‘I tattoo nipples and now I’m teaching others to do it too’ - Incredible Yorkshire woman partners with NHS to restore women’s confidence post mastectomy

Many female breast cancer survivors are left unable to look at their own bodies following a mastectomy, with their self esteem and confidence shattered.

While women can have reconstructive surgery one woman found the nipple tattoo process ‘painful,’ ‘traumatic’ and later the tattoo faded. While she confided in her niece who is a tattoo artist, Pam, was unable to talk about her journey.

‘Aunt Pam’, as she wishes to be known, inspired 34-year-old Lucy Thompson to help women in a similar position to receive the 3D lifelike nipple tattoos they deserve.

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Lucy, from Keighley, said: “I was working as a tattoo artist when my aunt had an extremely painful nipple tattoo following a mastectomy.

Lucy Thompson of the Nipple Innovation ProjectLucy Thompson of the Nipple Innovation Project
Lucy Thompson of the Nipple Innovation Project

“It was really traumatic for her. It didn’t look good and then it faded away. She couldn’t look at her own body.”

This fuelled Lucy to design her own solution tattooing women’s nipples following surgery.

She said: “I set up my own private studio. Women came to me at their worst. With no confidence and often they were unable to look at their own body after having a breast removed.

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“Seeing them transform was incredible. They could be intimate again with partners. They could feel like themselves again.”

Nipple Tattooist Lucy ThompsonNipple Tattooist Lucy Thompson
Nipple Tattooist Lucy Thompson

Lucy has since tattooed more than 1,000 nipples at her private studio in Bradford and is now on her next mission to help more women across the UK.

She added: “It's a beautiful journey seeing women feel restored. Our 3D life-like nipples can help women to transform their bodies but most of all their mental health too.”

Lucy’s aunt Pam eventually came round to the idea of getting a tattoo after she was in the studio with one of Lucy’s client’s, who had been waiting to get their second session done on their tattoo.

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Lucy said: “My client invited my aunt in to watch the process to show her how comfortable it was. My aunt was shocked to see my client wasn’t in pain.

3D nipple tattooist Lucy Thompson3D nipple tattooist Lucy Thompson
3D nipple tattooist Lucy Thompson

“There wasn’t any bleeding and my client could talk comfortably throughout the procedure. The next day my aunt asked if I could do a tattoo for her.”

Lucy said she was honoured to help.

During the process her aunt couldn’t believe the difference in her tattoo experience with Lucy. She even felt comfortable to talk throughout the experience.

“When she looked in the mirror afterwards it was beautiful to see her face light up, it was a very emotional moment and I feel it’s brought us closer together.

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Nipple Innovation ProjectNipple Innovation Project
Nipple Innovation Project

“Her confidence since then has grown tenfold and it’s been beautiful to see her flourish over the years since her tattoo,” said Lucy.

Lucy’s aunt is now comfortable to talk about her breast cancer journey openly whereas before she wouldn’t discuss it at all.

“I’m so proud of her. She’s my inspiration to help others who feel the same as her,” she added.

As well as working privately for clients, Lucy wanted to offer her services to those who couldn’t afford it.

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This led to her launching the Nipple Innovation Project, the UK’s first mastectomy tattoo charity which funds post-op women to get their nipples tattooed for free.

Lucy added: “Those who’ve had reconstructive surgery tend to want nipples which look as natural as possible whereas those who don’t have the reconstructive surgery tend to like something a bit more artistic.”

Seeing the “groundbreaking” demand for her services, Lucy set up the Areola Academy in 2022, to train other tattoo artists across the country to deliver the services at a high standard.

She said: “I want to train one tattoo artist in every county of the UK so everyone has access to these vital services.

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“I’ve also trained as an NHS practitioner having my services approved by the NHS.”

Lucy has recently partnered with an NHS hospital for the first time.

She said: “We are incredibly proud to be recognised by Bradford Teaching Hospitals and look forward to establishing this new collaboration with the breast cancer team at St Luke’s Hospital.

“This partnership signifies a significant step forward in making realistic and long-lasting nipple tattoo services more accessible to breast cancer survivors within the UK healthcare system.”

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The clinic had to be paused temporarily during the pandemic but it has now restarted with Lucy and her team at the helm.

Breast cancer surgeon and multi-disciplinary team lead at Bradford Teaching Hospitals,, Catherine Tait, said: “This new partnership allows us to offer nipple tattoos again as a valuable option for post-mastectomy reconstruction.

“At Bradford Teaching Hospitals, we are committed to enhancing the patient experience and nipple tattooing delivers the ‘finishing touch’ for our patients who have had reconstructive surgery after breast cancer.

“These tattoos can have a profound impact on a survivor’s emotional wellbeing and body image, and we are delighted to make this service available again within our Trust. The importance of this positive procedure cannot be underestimated for those who have survived breast cancer and underwent reconstructive surgery.”

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