Press Release March 2021

A survey conducted by the Nipple Innovation Project found that breast cancer survivors are suffering adverse mental and physical health issues from areola tattoos that fade away.

  • Our survey found that 81% of breast cancer survivors who received micropigmentation tattoos were very dissatisfied with their results.

  • 51% of this group suffered adverse mental health effects due to the poor quality of their areola tattoo. The majority of comments were based on how sad they felt after the tattoos faded and upset at further scarring left over from being tattooed.

  • There were numerous comments focused on increased levels of depression and suicidal thoughts and low confidence and self esteem issues.

The Nipple Innovation Project is the first UK Cancer Tattoo Charity dedicated to empowering breast cancer survivors with realistic, permanent nipple tattoos that never fade away following mastectomy surgery.
We became established in 2018 after our founder Lucy Thompson, was inundated with breast cancer survivors seeking her help. These incredible ladies and men were desperately living with faded and often scarred hospital tattoos and were suffering extremely low self esteem and confidence issues as a result.

 Comments from a breast cancer survivor;

  “The problem lies in that when you have had breast cancer you are just so grateful to the NHS for saving your life you feel lucky to be alive and don’t want to make too much of a fuss. You also know how under pressure the NHS us and at that stage is only considered a ‘cosmetic procedure’ you feel guilty for wasting NHS money for vanity”

We wholeheartedly believe this is not a cosmetic procedure. We consider Areola Tattoos post mastectomy an essential service that’s a huge part of the healing process following breast cancer. Our data reinforces our beliefs which are what make up the foundation of our charitable goals.

Breast cancer is devastating, people have to go through multiple surgeries, damaging invasive treatments with awful side effects and of course surgical removal of breasts and nipples.
Arguably these are two of the most important body parts that helps a woman feel like a woman. Breast cancer survivors are often keen to get back to feeling ‘normal’ as soon as they can.
A nipple tattoo can distract from the scars by creating a new visual, add balance where it’s been taken away due to surgery and help a breast cancer survivor feel comfortable and confident in their skin, which also impacts personal relationships in a big way.
Basic pink or brown circle tattoos are offered in hospitals as part of the mastectomy treatment plan. More often than not, we are told by breast cancer survivors they are never informed that their tattoos are semi permanent. They also aren’t given information or education that any other options are available to them despite our best efforts to raise awareness of this specialist service. Amongst a number of reasons, we feel this is extremely unethical.

At the very least patients should be given access to information and education so they can make their own educated and informed decisions about their own bodies.

We often find ourselves shunned by the NHS when we try to discuss these serious and valid issues with them. We believe part of it is due to the stigma attached to tattoo artists and how they are portrayed in the media.
The Nipple Innovation Project are a collective of talented, professional team of experienced paramedical artists dedicated to serious change. We believe our work focuses on healing using art, as we do when offering tattoos anywhere else on the body. We can proudly say in the work we do, we truly have the survivors continuous wellbeing at the forefront of our work.

There are no regulations or qualifications in any kind of tattooing. No one is technically more qualified than anyone else in this field, and this causes confusion and misinformation to patients and practitioners alike.

Micropigmentation has been around for about 50 years, the techniques originate from traditional tattoo techniques which have been for thousands of years using a variety of application processes, tattoo needles were introduced to traditional tattooing in the late 1800’s.
Micropigmentation is essentially a watered-down version of the traditional tattoo process. Traditional tattoo artists have years of experience of tattooing healthy skin all over the body which stands them in good stead for preparing to tattoo delicate scar tissue. Micro-pigmentation practitioners generally work on the face on small areas using very small needle configurations suitable for small surface areas such as eyebrows or lips.
Currently, NHS breast cancer nurses receive a very short training course with a micropigmentation artist to learn how to perform restorative tattooing. They have no prior experience in any kind of tattooing, and usually no artistic passion.
They are trained to be nurses, not artists. They are trained using semi permanent cosmetic pigment, they’re shown a single technique and do not have the desire to question their training. We see, on a regular basis, the damage done by these well meaning practitioners, and have experienced first hand, the adverse mental health effects caused.
The fading of the nipple tattoo, is devastating to a breast cancer survivor often not wishing to return to a hospital for a yearly top up. The damaged tissue can not handle a yearly top up, meaning fading pigments are not suitable for this procedure.
We wanted to illustrate this using the breast cancer survivors own words, and so we conducted a survey available to complete online to any person who has received Areola tattooing.
Results were varied, but conclusive in determining that procedures performed by the NHS and medical professionals caused adverse mental health effects to the patient. We feel that this is due to use of fading pigments, and lack of training available to practitioners. Treatments carried out by ART artists, and experienced tattoo artists caused no ill effects.

We have set a very high standard through our charity and plan to not only raise awareness but assist in educating breast cancer survivors and medical professionals on the options available to them. We offer the highest level of training globally through working with worldwide breast cancer tattooing collective, Areola Restorative Tattoo.

Faded & heavily scarred hospital tattoo

We believe we have the solution to this serious and ongoing issue. We are speaking up on behalf of the survivors who just feel grateful to be alive who don’t want to “cause a fuss” by speaking up, they’re suffering in silence and its unacceptable and completely avoidable. We are their voices!
Nipple tattoo appointments in hospitals are not considered essential. They are held sparsely, there is no initiative or understanding into this service to want to improve it. During the lockdown the already sparse hospital nipple tattoo clinics had been cancelled as many other none essential appointments were.
However, tattooing was still able to take place in some tiers so we could continue to provide this service for breast cancer survivors who desperately need it in order to move forward with their lives and replace what was taken away through surgery.
A FOI request from the NHS showed semi-permanent hospital tattoos cost the NHS between £450-£856 per tattoo session. With these tattoos fading and needing repeated (damaging) top ups – this is extremely costly to the NHS and could explain why only a limited amount of top ups are offered. We charge up to £350 for our tattoos. The 3D Nipple Tattoos we offer take two sessions to complete and then they never fade away, ever again.
The Nipple Innovation Project fundraises to offer these tattoos out free of charge to breast cancer survivors. We strongly believe cost should not be a factor when considering this specialist work and in the same sense they shouldn’t just go for the NHS option if they don’t want to but feel they have to because it’s ‘free’.

Having a permanent nipple tattoo means a breast cancer survivor can begin to love their new body and not worry about their losing their nipples all over again.

Just knowing this is the case, especially if they’ve experienced fading tattoos, can be truly liberating and life changing for the wearer. It’s a great way to rebuild confidence, a way of taking back control of their bodies on their own terms and being able to love their new body.
A 3D nipple tattoo way of drawing a line under a relentless cancer journey and being able to feel whole again.

We face many challenges when we’re trying to raise awareness of this service. Social media have repeatedly threatened to delete our charity accounts due to our realistic artistic renditions of nipples.

We’re currently shadow-banned on Instagram – this is an ongoing issue. We have been given dozens of warnings, been banned from posting off facebook, Instagram and tiktok, denied access to our pages and had posts repeatedly removed.
We have had never had the chance to speak to a human at these organisations or ever had a personal response from them surrounding these issues.
We can’t pay to boost our posts on any platform to help us reach a wider audience because we have ‘nipple’ in our name, we can’t get our account verified because we have made ‘too many violations’ it’s a vicious circle.

Why is there so much shame around a nipple. Men, women, children and animals have them?

Can’t we open the dialogue to discuss one of the most natural things in the world?

Let’s have a professional conversation about the impact this is having?

Nipple censorship is an issue globally but its now beginning to have a huge impact on us as a charity and we need help!
Censoring post mastectomy images that breast cancer survivors have felt brave enough to share with the world is starting to cast a shadow of shame and fear over us trying to raise awareness of this empowering service.
Notes to Editor:
Contact: Lucy Thompson