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Tattooing realistic nipples on breast cancer survivors helps give them a new beginning | UK News

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Terri Benamore runs her own tattoo studio and does reconstructive tattoos on people who have had their nipples removed during treatment for breast cancer.

The 32-year-old from Towcester, Northants, has helped around 70 people, explains why the tattoos she does are so special and the impact they can have on people’s lives.

The first I heard that breast cancer survivors were having nipples tattooed on them is when people began to walk into my studio asking me to fix the botched areolas that had been put on them.

I was completely shocked that there was such a bad standard of work being put out there on women and men who have been through such traumatic and life changing times in their lives.

The tattoos are designed to look as realistic as possible. Pic: Terri Benamore
Image:
The tattoos are designed to look as realistic as possible. Pic: Terri Benamore

The standard of some of these tattoos was so low. I couldn’t believe it. They looked like someone had tattooed a cartoonish sticker onto their chest. The nipples looked flat, had no drop shadow or highlight, no blended edge and were all the same salmon pink tone – regardless of skin colour.

A lot of people have had their nipples removed end up with semi-permanent cosmetic tattoos which don’t last and require topping up. As I looked further into the topic, I found there was a whole world out there of horrible nipple tattoos and it is just not acceptable.

The skin is damaged from treatment and is harder to tattoo on than other types of skin. Pic: Terri Benamore
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The skin is damaged from treatment and is harder to tattoo on than other types of skin. Pic: Terri Benamore

Doing reconstructive nipple tattoos requires a lot of training, not least because the skin you’re tattooing has been impacted by the treatment these survivors have had, including radiation and surgery.

I’m a trained artist and specialise in realism. I have been taught to tattoo to look like a photograph, having spent years studying shadows and highlights. Essentially, I make the 2D look 3D by using clever techniques.

Adding as much detail as possible, such as the montgomery glands, the small bumps on the areolas, it helps create the illusion and looks as real as possible.

The response you get after helping these people is mindblowing. I never expected it to be as life changing as it is for these cancer survivors. They’ve been let down by their bodies and left with scars and misshapen breasts where they have had parts of them cut out.

For these people they’ve gotten through breast cancer and are out the other side. To get the nipple back on signifies it is the end of the era and a new start.

The tattoos include small details, including bumps on the areola. Pic: Terri Benamore
Image:
The tattoos include small details, including bumps on the areola. Pic: Terri Benamore

I try to make it into a big celebration. These people are not ‘people who had cancer’, they are here to celebrate their new bodies. You do have times where you both end up in tears and you can see they have become a shadow of their former selves but this can help be their new beginning.

We always get thank you cards, flowers and chocolates but the best is always a good old fashioned hug.

It takes two sessions, ten weeks apart and the person has to come back for aftercare. I now work with the Nipple Innovation Project who offer funding for people and I do offer one set per month free to try to help where I can, while still having to run my business.

Although people can claim back on their private health insurance, I would love to be funded by the NHS, who do offer tattoos, and surgeons have begun to refer people to me.

As told to Sanya Burgess

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