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‘Toughest people on the planet’ » Cosmetic surgeons offer areola tattoos — but not with the realism that Myers delivers — and at two to three times the cost.
"You have to have a certain eye to achieve the results," said Myers, who charges $600 for two nipple tattoos and $400 for one at his shop just outside Baltimore.
Myers downplays his work as "basic Art 101," though few artists have been able to replicate it.
Vice magazine dubbed him the "Michelangelo of nipple tattoos," a moniker that "seems kind of silly," he said. "But I do not mind at all being that guy."
Myers learned tattooing while he served in Korea in the ’80s as a U.S. Army medic. In 1991, he opened Little Vinnie’s Tattoos outside Baltimore. He later expanded and offered everything from full-color sleeves to "I heart mom" mementos, but specialized in realistic portraits.
In 2001. he was approached by a plastic surgeon who asked if he would try nipple tattoos for breast-reconstruction patients.
"I wasn’t prepared for the psychological impact on these women or on me," he said.
"For me, doing a small tattoo like that wasn’t a big deal. But for these ladies, it’s life changing. Prostate cancer is a serious thing for men, but the scars aren’t in your face. These women have to look at that every day; they’re the toughest people on the planet."
Intimate art » Plastic surgeons use one of three geometric formulas for deciding where to center the areola. They use vegetable-based inks that quickly fade and offer few pigments: pink, salmon and brown.
The result is a cartoonish, two-dimensional circle within a circle.
Myers looks at each breast as an "individual unit," hand-drawing the outline of the areola and nipple before filling them in with precisely mixed pigments.
"One breast is usually a different size and shape than the other. And you have to work with their scars because they don’t retain the same amount of pigment," he said. "There’s really no formula for what looks best."
Myers uses shadows and highlights to give the tattoos depth. He even adds the little bumps, or Montgomery glands.
Nipple tattoos must be done carefully to avoid rupturing the skin, said Myers."Often these women have lost all tissue except for a few millimeters of skin."
Patients initially found him through word of mouth.
"I was doing about 20 to 30 nipple tattoos a year," he said. But, in 2009, a client — a nurse who worked in the cancer ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital — blogged about him and "the dam broke," he said. "When she talks about breast cancer stuff, it’s gospel, people listen. Word spreads like fever on all the forums."
By 2010, Myers said, he was thinking, "I don’t know if I want to do this. It’s taking over my whole practice." But his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer that year, a sign, he said, that "this is what I should be doing."
Today Myers does nipple tattoos exclusively — upward of 1,400 a year — and he’s booked though January.
‘Icing on the cake’ » Clients come from around the world to see Myers at his Baltimore shop. He also schedules blocks of appointments at the elite Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans, which can bill insurance directly.Next Page >
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