A 3D nipple and/or areola tattoo is an optional last step following nipple reconstruction surgery or as an alternative to nipple reconstruction surgery. If you got a mastectomy and did not get a nipple-sparing mastectomy or nipple reconstruction surgery, then 3D tattooing uses dark and light pigments to create a 3D illusion of the areola(s) and the nipple(s). If a nipple reconstruction surgery was performed, then 3D tattooing would be used to create an areola and/or to enhance the reconstructed nipple.
In most cases, getting a 3D nipple and areola tattoo is a pain-free process since the breasts are likely to be numb following a mastectomy. Aftercare and recovery after getting a 3D nipple and areola tattoo is like that of a traditional tattoo. More often than not, women opt for a 3D nipple and areola tattoo over nipple reconstruction surgery. In fact, plastic surgeons recommended these tattoos over surgery. One reason for this is that the procedure of a tattoo is less invasive, and the healing process is easier. Another reason is that the results of 3D tattoos have been reported to be aesthetically preferred over nipple reconstruction surgery. Details, shading, and coloring can used to make the nipple and areola look more realistic than would be allowed with surgery. While considering the benefits of a 3D tattoo, it’s important to also be aware of the disadvantages, mainly that there is no physical dimension to these tattoos if you did not get a nipple-sparing mastectomy or nipple reconstruction surgery. Another disadvantage is that the colors of the tattoo may fade over time; however, this can easily be fixed by getting a touch-up.
It’s usually recommended to wait anywhere between 4 to 6 months after any breast reconstruction (mastectomy, nipple-sparing mastectomy, or nipple reconstruction surgery) before getting a nipple and areola tattoo. The best way to find out the right time to wait in your specific case is to speak to your plastic surgeon. This is also one the many questions to ask a tattoo artist if you decide to get the tattoo done by a tattoo artist and are trying to find an artist to perform the procedure. If you do not want to get it done at a tattoo studio, it may be possible to get your 3D tattoo done at a plastic surgeon’s office or at a hospital. Before you decide where to go, make sure to speak to your plastic surgeon about your plans first.
You will also need to speak to your plastic surgeon and healthcare team to confirm that you can get one in the first place. As a general rule of thumb, you are not an ideal candidate for 3D nipple and areola tattoos if you:
- Have a history of infection to your breast area
- Have overly thinned breast skin due to your mastectomy
- Have lymphedema of the chest
- Had radiation that caused damage to your skin
If you are interested in learning more, you can look at this gallery of before and after images .
If after learning about nipple-sparing mastectomy, nipple reconstruction surgery, and 3D nipple and areola tattoos you don’t think any of these options are ideal for you, or if you don’t qualify, you can look into prosthetic nipples. Prosthetic nipples are stick-on silicone or polyurethane nipples that look like natural nipples that allow you to put them on and take them off as you please. Two well-known brands are Pink Perfect and Amoena. Another alternative to permanent 3D tattoos are temporary nipple tattoos, such as Rub-on Nipples, Tata Tattoos, and Nipplebacks.