Choosing a Tattoo to Conceal Surgical Scars

The number of women choosing reconstruction following a mastectomy has grown dramatically since the 1998 Women's Health and Cancer Rights Law mandating that reconstruction is covered under private insurance. In the past several years, a small but growing number of women are choosing tattooing as a cosmetic choice following a mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy.

Women having reconstruction may opt for a 3-dimensional nipple(s) created by a professional tattoo artist. Tattoo artists are now playing a new role in breast reconstruction by creating 3-Dimensional Tattoos. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), describes the 3-D nipple tattooing as superior looking when compared to a reconstructed nipple.

Some women are having reconstruction without a nipple and opting for a tattoo over the reconstructed breast(s).


The Scars Do Fade: One Woman's Journey Through Two Mastectomies

Reconstruction is not for everyone. Many women choose to forgo reconstruction and wear a mastectomy bra with a removable prosthesis. Women, who have had a bilateral mastectomy, may opt to go without a bra. They are comfortable with a flat image. For some women, reconstruction is not a viable choice for health reasons.

There are women, who didn’t have reconstruction, that are choosing to get a tattoo. They will use the year or more necessary to let their scars heal before getting a tattoo to find a professional tattoo artist who is experienced in post-mastectomy body art and select an image suitable for their scar area. They are willing to have the tattoo done in stages if that is what it takes. They accept the fact that there may be discomfort during the tattooing process.

Cost can be an issue for many women who have gone through the expense of breast cancer treatment. Large, involved tattoos usually are not covered by insurance.

Tattoos can be quite detailed and creatively do what they are intended to do. Tattoos turn a scar area into an image that is beautiful and projects a message. Many of the tattoos portray strength, hope,

and peacefulness.

Some women, who choose tattoos over reconstruction, often share that they are doing so to take back their bodies. They feel a tattoo that expresses their cancer experience validates what they survived.

The growing interest in tattoos as a cosmetic choice has led to an event in New York City that gives breast cancer survivors the opportunity to meet tattoo artists who specialize in post-mastectomy tattoos.

Hand of tattooist with tattoo needle, close-up
Westend61 / Getty Images

What to Do If You're Considering to Cover Your Scars

If you are considering getting a tattoo, speak with your surgeon and a plastic surgeon about it first. They can make you aware of what you need to consider before making a decision.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following information about getting a tattoo:

  • A tattoo is a mark or design on the skin. A permanent tattoo is meant to last forever. It is made by a needle and colored ink. The needle puts the ink into the skin. Allergic reactions have been reported from individuals who have received either temporary or permanent tattoos.
  • Think very carefully before getting a tattoo. A tattoo is difficult to remove and can leave scars.
  • Most states, cities, or towns oversee tattooing or permanent make-up practices, such as using clean equipment. Tattoo inks themselves are cosmetics and by federal law, the colors used in them must be shown to be safe. However, none are approved and the inks used in tattooing have not been strictly regulated by the FDA.
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act. American Cancer Society.

  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Tattoo Artists Play New Role in Breast Reconstruction. American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

  3. Souza MD, Sullivan K, Ueno C. Breast Reconstruction Options. American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

  4. Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe? U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

By Jean Campbell, MS
Jean Campbell, MS, is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, and the founding director of the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program.