AREOLA TATTOOING: A guide to nipple tattoos

WHAT IS AREOLA TATTOOING?

Areola tattooing, also referred to as Medical Tattooing, is a highly specialised tattooing skill, most commonly known for reconstructing and enhancing the nipple and areola. This type of tattooing is widely known for creating realistic 3D Reconstruction Nipple Tattoos on breast cancer survivors, post mastectomy surgery.  These tattoos play a vital part in the healing journey for survivors, helping them regain their confidence and body positivity. 

3D Reconstruction Nipple Tattoos are also a great option for anyone who has had top surgery (also known as gender reassignment surgery), nipple reconstruction or grafts, and breast surgery where the nipple has been lost or comprised. Tanya uses her extensive skillset, knowledge, and artistry from her traditional tattooing
career to recreate beautifully realistic areola tattoos for everyone. 

Areola tattooing can be used to enhance natural nipples too, adding shape, increasing size,
or boosting the colour; and is a perfect choice after breast enlargements and reductions to cover up scarring also. 

Heart shaped areola’s have also become a popular trend, offering a fun alternative to a natural areola shape. 


Tanya offers a free clinic for breast cancer survivors each month and is hugely passionate
about these types of tattoos. 


FAQ’s:

HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO WAIT AFTER SURGERY BEFORE I CAN GET MY AREOLA TATTOO?

If you are tattooing over scar tissue, it’s important to wait until the scar has fully ‘matured’, this can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years depending on your individual circumstances, surgery types and/or cancer treatments. As a general rule, a scar is matured when it is no longer red or pigmented, has softened and is no longer tender or itchy.

Tattooing over scar tissue before it is fully matured will increase the chances of damaging the scar further and causing more trauma to the skin, which in turn will result in a poorly healed or faded tattoo.

Breast Cancer Survivors: Tanya always advises clients to wait a minimum of 12 months post mastectomy surgery and 6 months post cancer treatment (such as chemo and radiotherapy); healing a tattoo puts strain on your immune system so she believes it is important to not only let your body fully recover, and also to give yourself time to heal emotionally; ensuring you are completely ready to embrace your new body, your new areola tattoo and to positively move forward in your journey.

Top Surgery: Top surgeries that involve nipple grafts are advised to wait until the graft is completely healed and settled, this can take up to 2 years depending on the individual. Again it is important to let the graft and scar tissue fully mature before tattooing, to avoid further damaging the already delicate skin.

Opting for not having the areola reattached or reconstructed during top surgery is becoming an increasingly popular option within the Trans Community, as this means you can have your areola tattoo done sooner than with a nipple graft, and it also makes the tattooing process easier. Tanya recommends waiting a minimum of 6 months before having your Areola Tattoo done, to allow for your body and immune system to fully recover from surgery.

Cosmetic Breast Surgery:  If your tattoo is not going on or near your surgery scar tissue then Tanya recommends to wait a minimum of 6 months before having your areola tattoo done, and a minimum of 12 months (or until the scarring has matured) if the tattoo is on or near scar tissue. This is subject to individual circumstances.


WHY USE PERMANENT INK?

As a traditional tattoo artist, Tanya is a firm believer in using permanent tattoo ink for areola tattoos; these high quality inks are specifically formulated for detailed tattooed work, and go through rigorous health and safety checks as standard. Using permanent tattoo ink is fast becoming a popular choice for many Medical Tattoo Artists, and for very good reason!

In the past Areola Tattooing was mainly performed by
Cosmetic Tattoo Artists and Medical Professionals; referred to as ‘Medical Micro-pigmentation’ these types of tattoos were typically done using ‘cosmetic pigment’. Cosmetic
pigment is specially designed to gradually breakdown and fade in the skin over time; making
it a perfect choice for using on the face to execute cosmetic make up tattoos, such as brows, eyeliners and lips. The reason for
using cosmetic pigment on the face is to allow for changes and adjusts to the cosmetic make up tattoo as the skin ages over time. 

However, using cosmetic pigment to produce ‘semi-permanent’ results is NOT safe or suitable for areola tattooing. Semi-permanent results mean regular ‘top ups’ are required, and over time this has a negative impact on the skin. Repeatedly disrupting the already delicate skin and scarred tissue (from surgery) can result in further damage being done to the skin, which can lead to more scar tissue being created and will cause poor healed results of your tattoo.

For many people, having their areola tattoo is the final chapter in their healing process and marks the end of their journey (be it from breast cancer, transitioning or cosmetically enhancing) so having to revisit that period in time of their life with long term, regular ‘top up’ appointments is not a suitable or sustainable approach, not just physically on the skin but emotionally on the client.  

This is why Tanya uses permanent tattoo inks, the same high quality inks she has used in her traditional tattoo work for over a decade. She believes the skin should be respected and that areola tattoos should be built to last and be completed in as fewer sessions as possible, ensuring the skin is treated with care and kept as healthy as possible. Tattoo inks are produced to extremely high standards, come in a huge variety of colours and tones, and are designed to be more stable in the skin, meaning they stay true to colour and fade very little as your skin ages.


WHAT IS THE PROCESS?

Each client is different and unique, so Tanya uses her extensive knowledge and skillset in traditional tattooing to adapt her areola artistry to each individual. All appointments and consultations take place in Tanya’s private studio space, Paradise, which is warm, welcoming and full of her personality! She also recommends having a Pre Appointment consultation, either in person or virtually, so she can answer all your questions and talk you through the process before hand.

At your appointment, you will have another detailed consultation with Tanya, she will go through the drawing and tattooing process with you again, answer any further questions you may have and discuss placement, nipple style, colours etc; once you are happy and ready to continue the appointment will begin. Appointments take between 1 - 3 hours depending on the type of tattoo(s) you are having done, but Tanya will give you a better idea of how long your appointment will be when booking in.

Colour swatches are done on the breast area to establish a suitable colour palette that will compliment your skin tone and desired look. For a unilateral mastectomy the natural areola is matched in appearance, placement, colour etc as much as possible to ensure natural results. For a bilateral mastectomy, placement, shape and size are discussed and drawn on to compliment the breasts and create balance and symmetry. You will have time to look at the design in the mirror and make sure you are happy before the tattooing begins.

Once the design prep is complete, you will be laid comfortably on your back on the tattoo couch and the tattoo process will begin, this usually takes around 20 - 40 minutes per nipple (depending on the type of tattoo being performed). 


DO I NEED TO DO ANYTHING BEFORE MY APPOINTMENT?

When booking your appointment you will receive an email confirmation containing some Pre Appointment Advice and Aftercare Advice for you appointment. 

The most important things to remember before your appointment are:

- get a good nights sleep before your appointment.

- make sure you are feeling fit and well.

- eat a good meal at least 2 hours before your appointment.

- avoid alcohol for 24 hours prior to your appointment.

- you cannot be tattooed if you are pregnant, breast feeding or are taking antibiotics.

- avoid aspirin based medication for 48 hours prior to your appointment.

You are welcome to bring someone with you for support if you wish, Tanya also recommends wearing comfortable clothing to your appointment, along with a shirt, cardigan or zip hoodie type garment incase you wish to be more covered or feel cold during your tattoo.


DOES IT HURT?

The answer is YES and NO.

Surgical incisions and skin/nipple grafts usually cause damage to the nerve endings in that area in some way; meaning sensation and pain is minimal (if at all) during a tattoo. 

However, areola/nipples are a highly sensitive body part, so if you are having your natural areola tattooed then expect it to be uncomfortable. Pain is variable from person to person, but overall it is tolerable, and the tattoo process to a natural areola is relatively quick. 

Tanya warns against arriving to your appointment with numbing cream on the area as this can interfere with the tone of you skin, making colour matching impossible and will risk your tattoo healing an unnatural and unsuitable colour. If you arrive to your appointment with numbing cream already applied, then you will be unable to have your tattoo done.


WHY DO I NEED TWO APPOINTMENTS?

A 8-10 week follow up appointment is always recommended for 3D Reconstruction Nipple Tattoos; this is to allow for Tanya to see your healed results and make any final ‘refinements’ needed to your areola tattoo. Tattooing scarred or damaged skin is a delicate process, and it is important the skin isn’t over worked, as this can cause further trauma, so performing two shorter tattoo sessions is a more manageable approach to areola tattooing and allows the skin to heal itself more easily. Your follow up sessions also gives you the opportunity to make any adjustments to colour, shape and detail should you wish.


WHAT IS THE AFTERCARE?

After your areola tattoo is complete, the area will be dressed in a sterile and breathable dressing. You will be given thorough healing advice and aftercare cream to take home before you leave the studio. You will be able to go about your normal daily routines after your tattoo, but you may want to treat yourself to a relaxing and restful evening after your appointment. Swimming, heavy exercise, sun exposure, hot tubs/saunas/hot baths etc must be avoided until the tattoo is fully healed. The tattooed area may feel a little tender to touch for the first few days, this is normal. It is advisable to wear loose, comfortable clothing on the area during the healing process. The tattoo is usually healed within 7-14 days, however, the skin will continue to settle for a further 4-6 weeks. This is why your follow up appointment is 8-10 weeks after your initial tattoo, as it allows the scarred skin plenty of time to rejuvenate and heal completely.

For natural areola enhancements, a follow up appointment is rarely needed, but if it is then 6 weeks is needed in between tattoo sessions.


If you have any questions or would like to book a consultation/appointment please email Tanya: tanyabuxtontattoo@gmail.com

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TANYA BUXTON
Paradise
58 High Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1EE

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