Should cosmetic tattoos be made available on the NHS?

Should cosmetic tattoos be made available on the NHS?

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Should cosmetic tattoos be made available on the NHS?

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Brenda Finn’s tattooed eyebrows have changed her life. Brenda Finn’s tattooed eyebrows have changed her life. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Tessa Guy has a secret tattoo. Hidden beneath her clothes is a work of art few will ever see. It may be discreet, but the inked mark on Guy’s right breast changed her life. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2011, the personal fitness trainer underwent a single mastectomy and endured long, painful surgery to reconstruct her chest. The areola painted around her newly formed nipple was the missing piece of the puzzle that helped her regain her confidence.

"Before I had the tattoo there was a constant reminder that something had changed. Losing a breast makes you feel you have lost a part of yourself," Guy explains. "Now when I look in the mirror, I see the two nipples line up perfectly again and no longer notice the scars. I feel like me again. I am not about to rush down to St Tropez and go topless – but I might be more comfortable doing so now than before."

Tattooing skills are now being adopted by health professionals to give new life to damaged skin. Burns, cleft lips, surgical scars and vitiligo (white patches on the skin) can be subtly disguised or corrected by carefully needling matching flesh coloured pigment into the affected area. But there is more to the treatment than just covering unsightly skin conditions – medical tattoos are also helping to heal deeper psychological wounds.

For alopecia patient Brenda Finn, being given back the eyebrows she lost along with the rest of her hair at the age of 14 transformed her life. Now 29, she admits she was a recluse for years after developing the condition as a teenager. At 17, she began rebuilding her confidence by wearing wigs and volunteering at a nursery. Her self-esteem came creeping back, but the empty patch of skin between her eyes and forehead […]