Instead of using tissue to rebuild a nipple, some women choose to have a nipple tattooed on the reconstructed breast. Some women decide to have a star, a heart, or another meaningful image tattooed on the reconstructed breast instead of a nipple.
The most realistic results are often achieved with 3D nipple tattoos, which are basically real tattoos that use oscillating needles coated with pigment. The needles insert the pigment into the skin. This approach essentially creates a “picture” of a nipple and has no physical dimension, but it can look quite real — although it does tend to look better from a distance than very close up. A tattoo artist can use a wide range of colors, and one session is usually all that’s needed, although it may require touchup sessions over time. 3D tattoos are permanent and usually don’t fade. 3D nipple tattooing can be used to create new nipples and to color-correct previous nipple tattoos that have faded or have undesirable colors.
Vinnie Myers, a tattoo artist and former Army medic, is one of the people we at Breastcancer.org know of who specialize in 3D nipple tattoos. Since 2002, Myers has immersed himself in the art of 3D nipple tattoos. He works with the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans in addition to working at his own tattoo shop. Myers also travels extensively to work with as many women as possible. To learn more about his 3D nipple tattooing, read Myers’ blog posts.
The Whitney Center for Permanent Cosmetics also offers 3D nipple tattoos, with locations in New York City; Montclair, New Jersey; and Boca Raton, Florida. Owner and founder Melany Whitney has a number of credentials, including being a board-certified permanent makeup artist and instructor and a fellow of the American Academy of Micropigmentation. She is professionally associated with physicians at many U.S. hospitals including New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical College and the Dubin Breast Center at the Tisch Cancer Institute at Sinai Hospital, both in New York City.
In either case, areolocation — the precise positioning of the new nipple and areola (the colored skin around the nipple) using a high-resolution laser technique — can help ensure the best placement of the new nipple and areola. Latex nipples are placed for accurate color and size, and then the nipples are tattooed. Right now, areolocation is available at a limited number of facilities, including Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, PA.
Because the reconstructed breast doesn't have the same sensation as before surgery, tattooing the area usually isn't painful.