Areola Tattoos Can Give Breast Cancer Survivors a Sense of Normalcy—Here's How They're Done

Rebecca Norris
·4 min read

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When you think of tattoos, you might imagine dainty lettering like Hailey Bieber’s latest finger tattoo, lyrical linework like Demi Lovato’s newest neck ink, or matching best friend tattoos à la Kaia Gerber and Cara Delevingne. What may not come to mind, however, are areola tattoos—which is understandable considering that, unless you’ve got one (or two) yourself or know someone who has, you might not even know they exist.

So, what are areola tattoos?

If you thought “boob tattoos,” you’re on the right track. However, unlike the many, many boobs tattooed on people all over the world, areola tattoos aren’t just another set of drawn-on ta-tas. “Areola tattooing is the delicate tattoo process of restoring pigment, detail, and dimension to the breast,” explains cosmetic tattoo artist Shaughnessy Otsuji, who is the owner of Studio Sashiko.

While anyone can get an areola tattoo, Otsuji admits that the service is most commonly offered to those who have undergone mastectomies due to breast cancer. “I work with trans clients who have received top surgery and reconstruction; clients who have burns, skin grafts, or other scarring that has affected their chest; as well as anyone who is unhappy with their natural nipples and may need reshaping or re-pigmentation,” she shares.

Given the nature of this tattooing, Otsuji admits that the process is emotional and rewarding. “Luckily, a tattoo appointment with me is generally the last step of my clients' journey and the most exciting as it yields instant results,” she explains. “Something as visual as restoring nipples that have been previously removed is very impactful. There are always happy tears at the end of our sessions, which is what keeps me inspired daily.”

How are areola tattoos done?

Despite being performed on a more sensitive area of skin, Otsuji says the areola tattooing is much the same as traditional tattooing. That said, given that most areola tattoos are performed on those with scarred and/or compromised skin, proper attention and care must be taken. For starters, the colors of ink are much more tailored to the client’s skin tone. “The colors I use are a lot more natural-looking, such as pinks, browns, and skin tones, as opposed to some of the vibrant pigments and darker blacks and greys used in other types of tattooing,” she explains.

What’s more, instead of focusing on intricate lines and graphics, areola tattooing comes down to choosing a single, often simple shape and making it look as natural as possible.

“Each areola tattoo is completely customized for my clients,” Otsuji says. “I strive to create the most realistic results by adding strategic details, highlights, shadows, and dimension and choosing a collection of colors that suits their skin best. The end result is an undetectable, realistic areola that looks like one they would have had naturally.”

That said, Otsuji admits that she’s also created heart-shaped, naturally-colored nipples for those wanting something a little more unique.

Why are areola tattoos important?

On the most surface level, areola tattoos create the appearance of “normal” nipples and boobs. But it goes so much deeper than that.

“The visual and emotional impacts that areola tattooing can bring are so important,” Otsuji says. “This type of tattooing offers so much healing for someone who has experienced a drastically altered appearance. Being able to reconnect with your previous self when you look in the mirror is a magical thing. I am always so honored to be able to help restore these features.”

How to find a tattoo artist who does areola tattoos:

Thanks to social media’s sexist censoring, areola tattoos are largely deleted from the internet or blurred amongst feeds. As a result, many people aren't aware that this type of realistic, confidence-restoring tattooing even exists.

“As an artist, not being able to freely showcase our artistic/restorative work can lead to confusion and potentially bad experiences for clients who are already undergoing a traumatic experience,” Otsuji admits. After all, with few areola tattoo artists permitted to freely post on social media, it can be difficult to find a reputable artist. However, some doctors can recommend artists they've worked with, and there are online groups of people who have gotten areola tattoos where one can find recommendations. With that in mind, it’s important to always ask your artist for examples and reviews of their work to ensure you’re entering into a safe and satisfying ink space when exploring areola tattoos.