In 2017, Linda learned that she had a CDH1 gene mutation. This diagnosis significantly increased her risk of stomach and breast cancer.
A year and a half later, she had healed from a bilateral mastectomy and surgery to remove her stomach. But looking at her body in the mirror, she says, was still an odd experience. Without areolas or nipples, her breasts looked completely different.
That was when she encountered Shannon Housley on Facebook.
Shannon was opening a medical tattooing practice, Housley Institute, in Cincinnati, and she was looking for women who would be interested in her specialty: 3D areola tattooing.
During the consultation process, Shannon made Linda feel comfortable and at ease. She explained the procedure thoroughly and worked with Linda to choose the shape, size, and overall look of the nipple and areola tattoo.
After a two-hour session and follow-up appointment to add finishing touches to the tattoo, Linda was thrilled with the results. Now she could pass by the mirror without thinking twice. In fact, the areolas look so realistic that even Linda forgets they’re tattooed.
“For me, it was more than life-changing,” says Linda. “It was life-normalizing.”
Restorative Beauty: Work With Meaning
In 2019, Shannon Housley left her marketing career to set out on a new path. She wanted to do something with purpose. She started her journey into the permanent makeup field and stumbled upon 3D areola restoration.
“Even though my grandmother had a mastectomy due to breast cancer, I didn’t know about the need for this work,” says Shannon.
She received training and certification in 3D areola tattooing — a hyper-realistic style of nipple restoration — at the University of Penn Medical Center from world-renowned artist Mandy Sauler. This unique form of living art soon became Shannon’s specialty and she now averages four to six 3D areola tattooing patients per week in her Cincinnati office.
Another of Shannon’s clients, Renee, had previously received nipple tattooing from her plastic surgeon following her bilateral mastectomy. But over time, the coloration had faded. After she heard about the Housley Institute on a news segment and attended an open house, Renee couldn’t believe how real Shannon’s work looked.
She returned for her 3D areola procedure, accompanied by her best friend for moral support. Using presurgery photos of Renee’s breasts, Shannon worked with her for nearly an hour, mixing colors to ensure the tattoo shading would come out just right.
For Renee, 3D areola tattooing has made the difference between seeing her scar and not even thinking about the mastectomy when she looks down.
“It makes you feel whole again,” she says. “To know that you don’t have to feel like you’re ashamed of having breast cancer is amazing.”
Choosing an Artist
For any woman considering 3D areola tattooing, Shannon cautions that not all work is created equal. She recommends researching your artist to see what kind of results they create.
Shannon chose to specialize in 3D areola restoration because of the variety of colors used, and the complexity of the shading and dimensions. This three-dimensional technique gives what Shannon calls “the illusion of protrusion,” while many 2D approaches don’t look realistic, fade quickly, and clients have less say in how the final results will look.
Through Shannon’s collaborative process, she works to replicate her clients’ nipples as closely as possible. She even asks if her clients loved anything in particular about their breasts before the mastectomy so that she can reproduce those features.
The artistry and thoughtfulness of her craft are not lost on her — and her clients’ responses speak for themselves.
“Shannon is truly gifted for this,” Renee says. “She connects to her clients, and you feel like you know her on a personal level.”
In addition to 3D areola tattooing, Shannon and her team offer other restorative beauty procedures, such as permanent eyeliner, lip color and brow tattooing, lash extensions, and other medical tattooing such as scar camouflage.
“We want everything to look as real as possible,” Shannon explains. “As we age, we start to lose the things that make us feel good. What women gain through these procedures is self-confidence and the freedom of not being tied to a lengthy makeup routine each morning.”
Through working with organizations like Pink Ribbon Girls, Shannon has connected with many breast cancer survivors. She is humbled to be able to give back to their community of amazing women by volunteering and through her tattooing work.
“They’re grateful to me, but I’m grateful to them,” she says with a smile. “I get to be part of the final step on their journey to feeling normal. It makes a world of difference.”
Interested in learning more about Housley Institute’s medical tattooing and other restorative beauty services? Visit housleyinstitute.com.