A 3D nipple tattoo looks like a natural nipple and areola. Artistic effects like shading and highlighting give the tattoo a 3D look. People may need a 3D nipple tattoo to adjust the look of an existing nipple or to create a new one after breast surgery.
People may opt for a 3D nipple tattoo after:
- Breast reconstruction surgery. People get this surgery after a mastectomy or other surgery to treat or prevent cancer. This is the most common reason for a nipple tattoo.
- Breast reduction surgery. In rare cases, this surgery can result in losing some or all of the nipple area.
- Gender-affirming surgery. If a person gets implants or a mastectomy, they may need a nipple tattoo.
People can get a nipple tattoo once they fully heal from surgery and are happy with the results. Most plastic surgeons suggest waiting about four months after a breast reconstruction surgery to get a 3D nipple tattoo.
How Is a Medical-Grade Tattoo Different from a Regular Tattoo?
Professionals perform medical-grade tattoos in a health care setting. These are fully sterile procedures. That means the staff follows strict protocols to stop germs from causing infection.
For example, the tattooist wears medical gloves and uses a new needle and sterile ink for each procedure.
Another difference is that people can get anesthesia performed by health care providers. That’s because medical tattoos happen in a health care setting.
At UPMC, we provide local anesthesia for all 3D nipple tattoos. This means you don’t feel pain but remain conscious during the procedure.
Your insurance should cover 3D nipple tattoos. Most will only cover medical-grade tattoos performed in health care settings. They will not cover nipple tattoos done at a tattoo parlor.
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What to Expect Before Your 3D Nipple Tattoo
You will meet with your tattoo professional before the procedure. You can discuss what will happen and ask questions. They’ll also give you instructions to follow before and after the procedure.
For example, you need to avoid aspirin and alcohol ahead of the procedure. These can increase bleeding.
Your medical tattooist will show you photos of 3D nipple tattoos on chests like yours. This way, you can understand what your nipple will look like after the procedure. You can also tell them your preferences for the size and look.
At UPMC, our medical tattooist performs a “scratch test” at this initial visit. This is to make sure you don’t have an allergy to the ink.
During the test, the tattooist inserts a tiny amount of pigment into the skin. You’re unlikely to have an allergic reaction during the procedure if there is no redness or swelling.
What Happens on the Day of the Procedure
You should wear comfortable clothes on the day of the procedure. Avoid drinking large amounts of coffee or other beverages in the two hours before your visit. This is to avoid leaving the sterile procedure area for the restroom.
At UPMC, you can bring someone in with you. You may wish to have a partner, friend, or family member for company or emotional support. They can also offer feedback on the placement or color of your nipple.
Before your procedure, your tattoo artist will use makeup to draw the nipple and areola. You can use a mirror to make sure you like its size, shape, and location. For instance, you may want it slightly smaller or larger.
Next, you will work with the tattoo artist to choose the coloring for your 3D nipple tattoo. If you do not have an existing nipple, they suggest a natural color with your skin tone.
A health care provider will inject medicine to ensure you don’t feel pain during the procedure. The procedure itself will take about two hours. The anesthesia is local rather than general, so you will be awake the whole time.
Lori Stofman, a medical tattooist with the UPMC Department of Plastic Surgery, has offered 3D nipple tattoos for more than a decade.
“Many of the people I see have been on a difficult and long journey, and this is often the last step,” she says.
“I tell them this is their time to zone out. There is no more pain. They can relax and chat, they can listen to music, or they can sleep.”
What to Expect After the 3D Nipple Tattoo
After the procedure, your medical tattoo professional will bandage the area and give you instructions for caring for it. You will need to keep the tattoo dry for 10 to 14 days.
This means you will keep the area bandaged when you shower with your back toward the water.
You’ll also need to moisturize the area daily with a healing ointment. You’ll receive a container or tube to take home.
Your nipple and areola will temporarily darken over the first day or two. Microscopic scabs, which you can feel with your hand, will also develop. This is normal.
Over the next ten days, the area will lighten. The pigment won’t show until about 10 days to two weeks after the procedure. Once you can no longer feel scabs, you can take off the bandage and shower normally.
You will return for a follow-up visit six to eight weeks after the procedure. You may need a “touch up” at this visit. For example, if the color is not as dark as you would like, your tattooist can add more pigment.
How Will My 3D Nipple Look?
If you only need a 3D nipple tattoo on one side, the artist will aim to match your existing nipple’s color. It is usually not possible to match exactly. So your tattoo artist often adds pigment to your existing nipple to ensure they match.
Your tattoo professional will match the position of your nipple in line with your existing nipple. Sometimes, plastic surgeons “tie off” the skin in surgery to create a nipple, or they may reconstruct the nipple. In this case, the location of your new nipple may not align with your existing nipple.
To ensure alignment, many plastic surgeons recommend 3D nipple tattoos instead of nipple reconstruction. Although a 3D nipple will feel flat to the touch, it will look three-dimensional and natural to the eye.
If you would like to book a consult with our medical tattooist, please call 412-232-5616.
Breastcancer.org. Nipple reconstruction surgery and nipple tattoos. Link
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