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Treatment for breast cancer can bring many unexpected changes into women’s lives – and their bodies. It’s completely natural to want to return to a sense of normalcy and feel like yourself again as soon as possible. For many women, that means following up a mastectomy with breast reconstruction surgery to restore the shape of your removed breast.
However, not every mastectomy is able to retain the nipple in the surgical process. What do you do when you’re not able to receive a nipple-sparing mastectomy?
One promising solution that has emerged over the last few years is nipple tattooing. By using both 3D and 4D nipple technology, specialists are able to recreate the areola, putting the last finishing touch on breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.
We’ve put together this guide to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these procedures.
First, let’s clarify some terms:
3D nipple tattoos are as safe as traditional tattoos, as any reputable tattoo artist will be applying the tattoo using sterile equipment. 4D nipple reconstruction requires a minor outpatient surgical procedure performed under anesthesia. It’s considered a safe surgical procedure, but you should consult your doctor to ensure that the procedure is right for you based on your health needs.
4D nipple reconstruction is typically done several months after your mastectomy and can vary based on the individual’s recovery. For a 3D nipple tattoo, most places will require you to wait anywhere from 3-5 months after your last breast cancer surgery and/or nipple reconstruction surgery.
3D tattoos don’t take very long at all— about an hour or so in many cases. The 3D tattoo healing process mirrors a traditional tattoo healing process, taking about 7-10 days to heal.
4D nipple reconstruction is a phased process, with the nipple reconstruction surgery occurring first (to create the physical dimensions of the nipple), and a 3D nipple pigment tattoo application occurring about 3-5 months after the nipple reconstruction surgery. 4D nipple procedures will require a longer time to heal. Following a 4D procedure, a nipple shield should be left on for three days (after which point, you’ll be able to shower), and the stitches will typically be removed after two weeks.
Prices vary by artist of course, but you can expect to spend between $400-600 on a 3D nipple tattoo. When you compare that to the price of 4D nipple reconstruction surgery, which can cost several thousand dollars, it’s easy to see why 3D nipple tattoos are a more attractive option for many women.
Whether or not your 3D nipple tattoo is covered by insurance depends on several factors. Tattoos that are completed by traditional tattoo artists outside of a medical setting typically aren't covered. However, some insurance plans will cover 100% of the procedure if it is done at a plastic surgery facility or doctor's office.
Always check with your insurance provider to see if there are any restorative tattoo artists in your network.
While this is not a list of every 3D nipple tattoo artist available, we’ve found a few who are doing great work in the U.S. and Canada: