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Why I Chose To Get Areola Tattoos Years After My Reconstruction

By Rethink Contributor September 26 2018

By Stacey Oree

The Decision

I’ve been contemplating getting areola tattoos ever since I had my mastectomy and reconstruction eight years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go through another surgical procedure and have reconstructed nipples, and the tattoos seemed like a good alternative. My plastic surgeon recommended a woman who was specializing in areola tattoos, but she was located outside of Toronto and had a long wait time. I didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get the tattoos done, because it was really just aesthetic. The years just passed by and although I got used to looking in the mirror and only seeing my scars, in the back of mind I kept thinking about the tattoos.

When Rethink announced that a tattoo shop in Toronto was offering limited free areola-tattooing services to build their portfolio, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a win-win situation, I would finally get the tattoos and in the process I was helping a tattoo artist hone their skill. I was also given the opportunity to share my experience through Rethink and give women a glimpse into the service from someone firsthand.

The Consult

I’ve been tattooed before, so I wasn’t too worried about the pain or healing process going in but I did feel apprehensive during my photo research. Much like finding pictures of a new haircut, I searched Instagram and Google for ideas and found photos that looked amateur with a lack of detail and dimension. I’m also a woman of colour and was worried about getting the colour and shade right. Cue the nerves.

Thankfully the staff at Imperial Tattoo in Toronto were so welcoming and immediately made me feel at ease. It was clear they were honoured and humble to be offering this service. I had to fill out a form and sign a waiver, which is typical for any tattoo service. The tattoo artist then took me to her private tattoo area where we chatted and got to know each other a little. We started talking about the tattoos, discussing size and colour. She showed me a few mock-ups and we collaborated on what would work best for me. She took a bunch of photos that she could use as a reference as she got to work on designing my personalized tattoo. I scheduled another appointment a couple of weeks later to have the tattoos done.

The Tattoo

We started the appointment by scrolling through the designs on an iPad. Instead of a template, (which is sometimes used by tattoo artists depending on the design and complexity), she freehanded it directly on me so that we could play with the size of the areola vs. the size of the nipple. We also talked about the colour and shading (less pink and more pinkish-brown). Once I was happy, she prepped the table, tools and ink and we started the process. From start to finish it only took about an hour. I was bandaged and we went over the care instructions. I was given a little care package with fragrance-free soap and lotion, as well as instructions to take home with me. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for 3 weeks later.

The Healing

Something that surprised me was the pain, which I wasn’t anticipating since nerve endings are less sensitive after a mastectomy. I wasn’t expecting to feel much, but I did, especially over my scar tissue.

The artist checked in via email after about two weeks and while everything was healing well, I did have quite a bit of scabbing. When I went in for the follow-up, we were planning for her to do some touch-ups due to the scabbing, but I still wasn’t completely healed. We scheduled another appointment for four weeks later and  I was ready. She took about 30 minutes to touch-up any areas and deepen the colour at my request.

Some advice that I’d give to others – be prepared for the touch-up appointment to be painful because it involves going over the tattoo area and scar tissue again. I would also note the healing time. Unlike other tattoos that heal within two weeks, this process is different. Maybe it’s because I’m a stomach and side sleeper!

The Results

My husband Jon, who was with me at the appointment and throughout the process, was so encouraging (so was the tattoo artist). Once I had a chance to look in the mirror, I was shocked and pleased with the results. I could not believe how realistic they looked. For the past eight years, I haven’t really considered the fact that I had breasts, they were just lumps on my chest where my breasts used to be. Add a couple of areola tattoos and they now looked like breasts again. Having said that, psychologically my mindset hasn’t changed. The areola tattoos haven’t changed the fact that these are not my real breasts, but visually appear to be. I was given something back, that I didn’t realize I was actually missing. I almost feel modest about my breasts again, because now I might have a nip slip!

I’ve been flashing friends and showing off how realistic my tattoos look. Maybe I haven’t gotten that modest after all.

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Special thanks to @tattoosbyevelyn for the great work