Now, I am a pseudo expert on medical tattoos. At least I am at this moment sporting two of them for nipples. Plus, I asked lots of questions and got lots of answers. So I will pass along the information and my experience to any breast cancer survivors who are reading this.
The woman, Cindy, who did my tattoos is called an aesthetician and she is trained and licensed. She was not threatened by my questions or my input.
First of all she had me pick the size of the nipples. Next she drew circles on with a skin marker and asked what I thought when I looked in the mirror. With my suggestions, she repositioned a couple of times until we were happy with the placement.
There is a chair sort of like a dentist chair. I sat in that, and she got out the dye. She talked about colors and how they last. All of the colors are variations of flesh tones, from pink to brown. The lighter and more pastel colors don’t last as well. So I chose to go with browns. She mixed a blend of pink and mostly brown for the outside. For the middle, the fake raised part, she used a straight brown. The dye is made of glycerin, alchohol, iron oxide and silicone oxide ( if I remember it all correctly). It is supposedly healthier than ink which tattoo artists use.
Next she wiped my skin with alchohol and sat like a dentist beside me. She picked up a tool that looks and sounds like a dentist drill. It is actually eleven needles which are lined up so that they form a sort of wedge. These vibrate back and forth to scrape the skin off and push the dye in. (This must be done, instead of injecting as tattoo artists do, because of the chance of rupturing the implant with needle injections.) She used the tool dipped in the dye to fill in the circle with color. As she uses the tool, it scraped off the skin and pushed the color into the layers underneath. Again and again she repeated this process until she was happy with the color that she saw. It was painless because the sensory nerves had been severed by the previous surgery. (Except one tiny area which was slightly innervated. It got a little sore by the end.) By the time she was finished the areas were oozing blood. The dye was there also, so the nipples looked very dark. They will not stay that way, according to Cindy.
Next was picture time. At plastic surgeon’s offices, they take a lot of pictures.
Finally she dressed the wounds while giving me instructions. Wash hands, wipe off oozing with sterile gauze pad. Apply small amount of bacitracin with clean finger, then apply a square of xeroform over each tattoo and smooth it. Cover that with gauze and paper tape. Repeat this 3 times a day, but don’t replace the xeroform except once daily. On the 4th day, use aquafor or vaseline instead of bacitracin. Starting the day after the tattooing, one may shower once a day. This whole process has to be repeated for 10 days. The idea is to keep the tattoo moist but not too moist. Apparently there will be some peeling and fading and the tattoo will have to be repeated at some time in the year following to touch it up.
So far so good for me. The xeroform seems to be slipping out of place a little– I find you need to cover everything well with paper tape to keep it in place. Also the first night the wounds oozed through the dressings, so it would be better to double up on the gauze pads at first.
The odd thing is that I have been nippleless so long that the nipples look strange. It is not typical to wait as long as I did.
Follow up is in 4 weeks. Cindy said that she has never had anyone get an infection.