The Tattoo Artist Giving Breast Cancer Survivors Hope In An Unusual Way


File this under ‘feel good story of the year’…

Back in June 2014, the New York Times featured the incredible story of a tattoo artist who is giving breast cancer survivors a new lease on life like no doctor can!

Vinnie Myers, owner of Little Vinnie’s Tattoos from Finksburg, Maryland has a very unusual customer base. Sure, he gets the regular crowd of men and women who want the Celtic symbols, their sweetheart’s name, an image of their fave rock star and various animals permanently inked on their bodies, but he also gets a lot of breast cancer survivors. Like thousands of them!

Why? Because he tattoos 3D nipples on mastectomy patients. When a woman has breast cancer and decides to get a mastectomy, the whole breast is gone. If they get breast reconstruction, they have a new whole breast, but surgeons do not create a nipple. It seems like it would be an insignificant thing, especially after the fact that these women have survived a deadly, incurable disease. But it makes a huge difference that women have come from as far away as India, Brazil and South Africa to procure Vinnie’s services.

Vinnie came up with the idea after talking to a female plastic surgeon at a party in 2001. She told him that they have a tough time recreating a nipple area that wasn’t scarred up or incorrect in color for the patient, and she invited him to help her surgery correct where they were going wrong.

Basically a plastic surgeon is trained for a few hours in tattooing, to complete a surgery, which made Vinnie think that something was inherently wrong about their process.

“I would never advise anybody to come to me for surgery, but in the same vein nobody should go to a surgeon for a tattoo,” he said.


Word soon spread that he was doing nipple tattoos, and his studio became so booked with appointments for these that him and his team hardly had time to do any other types of tattoos. In 2010, as he was about to quit doing nipple tattoos altogether, something made him change his mind.

“The morning that I planned on telling the guys to stop taking appointments for them, my sister called to tell me she had breast cancer,” he recalled.

That to him was a sign to keep going, because what he was doing was more than just art, it was giving women the chance of a new life and to feel sexy and whole in a way that reconstructive surgery cannot.

He uses a flesh-coloured Sharpie pen to outline the nipple and areola, before preparing the tattoo ink, which is mixed to match the skin tone of the client.

To create the the illusion of a raised nipple Mr Myers uses two tattoo guns, using one to draw the circular lines, and the other to shade. He also takes special care to do what are called Montgomery Glands, the small raised bumps in the areola. Because of nerve damage during a mastectomy, many women don’t feel significant pain.

Little Vinnie’s Tattoos has gone from hometown tattoo parlor to internationally recognized business where they have have a waiting list for up to 6 months for their nipple tattoos. And the demand for his services show what a need there is for something like this once a patient leaves the hospital.


“I get to see tattoos done by different doctors from all over the world, and it never ceases to amaze me how bad most of them are,” He said. “I’ve seen tattoos that don’t match a woman’s skin tone or her existing areola, nipples that are so large and out of proportion they take up half the breast, or nipples that are positioned so far on the sides they are almost in the armpits. Doctors have really dropped the ball on this.”

He charges between $600-$800, and some insurance providers to reimburse patients. In the NY Times video below, Vinnie mentions he is not the only one in the area who does these nipple tattoos, but the fact that these kind of tattoos aren’t that commonplace (judging by the crazy long waiting list he has) show there is a huge gap in the market.

The health issue surrounding cancer doesn’t just end with the internal battle. Women want to feel beautiful again.

Vinnie estimates he has done close to 3000 nipple tattoos over the past 10 years, and in a guest blog post on in 2012, he relishes the fact that he can have a hand in women feeling “whole again.”

“I feel like I have the best possible job as a service provider for breast cancer warriors,” he writes. “I’m on the back side of the battle… the finishing touch… the last step. I truly get to put the ‘cherries on the cupcakes’!”

We heart you Vinnie Myers! Thank you for choosing a path that is impacting women’s lives in such a unique way! It just goes to show that whatever your skill or your trade is, it can be used to change the world if you think outside the box a little. Check out the NY Time video below:



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