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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Doran

Nipple Tattooing

Do you want to hide scars or create the illusion of natural nipples without surgery? Try nipple tattooing.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer expert Michael Ham, a registered nurse and medical tattoo artist at Penn Medicine and the Sauler Institute of Tattooing, answered a number of questions posed to him through the LBBC website throughout November. Here are some of his responses.

Although getting a tattoo after lymphedema is usually safe, you should discuss it first with a physician before getting a tattoo on the arm in which lymph nodes were removed.

If you are allergic to red tattoo ink, other pigments are available. If in doubt, ask for samples of the ink so that you can be tested by your allergist.

The color of a nipple tattoo will initially fade in the first two weeks as the tattoo is healing. A tattoo should last a lifetime. However, since the artist is working with skin that has been compromised (scarred/moved/stretched/had radiation), everyone responds differently over time. If your tattoo does fade, you can have it touched up.

At the Sauler Institute, we charge out-of-pocket for the procedure but will provide a receipt and and reimbursement form to submit to your insurance company.

With areola tattooing, minor stretching or shrinking of the skin will not affect the tattoo. However, weight gain or loss may affect it depending on how quickly and how much your weight changes. The tattoo can be touched up if any changes are noticed over time.

With any procedure that penetrates the skin surface, infection is a risk. However, we clean the area with alcohol before tattooing and cover it with a clear bandage immediately afterward. The bandage stays on for three days to prevent any bacteria from coming into contact with the healing tattoo. The artist uses sterilized, single-use needles and top quality inks.

We generally book a bilateral aerola and nipple tattooing session for 90 minutes and a unilaterial tattooing for 60-90 minutes.

Healing time is generally one to two weeks with the majority of the healing in the first three days. You should be able to resume normal activities right away with a few restrictions: no vigorous exercise for the first 24 hours and no soaking in any bathtubs, swimming pools or hot tubs for at least seven days.

Artists can apply a tattoo as early as six to eight weeks after reconstruction. You must be cleared by your plastic surgeon for the procedure. Your incisions have to be healed, with no broken skin or signs of irritation.

And it’s never too late to get a tattoo. Patients can have tattoos performed years after their reconstruction.


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