How to Get a Nipple Tattoo After a Mastectomy

If you've had a mastectomy for breast cancer, you might be considering getting a nipple tattoo. A nipple tattoo is less invasive than nipple reconstruction and can create the illusion of a natural nipple. Healing time is about seven to 10 days.

This article discusses cosmetic nipple tattoos after mastectomy and what you should know before scheduling the procedure.

Woman receives a medical tattoo on her breast

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Nipple Tattoo vs. Reconstruction

Nipple reconstruction requires another surgery after your initial reconstruction surgery. If you opt for a nipple tattoo only, you don't need that extra surgery. If you've chosen reconstructive surgery, your chest will need time to heal before getting a tattoo. This may take three to four months.

A surgeon can form a new nipple using small pieces of skin from the breast. They can also create an areola using skin grafts from another body part, such as the thigh or abdomen. The rebuilt nipple will be slightly raised, much like your natural nipple.

This process takes additional surgery, along with new scars and healing time. Once it's healed, you can move on to tattooing if you want to add color.

Alternatively, you can choose nipple tattooing in place of the extra surgery. This is an option if you've had breast reconstruction after mastectomy or decided not to have breast reconstruction. It's not for everyone, though. Your provider may advise against it if:

  • Your skin was damaged during radiation therapy.
  • The skin is too thin following the mastectomy.
  • You have lymphedema (tissue swelling due to accumulated fluid) or have had infections in the chest area.

How Painful Are Nipple Tattoos?

With a mastectomy, some nerves can be cut or damaged, which can cause loss of sensation or numbness in the affected area. If that's the case, you may feel only mild discomfort. Most people will feel pressure or the vibration of the needle. If you still have a good sensation, you may feel minor pain with the procedure.

Tattoo Options Post-Mastectomy

Nipple tattoos are created the same way as other tattoos. The tattoo artist uses needles to insert ink into the skin. If you had a single mastectomy, the tattoo artist could try to match the size, shape, and color of your other nipple.

3D Nipple Tattoo

While flat to the touch, a 3D nipple tattoo has a more natural raised appearance. The tattoo artist uses shading and color to create intricate details and give the nipple and areola a multidimensional look. They can even make the illusion of the little bumps typically found on the areola.

Temporary Tattoos

If you're uncomfortable committing to a permanent tattoo, you can try a temporary one. You apply them directly to your skin with a wet cloth. They generally last a week or two before fading away. You can also use a little rubbing alcohol to remove them faster.

Decorative Tattoos

You can go for a natural look or a decorative design, like a flower or heart. The design is entirely up to you and what makes you feel good.

How Much Do Nipple Tattoos Cost?

A single nipple tattoo is generally around $350. Two tattoos usually range from $600 to $800. Nipple tattoos after mastectomy are often covered by health insurance, but it's best to check before getting your tattoo.

Going Under the Ink: What to Expect

Nipple tattoos can be applied in a medical or tattoo artist's studio. If you have it in a nonmedical setting, ask your provider if you need a prescription for antibiotics to help prevent infection.

You can shower beforehand, but don't apply lotions or powders on your skin. You might also want to wear a loose-fitting top that won't put pressure on your chest after applying the tattoo.

A tattoo is formed by inserting ink into the top layer of skin. It's usually applied with a handheld machine that punctures the skin repeatedly. This can cause a tiny amount of bleeding. Depending on your sensation after the mastectomy, you might feel some discomfort or mild pain.

A dressing will be placed over the area when the tattoo is complete. The whole procedure typically takes about 90 minutes.

Potential Risks 

Overall, nipple/areola tattooing has a high level of satisfaction.

If you're getting your tattoo in a nonmedical setting, speak with your breast or plastic surgeon first. You'll want to make sure that the skin is healed and ready. Nipple and areola tattooing are usually safe and well-tolerated. However, there are some risks, which can include:

  • Infection can happen when conditions are not hygienic or if you have a health condition that increases the risk of infection.
  • Granulomas (inflamed tissue) and keloid formations (scars) may form.
  • Allergic reactions to tattoo ink can happen immediately, weeks, months, or even years later.

Finding a Trustworthy Tattoo Artist

A good start is to speak with your breast or plastic surgeon. If their practice doesn't perform the procedure, they may be able to refer you to someone who does.

For best results, you might want to look for someone specializing in nipple/areola tattooing after mastectomy. Some things to keep in mind when looking for a professional include:

  • Make sure the artist and the establishment are properly licensed in your state.
  • Ask about their cleaning and sterilization procedures. Needles should remain in sealed packages before use.
  • Find out if you'll be able to have an amount of privacy that's comfortable for you.
  • See how much time they will set aside to decide placement, color, size, and shape.
  • Request to see photos of their previous work on nipple tattoos.
  • Confirm the price.

Tattoos are permanent, so it's worth visiting with many artists until you find the right one. If you're not entirely comfortable with what you see, it's OK to keep looking.


Nipple tattoos are the final step in breast reconstruction after mastectomy. It's also an alternative to surgically reconstructing the nipple or if you've chosen not to have your breast reconstructed. Nipple tattoos are safe for most people. It's important to consult with your surgeon and make sure you're fully healed and at low risk. Once you get the go-ahead, look for a tattoo artist with experience in nipple/areola tattoos after mastectomy.

A Word From Verywell 

You've already made many decisions if you've had a mastectomy to treat breast cancer. Nipple tattoos may not be medically necessary, but there are many reasons you might want one, including for a sense of well-being. It is a personal choice. Take your time making this decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does insurance cover nipple tattoos?

    Some, but not all, insurance plans cover nipple tattooing, and you may need prior authorization. If you have the procedure in a medical facility, they will most likely handle the claim. You'll have to submit the claim yourself if you have it done in a nonmedical setting. Contact your insurer to find out if it's covered before scheduling the procedure.

  • Can they spare your nipples during a mastectomy?

    Nipple-sparing mastectomy is an option in some cases. The surgery involves the removal of breast tissue, leaving the skin, areola, and nipple intact. This can be followed with immediate reconstruction of the breast. It depends on the size and location of the tumor or tumors and the size and shape of the breasts.

  • Does a mastectomy cause loss of breast sensation?

    During the surgery, some nerves are cut or damaged, which often results in loss of sensation or numbness. Some sensations may return with time, but for some women, it's permanent. However, newer surgical techniques may help you retain sensation after surgery.

9 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.
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By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer, health reporter, and author of two books about her personal health experiences.