November 2018 Ask the Expert: Nipple Tattooing

October 26, 2018

After a mastectomyinfo-icon or breast reconstructioninfo-icon, you have choices you can make about how your chest looks. One of those choices is getting nippleinfo-icon tattoos. Specially trained medical tattoo artists are able to use tattoo needles, machines and ink to hide scars or create the illusion of natural nipples. This can be helpful for people who may not want to get more surgeryinfo-icon to rebuild their nipples.

This November, Living Beyond Breast Cancer expert Michael Ham, MSN, RN, CPAN, CCRN, a registered nurseinfo-icon and medical tattoo artist at Penn Medicineinfo-icon and the Sauler Institute of Tattooing, will answer your questions about medical tattooing, nipple tattoos and more.

If you have questions about nipple and medical tattooing, ask our expert today.

We will answer as many questions as possible, but we cannot answer all questions submitted. We will post answers on an ongoing basis throughout November. Submit your questions now and check back here for updates.

Remember: we cannot provide diagnoses, medical consultations or specific treatment recommendations. This service is designed for educational and informational purposes only. The information is general in nature. For specific healthcare questions or concerns, consult your healthcare providerinfo-icon because treatment varies with individual circumstances. The content is not intended in any way to substitute for professional counselinginfo-icon or medical advice.

My question isn't about nipple tattooing but a general question about the safety of a tattoo after breast cancer. I'd like to get a simple pink ribbon tattoo for my 5-year anniversary celebrating NED (no evidence of disease). Does getting a tattoo increase the risk of lymphedema? If I were to get one, would it be best to get it on the arm in which no lymph nodes were removed?

Congratulations on your 5-year mark! Definitely a reason to celebrate. While tattooing someone with lymphedemainfo-icon or at risk for lymphedema is usually safe, we always recommend discussing with your physicianinfo-icon before getting a tattoo on the affected side. Because of differences in anatomy and triggers for lymphedema, each person’s risks must be carefully considered and individualized. As with any tattoo, it is extremely important to go to a reputable studio that practices proper sanitation and infectioninfo-icon control practices. In addition, it is extremely important to follow the recommended aftercare to make sure it heals well.

I’m allergic to red tattoo ink. Is the ink used for medical tattooing different from ink used in regular tattoo shops?

There are different types of pigments that can be used for tattooing. Your artist will decide what pigments will be best during your consultation. At the Sauler Institute, we often use tattoo ink like those used in traditional body art shops. We ensure that our ink is top quality, manufactured in the U.S., and from a reputable company. If you have any concerns about allergic reactions to tattoo ink, we give samples of the ink so that you can take them to your allergist to have a skin test performed. This will ensure that you are safe to proceed with tattooing.

Will the color of a nipple tattoo ever change or fade like regular tattoos? Can you get a nipple tattoo touched up like a regular tattoo?

Most of the initial fading will occur in the first two weeks as the tattoo is healing. Unless exposed to the sun, your tattoo should last a lifetime. However, because we are working with skin that has been compromised (scarred/moved/stretched/had radiationinfo-icon), everyone responds a bit differently over time. If your tattoo does fade, you can definitely have it touched up. We provide consultation and touch ups to our own work or work performed by a different artist.