Nipple tattoos breast cancer: Woman offering survivors free tattoos

It’s a procedure that costs up to $1,500, but one Tasmanian beauty therapist is giving away nipple tattoos free of charge to breast cancer survivors.

For the last two years, Rachel Bellinger, from Launceston, has been offering free paramedical tattoos — using ink to create the appearance of areolae and nipples after breast reconstruction surgery.

The small tattoos have a big impact.

“We sometimes have tears and hugs [during the session],” Ms Bellinger told news.com.au.

“I guess that’s why I do it … For my clients who have gone through the reconstructive process and want to have their areolae done, it makes them feel complete and whole again.”

Ms Bellinger, who owns her own skincare business, began training in the art of nipple tattooing in 2020 after she came across a doctor demonstrating the process in a video online.

“I watched the video and I just thought I could do this,” she explained.

“I’ve got the resources to do it and it’s rewarding to know I can help someone.”

After a year of initial training in oncology, wound healing, and colour selection, she’s gone on to provide tattoos to over a dozen women in her community.

Crating a “realistic” 3D look

Before the tattooing begins, Ms Bellinger will consult with the client and check surgery scars have healed. This could take around six months depending on the individual.

“Before I start, I take photos and I measure the shoulders through to the centre of the breastbone to determine where the tattoos will go. Then the client checks they’re happy with where they’re positioned.

“Then I freehand draw because none of us are perfect and symmetrical, and we all have our little idiosyncrasies.”

Ms Bellinger uses body ink which differs from the kind of ink she uses for cosmetic tattooing, to ensure the nipple tattoos are permanent and won’t need to be touched up later down the tack.

During the two-hour long tattooing process, she will add details including montgomery glands – the small bumps on the areola – and use shading to create a realistic and three-dimensional effect.

“Some surgeons are so clever, they can create the little bump of the nipple. But not everybody has had that type of surgery. Some people have flat breasts, so that’s where I use shadows and shading to really make it looks like it’s 3D.”

Megan Burt was one of the women who walked into Ms Bellinger’s clinic late last year.

The 41-year-old was looking to get nipple tattoos after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her twenties and undergoing a mastectomy and reconstruction in 2010.

But for years she simply couldn’t afford it.

“For years, I just didn’t have nipples. I couldn’t even look at myself when I got out of the shower because they just didn’t look like breasts,” she shared.

“I would go to the showers at an aquatic centre and women don’t mean to stare but if they see you don’t have nipples, sometimes they start asking questions.”

She decided to contact Ms Bellinger in November after hearing about her free tattoo offer in an online breast cancer group.

“When she showed me in the mirror after it was done, I just cried with happiness. For the first time since I was diagnosed at 26, I actually felt like I had real breasts again. It was amazing.”

Now when she gets out of the shower, she feels “complete”.

“When I’m getting dressed I feel really good. I didn’t do it for anyone else, I did it for myself.”

Ms Burt said many breast cancer survivors are likely not aware they can access the procedure for free, just as she wasn’t.

Just a few months ago, charity Pink Ink launched in Australia to help with exactly that.

Pink Ink is the first known charity of its kind in the country that works to partially or fully fund corrective tattoos for male or female breast cancer survivors.

“We have thousands of people in this country that are walking around with scars and we just want to help them help them feel good about themselves,” June Belkovskis, the founder and president of Pink Ink told news.com.au.

Applications are set to open in the first quarter of the year, with Ms Belkovskis saying they already have dozens of people knocking on their door looking to get tattoos.

“These tattoos gives these survivors the opportunity to reclaim their bodies. It’s gives them that power back and allows them to really see themselves as sexy.”

Two months on from receiving her tattoos from Ms Bellinger, Ms Burt said she would “definitely” recommend it to other survivors who don’t feel confident in their own skin.

“We go through all the pain and get a breast reconstruction done for the shape, but we don’t think about the nipples and the final step. If you’ve got the opportunity, do it, you’ll feel so good about yourself. It’s like the cherry on top and you feel complete.”

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