When people think of tattooing, they tend to think of people displaying beautiful art or commemorative designs on their bodies, but for the restorative tattooist, it's something different. Getting a tattoo is normally a private affair, but to a patient, it can be a family affair. I am a different kind of tattoo artist, working with cancer patients to restore color to their Nipple and Areola Complex (NAC) after breast reconstruction surgery. Restoring color, shape, and design is only one component, we need to address the scarring as well. As a trained technician, we focus on the entire mastectomy canvas.
“The emotional impact the tattoo has on the patient is so fantastic. This has been a long journey, and at the very end, the very last step, they get a tattoo. That’s it. That’s the finale.” Even during the most difficult times, the mastectomy patient has to wait to get the final tattoo. We embrace our patients and strive to do our best work.
During a mastectomy, doctors typically remove the patient’s Nipple and Areola Complex (NAC). Though doctors are able to recreate the nipple, they can’t recreate the areola – the colored tissue surrounding the nipple. That’s where we as technicians come in. We complete the reconstruction process by coloring in the area around the new nipple, a 2-D design, or creating A 3-D design when the nipple has not been reconstructed. Surgery types are changing and some physicians are creating a vertical incision which creates a baby bump where the nipple would be. This new technique eliminates the need for additional surgery. This helps to make the reconstructed breasts look as natural as possible. It’s a small detail, but a very important one. A natural-looking breast gives a woman the confidence and self-esteem to thrive after surviving breast cancer. Other nipple surgeries are also completed which resemble the structure that has been removed.
Restorative tattooing is a relatively new field for tattooists. Our industry has changed significantly, even more so in the last few years. Originally, physicians would color in the area themselves, but the results looked unnatural and the colors they used faded quickly. Nowadays traditional tattoo artists and permanent makeup technicians have taken up medical tattooing in order to help women bring closure to their breast cancer journey. Artists incorporate traditional tattooing techniques, such as color theory and needle configuration, in order to provide women’s areola tattoos with a realistic color. The traditional iron-oxide pigments are blended with traditional tattoo ink. It is important to use pure color with no carcinogens, plastics, or additives. It’s also permanent and won’t disappear. Softening over time to maintain the patient's natural beauty. The artists combine different inks and smudge them on the patient’s skin to get a correct color match. Once they’ve matched it to the patient’s skin tone, they prepare the machine and apply the color to the woman’s breasts.
HOW IT’S PERFORMED (Summary)
Getting a restorative tattoo is a two-stage process. During the first session, artists lay a foundation of color. Details and more color are added to the tattoo during the second session, which takes place about 45 days later. The delay gives the patient’s skin time to heal before the final color is applied. Artists use a topical numbing cream during each session to eliminate discomfort. Tattooing causes some skin inflammation which makes it appear redder than normal for the first few days. After about ten days, the inflammation will fade and the tattooed skin will peel slightly. Once the peeling skin is gone, the tattoo will take on its final, natural color.
This process requires a foundation of knowledge for the technician before we are faced with a patient. This online course is designed to help you with the fundamentals, it does not replace a hands-on class with a qualified instructor.
Enjoy the new journey of Restorative Tattooing.