Nipple-Darkening Tattoos Are Britain's New "Beauty Craze"

Cristen Conger

British women are paying for temporary nipple-darkening tattoos.
British women are paying for temporary nipple-darkening tattoos.
Ralf Nau/Thinkstock

First came vajazzling, with women (and some men) paying aestheticians to glue crystals around their pubic area, much to doctors' chagrin. Now, The Telegraph reports that women in the UK are getting temporary nipple tattoos to darken the areola -- sometimes in addition to breast augmentations. Since the tattoo ink fades over time, these nipple tattoos only last up to 18 months before they need retouching. Nevertheless, they aren't cheap. To darken both nipples can cost more than $1,800.

"Tittooing," as the cosmetic practice has been nicknamed, originated from the medically-related practice that I blogged about earlier this year, highlighting the work of Philadelphia tattoo artist Vinnie Myers who specializes in post-mastectomy nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors. In a 2007 interview with British nurse and tattoo technician Sue Broom for Nursing Standard magazine, she said her greatest joy from her work comes from hearing about patients who report boosts in self-confidence following their breast tattoos. Some even felt compelled to sunbathe topless, Broom told the magazine. But "tittooing" outcomes seem far less heartwarming that helping women whom have lost their breasts to cancer reclaim their former sense of self.

As British clinician Gail Proudman told the Telegraph:

"A lot of people want their nipples made darker. It's the fashion. Some people think theirs are too pink or their boyfriends want them done. I think sometime they are doing it because they are conscious of them being pale and they think it's fashionable to have dark nipples. They'll look at the magazines and page 3 and unfortunately a lot of it might be peer pressure."

Personally, I've never experienced any nipple color peer pressure and I had no clue that was something women even paid much attention to. It was the British reality hit "The Only Way Is Essex" that spawned vajazzling, but even citing the rampant tabloid culture doesn't make sense to me in terms of fostering women's insecurities over the skin tone of their nipples. The closest thing that comes to mind is how skin whitening has become a profitable beauty habit across Asia, having ballooned into a $13-billion industry.

Still, temporary nipple tattooing represents a new breed of female-targeted insecurity that zeros in on such a specific bit of flesh. To me, the smaller the body part being "touched up," the more alarming the problem, indicating that we're so severely affected by a certain standard of attractiveness that we'll pay a significant sum to have even the most microscopic detail attended to. And unnecessarily so.

While one might argue that these women who haven't fought breast cancer are simply seeking a the same feeling of attractiveness reported by those post-mastectomy patients, but that would only insult the bodily fight that those cancer survivors waged. As with vajazzling, I can't identify any defensible aspect of these temporary tattoos.