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Get Educated

It can be overwhelming to navigate all of the options available to you after a mastectomy.
From reconstruction to staying flat to getting tattooed, we have all the need-to-know info to figure out your next steps.

Tattoo 101

Tattoo 101

No matter which path you choose after a mastectomy, tattooing is always an available option. Here is everything you need to know to decide what type of tattoo you want, how to prep for a tattoo, and what to expect from this experience.

Decorative Mastectomy Tattoos

Over 50% of breast cancer survivors are left with mastectomy scars, a silent testament to their courage. Why not transform these marks with a splash of ink? Getting a tattoo can be a beautiful way to celebrate your body and turn a reminder of struggle into a canvas of joy and resilience.

What?

Mastectomy tattoos are vibrant artworks that are drawn on top of the breast area, transforming mastectomy scars into captivating masterpieces. Many people choose to get a mastectomy tattoo as a powerful step in their emotional and physical healing process after breast cancer. These tattoos celebrate resilience, beauty, and the reclaiming of one’s body with every stroke of ink.

When?

Doctors recommend waiting 2-3 years after your last surgery before getting a mastectomy tattoo. Before getting a tattoo, your operation sites need to be completely healed and you should be finished with any chemo or radiation treatment. Make sure to confirm with your doctor that you are cleared to get a mastectomy tattoo.

Who?

Mastectomy tattoos can be provided by experienced tattoo artists. Not all artists know how to tattoo over compromised skin, so it is crucial to find an artist who has done mastectomy tattoos before and feels comfortable tattooing over your scars. Check out our Artist Directory to find a trusted artist.

How Much?

Unfortunately, mastectomy tattoos are not typically covered by insurance, leaving you to cover the cost. Mastectomy tattoos can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, with most artists charging by the hour. The final price tag is dependent on many factors, including the size and intricacy of the design you choose. Rest assured, your tattoo artist will walk you through the design process and give you an estimated cost, ensuring your vision comes to life within your budget.

 

Areola Tattoos

The majority of breast cancer survivors are left with no nipples after a mastectomy. Getting an areola tattoo may help you reclaim a feeling of normalcy.

What?

A nipple and/or areola tattoo attempts to bring a realistic look to your breast after reconstruction. If you’ve also gotten a nipple reconstruction, the reconstructed nipple and surrounding areola skin can be tattooed to look more similar to how it did before your mastectomy. If you didn’t have a nipple reconstruction, you can get a 3D tattoo to add color and shading to your breast. While a 3D tattooed nipple is flat to the touch, it will look raised like a natural nipple.

When?

It’s important to wait at least 3 months after your final breast reconstruction procedure to get a nipple or areola tattoo to ensure your skin has healed. Your doctor will give you the final go-ahead to move forward with tattooing.

Who?

Choosing the right tattoo artist is key. Areola and nipple tattoos can be performed by many different people, but no matter what route you choose, it’s important to make sure you pick someone who has plenty of experience tattooing realistic looking nipples and areolas. Whether it’s a skilled plastic surgeon, a knowledgeable physician assistant, or a talented tattoo artist, make sure they have experience in creating realistic-looking nipples and are comfortable tattooing over scar tissue. Check out our Artist Directory to find an artist near you.

How Much?

Nipple and areola tattoos are frequently covered by insurance, but you’ll need to check your plan to see how much they’ll pay. Insurance will likely only cover tattoos completed in a medical setting, so be aware that you will need to pay out of pocket if you visit a tattoo artist to get an areola or nipple tattoo. You and your doctor may need to persuade your insurance company that your tattoo is a medically necessary part of breast reconstruction and isn’t just a cosmetic procedure.

 

How to Prep for a Tattoo

Feeling overwhelmed, excited, and nervous about getting a tattoo after a mastectomy is normal. There are many things to think about, but considering all of your options and taking your time to make the right decision will be worth it in the long run.

 

1. PICK YOUR ART

There are different techniques used in tattooing to create different results. It’s important to understand the different tattoo styles available so you can decide what you want on your body permanently and find the best artist for the job.

Keep in mind that not all styles are suitable for every scar. For example, heavy scars and/or radiation burns may not work with fine lines, but an experienced artist can adjust the line weight or add shading/color to areas with texture to help. A knowledgeable artist will be able to advise you on the best styles and designs for your skin.

BOLD / TRADITIONAL / NEO-TRADITIONAL

bolder designs featuring black outlines with varied line weights and levels of shading

FINE LINE 

very thin, delicate lines to create designs with minimal shading

MINIMAL / DECORATIVE 

small details that accentuate or frame, rather than hide, the canvas

WATERCOLOR

bright colors and abstract designs mimicking the appearance of a watercolor painting

ORNAMENTAL / GEOMETRIC

intricate, often symmetrical patterns like mandalas, dotwork, and geometry

ABSTRACT

free form, fluid style shapes, patterns, or lines

This resource collects and reposts images of mastectomy tattoos from around the world, which can help you narrow down what styles and designs you like. You can also try searching for #mastectomytattoo on Instagram.

 

2. PICK YOUR ARTIST

Picking the right tattoo artist is an incredibly important step in the process. It’s critical to find an artist with experience tattooing over scar tissue and/or completing areola tattoos to ensure they’re well-equipped to create a tattoo on your post-mastectomy skin. You’ll also need to find an artist who has experience in the tattoo style you’re interested in getting. Tattoo artists are just that…artists. You wouldn’t expect a painter to be an excellent sculptor, so it’s unfair to expect all tattoo artists to excel in all styles.

You should feel comfortable with the answers to these questions about a potential tattoo artist before you book with them.

  • Does this artist have experience tattooing over scar tissue?
  • If I’m getting an areola tattoo, does this artist have experience providing them?
  • Does this artist have past work in the tattoo style that I want?
  • Does this artist have experience tattooing on people with my skin tone?

Once you find an artist you’re interested in working with, contact them to get on their schedule and discuss what you’re looking for. They’ll be able to help guide you through the design process to create the perfect tattoo for you.

If you’re looking for a list of trusted tattoo artists, check out our Artist Directory.

 

3. PREP YOUR BODY & MIND

Even if you’ve been tattooed before, post-mastectomy tattoos can bring up heavy feelings and feel nerve-wracking. Prep your body and mind as best as you can to make this a peaceful, healing experience.

  • Hydrate – Drink lots of water the day before and day of your appointment. Being well hydrated can help your skin absorb ink more easily.
  • Eat Well – Eat a good meal before your appointment. Protein and complex carbs will give you long lasting energy that won’t spike or fall too quickly. Try to include some foods rich in Vitamin C, which can help with wound healing.
  • Bring Snacks – Nuts and protein bars are good options to keep your energy up throughout your session. If you start to feel lightheaded, reach for a sugary snack, fruit, or juice/soda to help keep your blood sugar high.
  • Moisturize – Keeping your skin hydrated in the weeks leading up to your tattoo can help combat dryness on the day of.
  • Dress Comfortably – Wear comfy, loose, flexible clothing that allows you to easily expose your chest while it is being tattooed. A zip up hoodie or button down shirt are good options. You might also want to bring a blanket in case you get cold during your session.
  • Avoid Alcohol – Alcohol thins your blood and makes you bleed more during your tattoo – scary for health reasons and annoying for aesthetic reasons. The excess blood can thin the ink and mess with your final result.
  • Bring Headphones – Depending on your design, your tattoo could take multiple hours to complete. If it’s okay with your artist, pop in headphones to listen to music or a podcast to help pass the time.
  • Journal – Getting a post-mastectomy tattoo can bring up a lot of feelings. Try journaling about it before arriving for your session to process your emotions.
  • Bring a Friend – Depending on the rules at the tattoo shop you’re going to, you may be able to bring a trusted friend or family member to provide emotional support during your tattoo.
  • Take Pictures – Post-mastectomy tattoos are part of the healing process. Take pictures or write notes to remember this day.

 

What to Expect After a Tattoo

After your tattoo session, your artist will provide you with specific instructions to care for your new tattoo. It’s important to always wash your hands with soap and water before touching the tattooed area to reduce your risk of infection. Your artist may cover your new tattoo with a non-stick wrap. If they do, they’ll tell you how long to keep it on for and/or when to replace it.

It’s normal to experience some swelling, redness, and itchiness after a tattoo, but this should go away over time. While your tattoo is healing, you may not be able to wear a bra or tight clothing for up to three weeks.

 

Tattoo FAQs

Do I need to wear sunscreen? 

Tattoo or not, you should be wearing sunscreen every day. But putting sunscreen on your post-mastectomy tattoo when you’re wearing less clothing will help preserve the ink and prevent fading.

Can I wear clothes over my tattoo?

Definitely! But, try to wear loose fitting and breathable fabrics for a few weeks after getting your tattoo to avoid further irritating the skin.

When can I touch my tattoo?

Your artist can give you a definitive answer on this, but in general you should only touch your tattoo when you are cleaning it until it has fully healed.

Will I scar after a tattoo?

Scar tissue may form when you get a tattoo or you could develop granulomas, small knots or bumps that may form around material that the body perceives as foreign. If you tend to get keloids, you may develop the same kind of reaction to the tattoo.

How bad does a tattoo hurt?

Tattoos aren’t exactly pain-free, even for women who’ve had a mastectomy. Some people compare the pain level of a tattoo to a hot, scratching feeling, but pain is relative. Your artist will talk you through the process and can provide pain management suggestions if needed.

Will I need to get touch ups on my tattoo in the future?

Tattoos do fade over time. The rate at which this happens can vary and the desire for touch ups in the future is an individual preference.

Should I tip my tattoo artist?

Tipping is always a nice gesture, but there are no real ground rules for tipping artists.

When should I get a tattoo?

Assuming your doctor has cleared you to get a tattoo, you can make an appointment whenever you want. However, your skin takes a lot more abuse during the summer with swimming and sun exposure, so you may want to consider getting tattooed during a colder month.

Can I get tattooed if I’m sick?

If you aren’t feeling well, it’s better to reschedule your appointment to protect yourself and your artist.

Are my medications a problem?

Tell your artist about any medications you’re taking prior to starting your tattoo, including acne medications, anti-rejection drugs, blood thinners, and antibiotics. They’ll be able to tell you if there are any concerns.

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