The tattoo artist transforming mastectomy patients’ scarred chests with incredible three-dimensional nipple inkings
A tattoo artist, who is able to create the illusion of raised human nipples, has helped thousands of mastectomy patients come to terms with life after surgery.
Many women who have breast tissue removed to treat cancer, are left without nipples and areolas, the pigmented area around the nipple.
But Vinnie Myers, 50, from Baltimore, Maryland, has spent more than a decade investigating the art of three-dimensional nipple and areola tattooing, in a bid to give breast cancer patients back their marks of femininity.
Helping hand: Tattoo artist, Vinnie Myers, who is able to create the illusion of a raised nipple, is visited by at least three breast cancer patients a day, who have undergone mastectomies
He estimates that he has drawn around 2,000 to 3,000 breast tattoos in the past ten years, attracting clients from as far as Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
Describing his line of work Mr Myers, wrote on breastcancer.org: ‘I feel like I have the best possible job as a service provider for breast cancer warriors. I’m on the back side of the battle. The finishing touch. The last step. I truly get to put the cherries on the cupcakes!’
Many of Mr Myers’ clients see his nipple tattoo treatment, which costs $400, and takes around two hours to complete, as an alternative to reconstructive surgery.
Penny Kurek, 53, from Bel Air, Marylandm who underwent a double mastectomy, said she visited Mr Myers because she wanted to ‘feel like a woman again’.
Steady-handed: To create the ‘raised’ nipple Mr Myers uses two tattoo guns, one a shader and the other a liner
After receiving his nipple and areola tattoos she told the Philadelphia Inquirer: ‘It’s been almost two years since I had a nipple. It’s really incredible. It really makes the scar look less there… I’m going to go to Victoria’s Secret and get a pretty bra.
‘My husband encouraged me to come/ He is the only one who will see me. He wanted me to feel more like myself.’
Before tattooing clients, Mr Myers prepares the area where the design will be applied.
He uses a flesh-coloured Sharpie pen to outline the nipple and areola, before preparing the tattoo ink, which is mixed to match the skin tone of the client.
To create the the illusion of a raised nipple Mr Myers uses two tattoo guns, using one to draw the circular lines, and the other to shade.
He also takes special care to do what are called Montgomery Glands, the small raised bumps in the areola. Because of nerve damage during a mastectomy, many women don’t feel significant pain.
Describing the finished results Mr Myers says: ‘Using the foundational skills of tattooing coupled with precisely mixed pigments, shadows, and highlights, a very realistic result can be achieved.
‘This 3D approach to the procedure offers each client numerous possibilities in obtaining the best end result and appearance, even for those who’ve already had nipple tattooing done.’
Mr Myers reveals that doing one breast on a woman is often more time consuming than doing both, as women who have had a double mastectomy require the same colour on each breast.
However with one breast, the tattoo has to be matched with the colour, texture, and shading of the existing nipple.
Before: Many women who have breast tissue removed to treat cancer, are left without nipples and areolas, the dark coloured area around the nipple
After: Mr Myers’ tattoo treatment helps to restore the natural appearance of the breast
Mr Myers started tattooing in 1984 while he was serving in the U.S. army, after a fellow soldier suggested it would be a good way of supplementing his income.
And in 1991 he opened his first parlour Little Vinnie’s Tattoos in Baltimore, Maryland. For a decade he specialized in traditional designs but in 2001 he was contacted by a plastic surgeon who asked he would be interested in helping women who had undergone reconstructive breast surgery.
After accepting the offer he quickly found that the techniques used by mainstream medicine were outdated. For instance many surgeons were using vegetable-based dyes that faded quickly and failed to give a realistic impression.
He has since dedicated his career to the art of 3D nipple tattooing and over the past decade he has worked at improving the process.
Finding the perfect match: Mr Myers starts with a basic tattoo ink mix and adds other colours depending on the skin tone of the client
Work of art: The 3D nipple tattoos takes around two hours to complete and cost $400
Commenting on the pattern of events, he said: ‘Twenty-five years ago or so, if someone had said to me, “One day you’ll be tattooing nipples on women who have battled breast cancer,” I would have said they were crazy.
‘While tattooing MOM, hearts and dragons was fun and a great job, this new dynamic in my vocation has become my obsession.’
Mr Myers now takes referrals from the Johns Hopkins Breast Center in Baltimore, Maryland and , when he has time, he teaches other tattoo artists about his nipple colouring technique.
Marisa Weiss, founder of BreastCancer.org and a radiation oncologist at Lankenau Hospital, said: ‘His results are just so superior to what else we’ve seen, and I’ve seen nipples from all over the world.
‘Women have been through so much and then they make a big commitment to reconstruction, and if the nipple doesn’t look good, it screws up the whole thing.
‘It’s hard to get a perfect result from reconstruction. But if you get a great nipple in the middle, it distracts the eye, which is very forgiving.’
Around 290,000 women will get diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
Mr Myers added: ‘A little more than a year ago, my younger sister was diagnosed with stage IIA breast cancer. Her battle has reinvigorated my desire to help as many people as I can with what has become my newfound career path.’