it was.
If you do have tender skin from the surgery (and even if you don’t), you can prepare by using HUSH’s numbing products ahead of, during, and after your tattoo session.
Who Does Nipple Tattoos?
Nipple tattoos are generally done by plastic surgeons who have expanded their plastic surgery practice into a bit of a tattoo parlor as well. There are also professional tattoo artists who specialize in post-mastectomy tattooing.
The 3D nipple and areola are created with light and dark tattoo pigments and dimensional shading to give them a 3D illusion. Darker and lighter pigments are used to create texture on the areola and depth to the nipple.
To make a 3D nipple and areola tattoo, the artist measures out and outlines the nipple and areola area on your breast. Then you choose a pigment that makes sense for your skin color. You can choose whatever you like! Want darker areolas than you had before? Lighter? Bigger? Smaller? Some women even opt for heart-shaped or flower-resembling nipples — it’s completely up to you.
Can I Get a Nipple Tattoo Right After a Mastectomy?
A nipple tattoo is a final step you take at the end of the whole process. It’s recommended to wait four months after the last breast surgery to ensure your body and skin are fully healed — whether that be the mastectomy, breast reconstruction, or nipple reconstruction.
As this will be the final touch, you want to make sure your breast has fully healed from surgery before getting a tattoo on it.
Considerations When Getting Your 3D Nipple Tattoo
It’s time to get creative. How do you want your new nipple to look? You have the power to go for whatever your heart desires. Turn off that Safe Search, Google some nipple images, and bring in your inspiration pics.
Size and Shape
Want tiny nipples? Or maybe you want to go bigger? How about the shape? All up to you, just remember — you can generally add to make it bigger, but you can’t take away.
What kind of shape should your nipple and areola take? How do you want the 3D part to look? The fall-off from your nipple to the areola? Do you want them to look perked up or more relaxed?
Check out your tattoo artist's previous work. Google 3D nipple tattoo inspiration pics. Seriously, we weren’t kidding the other times we advised this.
Do you want the color of your nipple and areola to differ? Are you thinking more pink or more brown for the skin tone? Your artist will choose different tattoo pigments depending on your preferences.
Do you want an areola at all? How big or small do you want the areola? Do you want it to be a circle or how about a more ovular shape? What color should the pigmentation be? Do you want it to look textured? How texturized?
How do you want your nipple to be shaped? How much should it look like it’s protruding? Your artist can use different shading methods to determine how nipple-y your nipple looks.
One or Both?
Are you getting two new 3D nipples or just one? If you only had one breast removed and are getting a 3D nipple tattoo for just that one, you will want to consider how best to match it to your other breast (but not matching is okay, too — seriously, this is whatever you want it to be).
It will depend on where you go for your tattoo, but some more medical offices will not tattoo your unconstructed original areola and nipple to match your reconstructed breast. They do the best they can to match the new one to the original. So, if you want to get creative and have matching star-shaped areolas, check with your tattoo artist to see if they are willing to tattoo both breasts or just one.
Nipple Tattoo Versus Nipple Reconstruction
Every year, more and more people opt for 3D nipple tattoos instead of nipple reconstruction surgery.
Nipple tattoos don’t leave scars and they are customizable. Nipple reconstruction gives you the real-life feel of a nipple but it has its pitfalls. Reconstructed nipples are not sensitive in the way the original nipple was.
There is also the chance of nipple necrosis. This means the reconstructed nipple tissue isn’t receiving enough blood and some or all of the tissue used in the reconstruction dies. If this happens, the dead tissue must be trimmed away. It’s possible to get the nipple reconstructed again, but that is more time, pain, and money.
Reconstructed nipples also have a tendency to flatten over time. The nipple can be resituated with additional surgery, but again, time, pain, and money.
Once your reconstructed nipple heals you can get a nipple tattoo to enhance the look of the nipple and add on an areola.
Having a protruding nipple can be nice, but it comes with possible complications and more surgeries. This is why more people are opting for solely 3D nipple tattooing and no nipple reconstruction.
When Is It Not Possible to Get a 3D Nipple Tattoo?
There is a chance that getting a 3D nipple tattoo isn’t going to be possible for you. If the skin on your breast is too scarred or thinned from radiation therapy or surgery, it won’t be possible for your skin to safely receive a tattoo — complications with the ink entering the skin at the correct level and staying there become a lot riskier.
You also might be more prone to inflammation or infection because of your fight against breast cancer. You probably know if this is something you are dealing with as an aftereffect.
If healing from the mastectomy was difficult, healing from a tattoo might be as well. It won’t be a good idea to introduce foreign tattoo pigments and inks to this tender area just yet. Give your body some time to regain some strength.
Does Insurance Pay for Nipple Tattoos After Mastectomy?
Call your specific insurance company to figure this one out. Most insurance plans cover the cost of mastectomy but 3D nipple tattooing is a different charge, and coverage can be finicky because it is a newer practice. It might also depend on who you get to do the tattoo.
Here are some questions you should ask your insurance company when asking if they cover 3D nipple tattoos:
- Do you cover 3D nipple tattooing?
- Who needs to do the nipple tattooing?
- Does it matter if a plastic surgeon or a professional tattoo artist does the tattoo?
- Is there a time limit for coverage from when I get my mastectomy to when I get my tattoo?
- Is 3D nipple tattooing covered even if I don’t get nipple reconstruction?
- How much of the cost of the tattoo do you cover?
When you talk to your insurance company initially, ask these questions. Then, once you find someone you want to do your nipple tattoo, call them again and confirm that they will cover the cost of the tattoo with this particular provider. Insurance companies are finicky and if you don’t triple check, you could be left with a bill you weren’t expecting.
You’ve had a lot of work going on. Once you get your new tattoo, make sure to take care of it. We have a healing spray for itchy irritations, CBD Foam Soap to keep you clean and calm, and our CBD Healing Balm to help soothe skin and keep those colors vibrant.
We hope this helped, and we wish you all the luck, wherever you are in your journey. 💜
Mastectomy | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Breast Reconstruction: What Is It, Types, Procedure & Recovery | Cleveland Clinic
Nipple reconstruction | Mayo Clinic
Nipple Reconstruction Surgery and Nipple Tattoos | BreastCancer.org