Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Areola Restoration (Nipple Tattoo)

by bl

I was looking forward to having some colour on my new breast. After my nipple reconstruction I could see how much better it would look once I had the impression of an areola. When I got the letter from the hospital with the appointment for my tattoo I felt as if I was finally reaching the end of my treatment. It made me cringe though when I read that the machine that injected the pigmentation was like a sewing machine and I had visions of my skin being stitched to my implant.

I arrived on the day and undressed (top half only) and the breast care nurse held a sizing card (a bit like a ring guide with different size circular holes in it) over my remaining areola to ensure the closest match size wise. Checking that it was level with the existing one she proceeded to draw inside the template with a marker pen. This formed the basis of the area to be coloured and then more lines were added free hand to achieve the size and shape needed.

A local anaesthetic cream was applied and I had to wait 30 minutes for it to take effect. During this time the colour match was made. There were about 8 shades on the card and the nurse took a long time deciding on which shades to use. I had assumed that you picked a colour and that was it, but care was taken to select 3 or 4 different colours, one for the nipple button, one for the base around the button and a mixture of two colours for the areola. Then we got started!

I lay down on the bed and the tattooing started on the nipple button, progressing to the base and then the areola. It probably took the best part of an hour. The only pain I felt was on the inside of the breast, which was the last area to be coloured and the area of the breast that was still sensitive, whereas the outside of the breast felt pretty numb anyway. It was quite painful in that one area and a second anaesthetic liquid was applied, but it was gritted teeth until the end. When I had my second tattoo session the nurse began on the inside area of the areola and it was fine: I didn’t feel a thing, so we assumed that first time round the anaesthetic had worn off before she got to that area.

An antiseptic ointment was put over the area and a meopore dressing applied. The dressing had to stay in place for 24 hours. After that I had to apply a layer of Vaseline before showering or bathing so that the water would bead and run off and just place a piece of gauze inside my bra. I was told the area would scab over, not to pick it and not to swim for 2 weeks because the chlorine could bleach the colour in the healing stage.

After the first tattooing session it was a little tender, swollen and bled quite a bit and I put a second dressing on for a further 24 hours until it started to scab over. I was a little concerned to see that my new nipple seemed to have almost disappeared, but as the swelling went down and the scabs fell off it reappeared, albeit a little smaller. The scabs took about 10 days to all fall off and I was pretty amazed at the result and the difference it made. Just getting out the shower or undressed and catching sight of myself in the mirror my eyes went straight to my nipples, the scars hardly noticed any more. Even though my breasts still weren’t symmetrical, the colouration made it look so much more natural. I could see there were still gaps in the colour looking down on myself, but in the mirror it looked pretty good. When the surgeon saw it he thought it still looked a bit like a target practice (cheek!) because if you looked closely you could see each circle of dots, but after the second session it looked much better. At the second session the nurse added spokes of a darker colour and filled in with a pale colour to give a more realistic appearance.

The only downside was that the nipple button shrunk after the tattooing session. Whether that would have happened anyway I don’t know. The surgeon said it would depend on the viability of the fat and perhaps that is why some surgeons use a piece of muscle instead, but I’m still glad I had it done.

Mastectomy with expander

The Expansion

Implant Exchange & Nipple Reconstruction