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"Decorative" tattoos over mastectomy/reconstruction?

abatract Member Posts: 3
edited August 2022 in Breast Reconstruction

Hi! I was wondering if anyone got/is planning to get tattoos over their breasts after their mastectomy? I'd love to hear about it, what you got, how big the tattoo(s) are, how it looks with scars, how it affected your self-esteem, anything.

Also, how long do you have to wait before getting the tattoo? I'm impatient, and want one right away, but I understand healing might take a while.

I just started looking at pictures of post-surgery tattoos (I actually just got diagnosed, too), and was right away like, this is it, this is what I'm going to do. I have some tattoos already, so getting new ones is always an exciting prospect for me. I'm worried about my body image after chemo and surgery (and a thyroid thing all year where I gained 50lbs and have terrible stretch marks, ugh), and I think this would really help, and turn something difficult into something I find positive and beautiful.

As for tattoos, there are so many awesome shapes and styles out there. My favorites so far (I'm not sure if it's cool to post pics of them) are ones that are kind of a half-bra style (a lot like those little stick on "bras", and then fairly big ones that continue up above the bra/tank top line. I'm not sure about the latter, though, cause I'm not sure if I'd want it on both sides, and I liked the ones that were symmetrical in shape best. In all the suckiness that is happening right now, I'm actually really excited and focusing on this little thing.

That's the one thing I'm looking forward to in all this (it's also great, cause it gives me a goal and something to look forward to while I'm dealing with tests/chemo/the surgery).

I'm planning on doing a double mastectomy with some type of reconstruction, not sure yet.


  • ravzari
    ravzari Member Posts: 32
    edited October 2017

    My chest piece is in progress; next session is November 8th. I didn't want an obvious mastectomy scar cover up, so nothing floral (which is a common theme for scar cover up, as flowers/leaves are 'busy' designs that can more easily mask scar tissue) or bra shaped or anything like that for me; I'm not super comfortable posting the in progress pics on a public forum as it'd be pretty identifying, but I can send them privately if you want to see.

    I already have multiple large tattoos and a full sleeve, so, not new territory for me; I just wanted something that would cover up the surgery scars so I didn't feel so blah about being topless. A big ol' chunk of custom artwork seemed like a good idea to shake that 'blah' feeling.

    A few things I noticed:

    - On the areas where my chest is still numb, I still felt pain sensation but it was highly muted. I'm not sure if I just have minor feeling there that I never realized as I don't routinely drag needles across my skin or if it's because my brain knows it's SUPPOSED to feel pain when that happens and just filled in the blanks. This isn't my first tattoo, and not my first large one either, so I'm well aware of what the sensation is supposed to feel like. I'm not sure if that would happen if I wasn't already familiar with the sensation I was supposed to be feeling.

    - Around the scar line hurt like burning fire. I have a very high pain tolerance and have sat for 8 hour sessions before without me needing a break (the artist needing a break to rest his hand is another story ;) ), and it was nearly, "I need a break" level burning pain whenever the needle got close to or went over the scar lines. It actually felt hot + pain like I was literally being burned, and not the usual 'cat scratch' feeling a tattoo machine usually produces. I'm not at all looking forward to having those areas shaded and colored on November 8th, but, it has to be done so I'll have to just deal with it.

    Some other things to keep in mind:

    - You'll want to wait until the scar matures before you start looking into getting the tattoo done, which usually takes a year minimum; for most people, the scar, when 'mature' will turn white or a pinkish white. These are easier to tattoo over as the skin is fully healed at that point and the lighter color is easier to cover with a wider variety of colors. My BMX was June 2016, and I started the chest piece in September 2017. By that point, the scars had been white for about 5 months.

    - Make sure the artist you go to has experience tattooing over/covering scars; not all artists have experience with this, and they often have to use different levels of pressure on the scar tissue than on surrounding 'normal' skin to make sure the ink is in deep enough to stay and not heal patchy. If the artist you're thinking about using doesn't have experience with this or says they do but can't provide any examples in their portfolios, probably don't go to that artist even if you really like their work. It'll be a gamble as to whether it'll look good over the scars if the artist doesn't know what they're doing.

    - Never, ever tattoo artist shop by price. The price should be your lowest concern. Cheap tattoos always look cheap. As a reference, most good artists start at $150/hr minimum, many charge more. You get what you pay for.

    - A large chest piece will likely take more than one session; just something to plan for, especially if you have to travel to go to the artist you want.

    - No asking an artist to copy someone else's tattoo that you found on google images or Pinterest. Nobody likes an art thief, and good shops will refuse to do straight up copies of something you found on the internet. If you find something you really like, take it in as an example of what you're looking for so there's a reference to go on for size, etc...but don't ever ask for a direct copy of someone else's tattoo unless you're choosing something from a Flash sheet.

    - If you don't live in a medium to large-ish city, be prepared to travel to find a skilled artist whose work you like. Most shops are online now, and some will discuss what you're looking for through e-mail (but always ask first) to make sure they're somewhat confident they can do what you're looking for before having you come in for an in person consultation, especially if you live a couple hours away.

    - Seriously, don't settle just because a shop is local or cheap. It's much harder and more expensive to cover up a bad or mediocre tattoo than it is to just get it done well the first time. Laser removal is also expensive (definitely more expensive than the tattoo itself), painful, and not 100% guaranteed. If you're not 1000% confident in the shop and artist, it's perfectly okay to decline going to them. Shops are used to people 'shopping' for an artist, so it's not considered rude or weird to go in and just say, "Hey, I'm considering a tattoo and am looking around for an artist, do you have any portfolios I could look at?"

    - Make sure the artist you pick is skilled and experienced in the style you want. You don't want to, say, go to someone who specializes in traditional style tattoos and ask them to do a hyperrealistic portrait...or vice versa. Their portfolio will be a good indicator of the style they're best at.

    - Good artists are typically booked out a minimum of 3 months in advance, sometimes longer. For this current piece, I had my consultation in May and the earliest appointment he had open was in the middle of September, and that's one of the shorter waits I've had for that particular artist. Just something to keep in mind when you're planning timing.

    - If you can work from home the week you get a chest piece done, do it. If you can take the week off, do that. It will be uncomfortable/painful to wear a shirt, even soft shirts, for a few days. A healing tattoo, to me, feels like a really bad sunburn and the constant touching/rubbing of even a soft shirt is awful. It was about 4 days before it was comfortable to wear a shirt for a few hours at a time.

    - You'll probably want to wait until your chemo is done as well; tattooing does create an open wound so, if you're immunocompromised at all, you have a higher risk of infection, which can ruin a tattoo and is definitely not a fun experience. Give yourself time to recover from your treatment before getting anything scheduled.

  • abatract
    abatract Member Posts: 3
    edited October 2017

    Oh, thank you, this is AWESOME. I actually have several tattoos, one large, so I'm used to the process (and love it, actually--for the first couple hours, at least). This is all great advice that I'm sure will help others, though. And I would absolutely love it if you PM'd over pictures, thank you. I can't wait to see the details of size/subject you chose.

    The pictures in looking at have been mostly for composition/shape/placement then actual design ideas.

    I actually like the idea of the half-bra thingy, though I don't mind the idea of a cover-up that is somewhat overt. It's also something I might have considered before, so it doesn't bother me. If I did that, though, I might want to pair it with a more significant chest piece higher (probably with a different style of rendering, I think). It's hard to decide, but I just got diagnosed last week, and realized that I could get a new tattoo out of this crap experience two days ago, so it's still early days.

    I have my two favorite tattoo artists, and I'm trying to decide which one I'd like best for it/them. Their rendering styles are completely different, one does lush, colorful flora and fauna/animals, and the other does this amazing, incredibly detailed blackwork/etching style and shares my love of the weird/bizarre/strange subject matter and atmosphere. I can PM you a pic of the tattoo I have had she did if you want to see what it's like).

    I'm in Boston, so there are plenty of quality artists, but those two are my favorites, I just love them.

    I'm really starting to like the idea of separating it into two tattoos, with shallow half-cups (not connected or specifically trying to look like a bra) on the breasts and then a big central chest piece. Possibly with mixing the two different styles between the two tattoos, possibly just one (probably the etching style).

    I wish it wasn't so far off on the future after my surgery. Aside from the fact that it's going to be quite a while before I can get a new tattoo in general (I think?), that's the thing I can think of that would really make me feel good about myself, especially with the impact all of this is going to have to my looks/self-esteem.

  • ravzari
    ravzari Member Posts: 32
    edited October 2017

    Oh yeah, if you're in Boston you've got a LOT of good shops and artists to choose from; I'd be surprised if there weren't at least a few that have done multiple mastectomy scar cover tattoos before.

    The bra/half bra style seems to be pretty popular next to 'flowers over the scar line' and I can't imagine it'd be hard to find an artist in Boston who would be able to do that and make it look great. They do look great, and I've seen a lot of really amazing looking tattoos in both styles; I never outgrew my, "Ugh no why I hate this!" thing about bras, and I remember being really MAD when my mom was explaining bras to me as I absolutely did not want anything to do with them but--D cups by 11 kind of meant I didn't have a choice, and I just never outgrew disliking bras somehow! Since I ended up pretty busty--a DD 16--I couldn't ever wear cute bralettes out of the house either without kind of bouncing everywhere. Dang genetics (and also dang genetics that made me more prone to developing breast cancer, which is partly why I had them removed). :D

    That style of scar cover up tattoo looks great on the women who get it, it just was totally not for me.

    I suppose, looking at the positive side, it being a long way out means you'll have a lot of time to work on designs and decide on something you know you'll be 100% happy with.

    I did PM you a link to the gallery that has a shot of the work-in-progress chest tattoo. :)

  • leesad
    leesad Member Posts: 100
    edited October 2017
    I am so getting tattoos over my mastectomy scars after my exchange is done. I'm a long way off as I finished radiation a month ago so I have a few months before the exchange and healing. I want henna inspired designs or mandala like designs but the mandalas will probably be difficult due to the symmetry of them. One of the things I am looking forward to in this otherwise crappy journey we are going through.
  • ashell
    ashell Member Posts: 31
    edited October 2017

    I definitely want a tattoo! I have wanted one since before my exchange, but I've never done it since I never felt completely happy with my implants and didn't want to tattoo over something that I might open up again. Now I'm set on removing them (I'm umx but had a small implant put in the other side too) and I'm really leaning toward staying flat on the mx side. Really looking forward to finally being done with these surgeries and getting an awesome tattoo to celebrate.

    I don't have any tattoos yet, but have always been a fan and I could see myself getting the confidence to get other tattoos I've been wanting after getting this one. Sucks I'll have to wait so long, maybe I'll end up getting another one before this.

    I like the floral style as well, I really like daffodils and I read somewhere that they symbolize new beginnings, so that seems meant to be to me.

    Ravzari, I would love to see how yours is coming along as well if you wouldn't mind sending me a pic, I love looking at all the different styles :)

  • ravzari
    ravzari Member Posts: 32
    edited October 2017

    Sent you a PM with the gallery link. :)

  • karen1956
    karen1956 Member Posts: 4,501
    edited August 2022

    Anyone willing to share pictures?