IG Live Recap: Everything You Need to Know About Restorative Tattooing

Marnie Rustemeyer and breast reconstruction patient, Zandra, joined us on IG Live for a primer on all things tattooing after surgery, from nipple areola tattooing to scar management. Zandra shared a firsthand account of her decision making process along with her experience with recently-completed nipple areola tattoos. Marnie shared insights on the technical aspects and medical considerations within the process alongside the restorative power of this work, its emotional resonance for patients, how it differs from body art tattooing, what to expect, what your options are, and more!

Watch the whole conversation here or read on for a few key highlights.

Nipple areola reconstruction and tattoo options vary by surgery and individual circumstances.

“There are a lot of different types of plastic surgeries available to breast cancer survivors, and it depends on the conversation with your surgeon that determines the type of reconstruction that you ultimately have. Some patients have nipple reconstruction and they’re a candidate for that and some aren’t and they’re unable to have the nipple reconstruction and so they just have the 3D nipple tattoo,” Marnie explained.

Nipple areola reconstruction patients still benefit from tattoos to add natural-looking pigment.

“If somebody’s had nipple reconstruction, I tattoo the areola and I also add color to the nipple to make everything really blend seamlessly.”

3-D tattoos are a great option for patients who do not undergo nipple areola reconstruction.

“If it’s a flat breast mound and I do a 3D nipple tattoo, what I do is match the color palette to their skin tone. I have them take a look in the mirror, make sure that they’re comfortable with the new color and the shape and the size before I do the tattooing.”

Tattoos can be of great emotional significance for patients who cannot undergo nipple reconstruction.

Zandra had cancer within the cells of the nipple, which meant that her nipples were the first thing to be removed. After reconstruction, thin skin on her reconstructed breasts prevented nipple reconstruction. She was devastated.

“I was disappointed at first, and I really didn’t think I was going to get the nipple tattoos initially. It was emotionally tough finding out that I wasn’t a candidate for the reconstruction, and I really didn’t know how I felt about getting—in essence—nipples just painted onto me. I didn’t know if it would be good enough, so I had considered just living without anything there. My scar runs horizontally, directly across both breasts. I avoided the mirror for a really long time. It was the hardest part. Losing my breasts wasn’t that hard, because I knew implants would take the place of them, but losing my nipples is definitely something I still cope with.”

Her plastic surgeon pushed her to consider the nipple tattoos. Most of her apprehension centered around a lack of information. Once she was properly informed, she went ahead and scheduled the procedure. Now that she’s completed her tattoos, she said she only wished she’d done it sooner.

“I am so happy that I got the nipple tattoos. I didn’t expect to feel the way that I do. It was like relief. As soon as we finished the first session, I remember looking in the mirror, and I got really emotional in a good way, because they looked so real. I didn’t expect them to look that real. They look so good.”