Mastectomy tattoos

This watercolor tattoo uses the scar as a part of the art on a non-reconstructed breast.

This watercolor tattoo uses the scar as a part of the art on a non-reconstructed breast.

As if having breast cancer isn’t enough, the visible scars are never ending reminders after having a mastectomy. Some people learn to live with them as just a part of life, while others choose to have a decorative tattoo to help conceal the scars.

While this may be a different perspective to contemplate, people consider having tattoos for a variety of reasons. Some simply want to cover or disguise the scar; some want to create something personal to mark what they have been through; others do so to help them feel more confident about themselves.

The decorative masterpieces inspire and let the women reclaim their bodies after enduring the physical and emotional trauma of a mastectomy. It allows a woman to express herself in a new and beautiful way. Each reason is a personal choice.

When trying to determine if a decorative tattoo is an option, mastectomy patients have several things to consider. Who will do the artistic work? When can it be done? How much will it cost? What are the risks? These are just a few of the questions that have to be answered when deciding if a decorative tattoo is right for you.

As with any other tattoo, a permanent mark is left on the skin by an ink or pigment. It involves injecting dyes just under the skin over and over again until the tattoo is designed. The process can take several sessions and can be painful as no local anesthetic is given.

After doing the necessary homework and deciding on a tattoo artist, it is important that the artist has a clear understanding of the design you desire to incorporate the surgical scar. Some tattoo artists will actually provide you a stencil of the design before hand to ensure you will be happy with the chosen design.

Anyone who chooses a mastectomy tattoo needs to carefully consider the risks before the process begins. Tattoo artists should always use sterile equipment and fresh needles to prevent the risk of HIV or hepatitis. In addition, there is a risk of possible infection, having an allergic reaction to the pigments used, the color fading over time, or changing your mind.

Darin Cooper of Tattoo Expression in Trussville has created several decorative works of art for women over the past 20 years. He mentioned that early on women were more apt to choose full reconstruction or areola restoration after having a mastectomy procedure. Now, some women are looking at alternatives such as creative tattoos. They can be completed on either a flat chest or one that has been reconstructed.

With the ladies he has had as clients, they were indeed concerned about the look of the scarring. With their help, he has been able to create big, beautiful designs to not only cover the scar, but to give a good visual outcome as well. He confirmed creative tattoos have been a confidence booster for his clients.

A mastectomy tattoo is a lengthy and quite involved process that takes about 15 hours of work if a person wants a full color floral design. The task is broken into several sessions and basically follows the same process as covering an existing tattoo.

When working with the client, Cooper looks at the design choice and logistics involved. He said while tattoos are priced by piece, a large-scale tattoo such as a mastectomy tattoo could cost anywhere from $350 to $600 per session. To get a better understanding, if a 15-hour tattoo takes three five-hour sessions, the total cost could be as much as $1,750 to $3,000. He suggests getting a solid price before the process begins. Insurance will not cover mastectomy tattoos.

If one chooses to have a mastectomy tattoo, Cooper suggests finding a tattooist you trust. Remember, not all tattooists are comfortable doing mastectomy tattoos. He said now days with implants and tissue already being added, a mastectomy tattoo is “taking technology as far as it allows recreating the body.”

Cooper has been a tattooist in the Birmingham area since 2004. He has shops in Pelham and Trussville. His Pelham shop employs female artist Crystal Swann who has also used creative tattoos several times to cover mastectomy scarring. Because the tattoo is in such a private area, many women feel more comfortable with a female to complete the procedure. Swann said that creative tattoos have opened up a lot of different eyes to options that were often considered taboo by many.