When people think of tattooing, they tend to think of people displaying beautiful art or commemorative designs on their bodies, but for me, it's something different. Getting a tattoo is normally a private affair, but to a patient, it’s a family affair. I am a different kind of tattoo artist, working with cancer patients to restore color to their nipples after breast reconstruction surgery. Restoring color is only one component, we need to address the scarring as well.
“The impact is so fantastic. A lot of time patients will bring family members, because 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.”
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, or creating A 3-D design when the nipple has not been reconstructed. 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.
Restorative tattooing is a relatively new procedure. Our industry has changed a lot, 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. These 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 being substituted for or blended with traditional tattoo ink. Waverly tattoo ink company is the color company I have chosen to use. It is pure color with carcinogens, no plastics or additives. It’s also permanent and won’t fade. The artists combine different inks together and smudge it on the patient’s skin in order 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
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. During each session, artists use a topical numbing cream in order 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 basic fundamentals, it clearly does not replace a hands on class with a qualified instructor.
Enjoy the new journey of restorative tattooing.