“Being comfortable in your own body is key to recovery”: How 3D paramedical tattooing is helping breast cancer patients heal

Niki Cirillo is a Sydney-based Cosmetologist who has devoted herself to paramedical tattooing and transforming the lives of post-operative clients. At her business ProCosmediq, Niki specialises in post-operative scarring. Many of her patients have experienced breast cancer, and Niki has found the treatment can provide psychological healing along with aesthetic results.

Realistic nipple and areola tattooing offers a solution as part of the healing process from the mental suffering of breast cancer. Seeing the scars on survivors’ chests can be one of the most difficult parts of the recovery process, and There are limited artists that can perform the complex, 3D-like tattoos. That’s where Niki Cirillo comes in. She is a professional cosmetologist trained to implant pigment granules in the upper layer of the skin for cosmetic and paramedical enhancement. Her journey began with cosmetic tattoos, such as skin needling, eyebrows, lips, cheeks and eyeliner but she always had the end goal to use her creative skills to support and elevate people, which lead her to the paramedical world. Cirillo now uses her skills to help in in the, often hushed up, journey of breast cancer and cancer survivorship.

Professional Beauty chats with Niki about her pathway into medical tattooing, the nuts and bolts of her practice, and how she’s making the most of the lockdown.

PB: Could you tell us what a 3D Medical tattoo is?

“A 3D medical tattoo is the insertion of coloured pigments into the skin to mimic or enhance the appearance of natural features on the body.

The 3D illusion of a protruding nipple combined with the shading & contouring technique of the areola will make them incredibly realistic and natural from all different viewing angles.”

PB: Tell us a bit about doing 3D medical tattooing for Breast Cancer survivors?

“This treatment goes beyond just the physical appearance. It is holistic healing for the whole body; taking into consideration the social & mental factors linked to cancer, rather than just the external modifications.

Feeling comfortable in your own body, which is you’re lifelong home, is a critical step in the recovery pathway. If my artistic skills can support & restore confidence in someone after the turbulent ride of breast cancer, then I consider myself incredibly blessed.”

PB: What timing during the treatment pathway are you able to tattoo?

“Once a clearance from their surgeon is given, I can begin the tattoo process (this generally only takes two appointments).”

PB: In terms of pain, does it hurt?

“Since the treatment is minimally invasive, most clients find the experience virtually painless and are relieved to know that they are quite comfortable throughout the duration of the session. A numbing gel is also available if required to ensure that they are as comfortable as possible.”

PB: How did you get into it?

“I have always been a creative individual. My journey began in the tattoo industry with cosmetic tattoos; however, it was my creative flair and drive to support and elevate others that led me to the medical tattoo world. I knew that I had more to offer the world, and could use my tattoo capabilities beyond cosmetic tattoos.”

Medical tattoo artist Niki working with client
Niki working with clients at ProCosmedi – Provided by Procosmediq

PB: How big of a part of the cosmetic tattoo industry is it?

“This treatment has been around for many years, decades even, however, I still find that when I speak to people in general, they are pleasantly surprised to hear that this treatment exists. There are also many clients that only became aware of this treatment through their surgeon or breast care nurse.

This is why discussions such as this one with Professional Beauty are so valuable for bringing awareness to the industry and beyond.”

PB: What sort of training is needed for this sort of tattooing?

“Firstly, the Maintain Infection Control course should be completed as a priority, especially when working with individuals who are immunocompromised.

I also completed the Design & Provide Cosmetic Tattoo course, which subsequently lead me to the Paramedical & Scar Camouflage course & that is where I really began to advance my artistic skills.

To be honest, you should never stop expanding your skills. Allocating time to practice, watching tutorials or reading relevant articles will not only benefit you, but it will also benefit your clients in the long-term.”

PB: What tips do you have for someone who wants to start doing this sort of tattooing?

“There is so much more to this treatment than just completing a tattoo course. You must have deep knowledge of the different types of breast cancers, surgeries, chemotherapy & radiation treatments & how these influence the longevity of the tattoo. Equally as important, you need to be a compassionate, resilient & humble individual; traits that unfortunately cannot be taught.”

Provided by: Cosmediq

PB: What are clients’ reactions to your work?

“Honestly, the first reaction is usually disbelief, predominantly because they can finally see something on themselves that they never thought possible.  

However, the most powerful reactions come days after the treatment. It is then that I am reminded of how monumental this treatment is. Suddenly [for the client] looking at themselves in the mirror isn’t so daunting or being naked doesn’t feel shameful. These are experiences that we often take for granted, but they are so significant for others. Knowing that I was a part of their treatment pathway whether it was for closure or new beginnings is invaluable.”

PB: What lessons have you learned along the way?

“Quality over quantity. I take a maximum of 3 clients per day. As an artist, I always allow myself enough time to spend with each client so that we can select pigment colours, create a design & then begin the treatment. This way, the client can trust the process & not feel as though they are being rushed.”

PB: How do you see this part of the industry growing or changing in the coming years?

“The number of breast cancer survivors seeking out 3D nipple & areola tattoos has significantly increased over the last couple of years. Without a doubt, the support from Oncoplastic, Reconstructive & Breast Surgeons has certainly streamlined the road to recovery so that clients do not need to find their own medical tattoo artist.

Individuals who have already undergone extensive surgeries can feel overwhelmed with the thought of further surgery (e.g. nipple reconstruction). Fortunately for me, I work alongside some of the most renowned surgeons here in NSW; A/Prof Sanjay Warrier, Dr Tony Palasovski, Dr Adrian Sjarif (and then some) who not only support this treatment, they support their patients move one step closer to feeling in-touch with their pre-cancer selves.”

PB: What was the state of your business during the pandemic/lockdown?

“My business, like so many others, has been in lockdown since June 26, 2021. Even though it has been challenging at times, I have tried to remain focused and keep a positive mindset. I was able to complete refresher courses in Scar Camouflage as well as 3D Medical Tattoos & above all, I have taken the time to reflect, reset & rest so that when I am able to return to work, I am in the healthiest state of mind for myself as well as for my clients.”  

To get in touch with Niki email her at niki@procosmediq.com.au or follow on Instagram at @procosmediq.

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