Tattoo artist helps cancer survivors

Updated October 4, 2017 - 7:44 am

As a graduate of Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, Annie Reynolds never thought she would be working as a tattoo artist. Now, through Pink Ribbon Tattoo, she is helping breast cancer survivors feel complete again.

She recalls that this journey began when her husband, Las Vegas plastic surgeon Brandon Reynolds, called her one day as she was driving their four daughters home from school.

“He asked if I would be interested in learning how to tattoo areolas,” she recalls.

Noting that Dr. Reynolds serves many breast cancer patients in Southern Nevada, she continues, “Knowing my art background, he thought it might be something I’d be interested in. He was right. I sat up straight in my seat, and it was like lightning hit me — yes! I do want to learn how to do that.”

Reynolds says that she went straight home and Googled “nipple tattoo training” and other terms that “weren’t quite correct, and I just wasn’t coming up with anything. I let it drop for the moment but kept the idea on the back burner.”

About six months later, her husband’s office received a letter from an expert in the field, Debbie Miller of Newport Permanent Makeup in Newport Beach, California, offering classes and training in areola recreation.

“Bingo! I called her the next day, and the rest is history,” Reynolds says.

What exactly does it take for someone to become an expert at areola recreation?

“We flew Debbie here from Orange County, and she began training me over the next several days,” Reynolds says. “Before she even arrived, I had to write an essay that explained why I wanted to learn how to do this. I also had to memorize her manual and take a test.

“I then spent time shadowing Debbie at her office and was required to practice countless hours on rubber mats before getting to the fun part, working on several human ‘models’ in order to become certified. The entire apprenticeship process took several months.”

While tattoos were not an art form Reynolds had previously considered working in, knowing that her husband had patients inquiring about such procedures was what initially piqued her interest.

“He was confident that this was something I could excel at and, in turn, help his patients, which is extremely important to him,” she says. “He truly cares for their emotional welfare as much as their physical welfare.”

According to Dr. Reynolds’ website,, areola repigmentation is completed with a 3-D effect in mind. It’s a multistep process that starts with the patient participating in a consultation meeting, where an areola and nipple design plan is created.

During the actual tattooing procedure, everything in the region is numbed. Patients are sent home with an after-care kit containing detailed instructions on how to care for the new tattoo.

Annie Reynolds says that doing this is “different than other art forms in that I have to wait six to eight weeks at the patient’s follow-up appointment to really see the end results. Also, when tattooing, the skin is red and often bloody and inflamed, which makes it difficult to see exactly what I’m doing.

“At first, that was difficult to get used to. In terms of color theory, the color of the pigment mixed for the areola isn’t the end color — the client’s skin plays a factor, so I take that into account when choosing and mixing my colors. It really is a fun medium that I’ve enjoyed learning.”

Although this is a very personal procedure, Reynolds does not feel uncomfortable.

“I felt from the get-go that for women who have had mastectomies, having tattooed replacement areolas could make them feel whole again … and I was right! I’ve had such amazing feedback, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘I feel like a woman again.’ That’s a good feeling, being able to give that back to them,” she says.

“I think for a lot of women, it’s very traumatic to have their breast(s) removed and reconstructed and especially have their nipples and areolas gone and, in their place, have purple scars there instead. After placing areolas over those scars, I’ve been told that ‘It’s like I don’t even see my scars anymore,’ even though they’re still there and oftentimes still go across the entire breast,” Reynolds adds. “It’s just that they have somewhere else for their eye to go other than right to those scars. It just helps make them feel more like themselves.

She says that she was nervous working on the first model. “Yes, it is so intimate and even surreal, like ‘Am I really going to do this?’ That feeling went away literally within seconds. I think that had to do with my wonderful models, who were volunteers and patients of my husband. They were so happy to help me learn and immediately put me at ease.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet such wonderful women through this process. I’ve often thought, ‘OK, does having breast cancer automatically turn you into an awesome person, or does breast cancer just go after awesome women?’ That sounds dumb, but it’s strange … these women are all so amazing!”

Reynolds has been doing these tattoos for a year and a half and aspires to continue for many more years. She hopes that one day, all insurance carriers will cover this procedure as part of the reconstructive process.

“I’ve seen that it makes a big difference to these patients in terms how they view themselves and their femininity, along with their relationships with their significant others,” she says. “It’s just been an overall really positive experience for everyone.”

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