After undergoing a mastectomy, involving partial or total removal of one or both of the breasts, many women choose to have a mastectomy tattoo. Some have a new nipple-areola complex inked onto the skin, while others choose more artistic tattoos to hide or celebrate their scars.
To learn more about this confidence-building procedure and the important things to consider before a mastectomy tattoo, read on.
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What Is A Mastectomy Tattoo?
Over 10,000 U.S. women undergo a mastectomy every year, to either prevent or treat breast cancer. In fact, more and more women around the world who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, are opting for elective mastectomies in the hope that the complete removal of breast tissue will prevent cancer from developing later in life.
A mastectomy tattoo is a decorative inking that some women have done on their chest after breast surgery, breast reconstruction surgery, or a mastectomy.
Women who have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, for instance, may choose to have a nipple-areola complex inked on the reconstructed breast if the surgeon was unable to save the nipple.
However, with a recent rise in mastectomy tattoo artists, more decorative chest tattoos that hide scars and creatively celebrate survival are becoming increasingly popular too.
Are Mastectomy Tattoos Safe?
When performed by an experienced tattoo artist, particularly one who specializes in dealing with breast cancer survivors, mastectomy tattoos are regarded as safe and low risk.
Although there is always a threat of infection when the skin is penetrated with a needle, professionally qualified tattoo artists will always use single-use sterile needles to keep their clients safe and healthy. These days, true tattoo professionals also use specially designed needles for scar tissue.
Additionally, because only half the layers of skin are perforated during the process of tattooing, the wound afterward is considered superficial and is expected to heal quickly. Taking certain medications like blood thinners, however, could make you more prone to bacterial infections, so it’s always best to tell your tattoo artists about any meds you are on.
The ink used by professionally licensed tattoo artists is subject to approval by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. But if you’re nervous about the ink entering your body, ask your tattooist for the name of the ink brand they use and research the ingredients for peace of mind.
Before A Mastectomy Tattoo: Most Important Things to Consider
Mastectomy tattoos are a wonderfully creative way to help women feel more confident and happy about their bodies after breast cancer surgery. If you’re thinking about getting one, check out the most important things to contemplate before a mastectomy tattoo below.
1. Wait for Your Surgical Scars To Heal Completely
First things first. Although you might be eager to cover your scars after a mastectomy, give yourself the appropriate amount of time to heal. Everyone’s body heals at a different pace, so no set time or rule will apply to all, but rest assured that having a tattoo done when surgical scars are still healing will only damage new skin tissue.
Struggling with sleep after a mastectomy? Read our post mastectomy sleep tips.
2. How Long Should You Wait To Get A Mastectomy Tattoo?
Most surgeons recommend waiting 3-6 months before having a mastectomy tattoo, however, it is notable that tattoo artists specializing in mastectomy tattoos suggest waiting a little longer.
Because everyone’s body heals at a different rate, especially after follow-up chemotherapy and radiation treatment, waiting a little longer for the skin tissues to heal is always advisable to make sure your tattoo looks fabulous.
The most common advice from both surgeons and experienced tattoo artists is to wait until the redness has completely faded from your surgical scars before having a mastectomy tattoo.
3. Be Open to Change
Most women who undergo breast removal surgery experience a deep feeling of loss for their breasts, and this is perfectly understandable. Women need to grieve the loss of their breasts and many seek the help of a therapist to cope with this change.
With time and honest communication, you will learn to let go of your ‘old’ body and accept your new one; just as you accept the loss of a loved one over time.
If you are reluctant about mastectomy tattoos, you could also speak with your therapist about this.
Some women, who may never have contemplated getting a tattoo, can find the prospect of a mastectomy tattoo daunting but being open to this type of change can help you to move forward with a new lease of life. In fact, most women are genuinely surprised by how happier and more confident they feel after a mastectomy tattoo.
4. Find A Mastectomy Tattoo Artist with Experience
While you give yourself the appropriate time to heal and accept the changes after a mastectomy, you could use the time to research tattoo artists near you with experience in mastectomy tattoos.
As of yet, there is no governing body, set standards, or regulations when it comes to mastectomy tattooing, but there are tattoo artists who have dedicated themselves to learning about tattooing scars, particularly breast cancer scars.
Trained to comprehend that the skin can appear thinner after surgery and tougher after radiation therapy, these artists will examine each breast individually for the best way to proceed with skin contours and muscle movement. They also typically stock a variety of pigments suitable for different skin tones and nipple-areola complex tattooing.
If you are thinking about getting a mastectomy tattoo, make sure you find a tattoo artist who has at least two years of experience tattooing scar tissue and take a look at their portfolio of mastectomy tattoos to make sure you like their work. If you can’t find an experienced mastectomy tattoo artist in your area, ask your surgeon for recommendations.
5. Be Prepared To Feel Emotional
Many breast cancer survivors have revealed that feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear bubbled to the surface while an artist worked on their mastectomy tattoo. Medical professionals explain that these emotions, which may have been subconsciously felt while the patient was under anaesthetic during the surgery, can be triggered when a tattoo artist starts working once again on the surgical site.
A tattoo artist who is experienced in mastectomy tattoos will know to expect these emotions, and you will feel encouraged by speaking to them about it before the procedure to understand how they will help you through the process.
For instance, some tattoo artists are trained in breathwork and encouraging their clients to accept whatever feelings arise during the procedure. This type of expertise and compassion can help breast cancer survivors to move positively forward in their recovery process.
A mastectomy tattoo is an artistic way of embracing the physical changes to the body after breast cancer surgery. Considered safe and low risk, this cosmetic procedure is designed to hide surgical scars, build confidence, and celebrate survival.
If you are contemplating a mastectomy tattoo, make sure you’ve considered the tips mentioned above before having your tattoo done.
Mastectomy: What to Expect - https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/surgery/mastectomy/expectations
American Society of Plastic Surgeons - Breast Reconstruction - https://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/breast-reconstruction
Artistic & Areola Restorative Tattoo – How Long To Wait - https://www.areolarestorativetattoo.com/post/how-long-to-wait