“Everyday Runway” columnist Melissa Berry talks post mastectomy nipple tattoos with leaders in the temporary and permanent tattoo fields.
Time to talk nipples. Some of us are fortunate enough to have nipple sparing surgery while the rest of us — well, let’s just say we have some decisions to make. And thank goodness there are plenty of great options out there. Some beautiful ones, I might add, and that’s what I’m here for! To help you look and feel your best from the inside out.
I reached out to the top nipple experts out there, a cross section of tattoo artists as well as some amazing entrepreneurs who have worked hard to help us fill the nipple void. I asked questions. Lots of them. So you don’t have to. Read on and I hope this helps you during your decision-making process!
Marnie Rustemeyer is licensed and certified as a Permanent Cosmetics and Medical Tattoo Artist. She’s the founder of Medi Ink, offering areola and nipple restoration, scar camouflage and brow services. Marnie is also the creator of the Billow Pillow, a luxurious and functional post-op pillow that provides relief and comfort from breast surgery (including mastectomy, reconstructive, augmentation or reduction).
Rustemeyer is a former Wall Street professional, thyroid cancer survivor and breast cancer previvor. After being diagnosed with the BRCA gene mutation, she had a preventative double mastectomy to decrease her risk of getting breast cancer. Through her own experience, she became passionate about helping patients feel beautiful and confident again.
I’m so glad I had the chance to chat with Rustemeyer, and pick her brain about nipple tattooing!
Q. How soon after surgery does one need to wait to get a nipple tattoo?
A. The typical time to wait is four to six months after your final surgery; however, there have been situations where a patient may have significant scarring that needs to be treated first and have to wait longer. Treating the scars first is essential to the best final outcome, and I provide a scar management protocol prior to the tattooing.
Q. Can you select the color and size in advance? Do you give your own recommendations? How does this process work?
A. During the consultation, we discuss the size, shape and color of your new tattoos. It’s important to remember that your breast has changed from what it was before and might be discolored if you’ve had radiation. If you had a flap surgery, you may have stretch marks or even hair in the areas where the original breasts once were. Some women might have had large areolas before, and now want smaller ones! It’s all about working together to create something beautiful that you’ll be happy with for years to come.
Q. Do you recommend using a temporary nipple tattoo first? If so, are there any brands that you like to suggest to your patients?
A. Sure! If the patient wants to get an idea of how they’ll look with new tattoos, I recommend Nipple Backs.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with tattoo artist Tara Williamson, founder of Pink Ink Tattoo. Tara is a breast cancer survivor, nurse and a certified areola tattoo artist. During her many appointments with her plastic surgeon, she inquired about consulting with an areola tattoo specialist, but her plastic surgeon had no one to refer her to. The rest is history. Thank you Tara for sharing your expertise with us below!
Q. Does nipple tattooing hurt?
A. I always reassure them that with me, I’m all about no pain! I use lidocaine topically, and after the tattooing there shouldn’t be any discomfort at all.
Q. What is the best way for someone to find a nipple tattoo artist in their area?
A. I always recommend doing your research, make sure you speak with the artist, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Where do they get their ink from, how long have they been providing this service, have they worked on compromised tissue? Do they work in a tattoo shop or private salon or office? Will insurance cover or reimburse? Ask other survivors and your plastic surgeon, they can hopefully recommend someone they trust.
Now, let’s talk about temporary tattoos. Introducing Nipplebacks, founded by Stacie-Rae Weir. When Stacie-Rae lost her breasts and her nipples due to a prophylactic mastectomy, she learned firsthand how difficult it is to see your body without those two little circles. Everything you need to know about this beautiful option is right here. So many colors and styles (and creative shapes) to choose from!
Q. When is the best time to start wearing Nipplebacks?
A. As soon as the initial wound is closed, they’re safe to use. I’d never recommend wearing them on or near broken skin, just in case. Wound healing is so important, we want to reduce any risk of complications first.
Q. How long do they last for?
A. We tell people they last for a week, but it really depends on care. I have one client who washes them gently every other day and powders them like I recommend, and gets a month of defined wear out of a pair!
Q. How do you apply and remove?
A. Exactly like the stick-on tattoos in a kid’s cereal box! They’re the same idea, but much higher quality. Instructions come with each package. Just peel off the plastic cover, place face down and wet back with a wet cloth. To remove, eucalyptus oil or even hand sanitizer usually does the trick. I just rub mine off after a shower.
Last but certainly not least, check out Just Nips! Founder Molly Borman created these unique, affordable, latex free stick-on nipple prosthetics ideal for breast cancer patients and thrivers. They’re available in two colors, cream and cocoa. Molly recommends wearing “Cold” (small) Just Nips Fake Nipples with T-shirts and blouses, and “Freezing” (large) Just Nips Fake Nipples with sweaters and chunky knits.
Q. Which style works best for women who don’t have nipples?
A. I think our original, single-use Just Nips set is our best product because it’s super thin and flexible, while adding the perfect amount of perk.
Q. How long do they last for?
A. Our swim and single-use sets are single-use. The reusable set lasts a minimum of 10 wears, and can last even longer depending on usage.
Q. How do you apply and remove?
A. Just Nips work like your average pasty sticker, with a twist! You peel the backing off, place on your skin or on top of your bra, and you’re good to go. In fact, I personally prefer to wear mine on the outside of my bra, but it’s really a matter of personal preference.
I’m so happy to see that there are so many options out there when it comes to the nipple dilemma. I’ll leave you with one last tip. While you’re undergoing reconstruction (or perhaps you’ve decided to go flat), try wearing temporary nipple tattoos underneath a lace camisole like this one from Hanky Panky—talk about instant gratification!