How this S’porean tattoo artist transforms women’s lives & restores confidence by giving them new nipples

Tattoo artist Jen Tan puts smiles on breast cancer survivors’ faces with nipple reconstruction tattoos

Since 2016, tattoo artist Jen Tan has been on a secret mission that she hasn’t really been able to talk about or share with others.

The 37-year-old had been doing nipple reconstruction tattoos for breast cancer survivors who’ve had to get mastectomies

But early this year, Ms Tan was finally able to share her work in public for the first time.

The reception was rapturous. Besides her close friends and family, she’d never told anyone, so she never expected the response. For years, it has been a private project, usually shared only between client and artist.

Ms Tan tells MS News that she feels a sense of purpose and empowerment in helping these vulnerable women gain back their confidence.

She particularly admires how positive these women are in spite of what they go through.

How Jen became a tattoo artist

Before becoming a tattoo artist in 2011, she’d studied to become a veterinarian.

A year in, however, the animal lover found that the profession was too “heartbreaking”.

“I decided that it was not really suitable for me,” she explained.

“Maybe I can love animals, but I’m not suited to see a darker side of them. It gets quite sad.”

Ms Tan had always held a love for art, but shelved her passion as her parents wished for her to have a more conservative line of work. She also felt her parents would not accept her decision.

One fateful day in 2011, however, at an arcade where she and her friends would play Street Fighter, her tattoo artist friend asked if she would be interested in tattooing.

“Why not learn from my mentor, since you’re not working right now?” he said.

Back then, there were few tattoo artists in Singapore and the industry was much smaller.

Furthermore, tattoos weren’t as popular in the early 2010s compared to now — they were often perceived as a sign of deviance or rebellion.

Still, Ms Tan felt deeply about becoming a tattoo artist as it was a way to express her creativity and create works of her own.

That said, she needed to convince her parents. After all, it was not the most stable line of work and there was still a stigma. Furthermore, they thought it was a passing phase.

They settled on a compromise where Ms Tan would have to show that she had a steady pool of clients to support herself within the first six months, or she would have to find a more stable career path.

“It wasn’t a passing phase because I’m still here now,” Ms Tan quipped. With the help of her mentor Joseph of Visual Orgasm Tattoos, they managed to convince Ms Tan’s parents that she had a future as a tattoo artist.

Today, her parents are big fans, even creating Instagram accounts so they can follow her work there.

Ms Tan (second from right) with her family. Image courtesy of Jen Tan.

Even better, tattooing allowed her to combine her two loves of animals and art, as she now gets to tattoo animals often.

How she got started doing nipple tattoos for women who got mastectomies

In 2016, Ms Tan met a lady who came in with a mastectomy scar. The latter had wanted a flower tattoo to cover up her scar.

She tattooed a lotus on her, and shortly after, the customer went back to her clinic, Dr Evan Woo Breast & Plastic Surgery, for a review, she recalled.

“After the doctor had a look at the tattoo, I think he asked her: ‘Where did you get this done? Can I reach out to this person? Maybe she can do more for other patients in the clinic’,” Ms Tan added.

From there, Dr Evan Woo reached out to Ms Tan, and in 2017, she began to work regularly with his clinic, creating nipple tattoos with patients.

“I was very excited, actually, because I never thought that me doing tattoos or art could lead me to use my skill for something so meaningful,” Ms Tan shared.

Being able to help women regain their confidence was an “honour” for her, and she felt lucky that the clinic’s doctor reached out to her.

Ms Tan’s job was to reconstruct a nipple following a mastectomy, which can either be unilateral or bilateral — surgery on either one or both sides.

“If they go through a unilateral mastectomy, I will try to follow the nipple on the other side,” she explained.

Typically, the patient isn’t expecting anything more than a drawing, but when they find out how realistic the nipple tattoo looks, they invariably become happier and more confident.

“You just feel their confidence slowly [coming] back… when they see themselves,” Ms Tan said.

“The feeling of seeing that never changes — you don’t get sick of that feeling.”


Sometimes, Jen has to manage expectations and warn the client that the tattoo may not come out exactly as they’d like.

Depending on the patient’s skin tone, it can affect the tattoo pigment, which poses a challenge for Ms Tan in recreating a nipple.

This is especially so if the skin tone is darker than the pink pigment used for the tattoo. Scar placement, as well as how well the tattoo is taken care of after it’s inked, can also affect the end result.

Perhaps a more challenging task is managing the client’s emotions — something she has learned from her 13 years in the business.

She believes her love for animals helps here, too. Since pets can’t talk to her, she has to gauge how they’re feeling through non-verbal cues. This skill helps enhance her communication with people.

This is especially important, as the clients looking for such tattoos would most likely be in an emotionally fragile state and lacking in confidence, she pointed out.

It’s also a delicate, tender process — the area she works on is very much tied to one’s femininity. As such, Ms Tan emphasises sensitivity, both in what she says and in the tattoo’s placement.

“It’s… not just a normal tattoo, so it’s my job to not only get the tattoo done but also to listen and reassure them,” she said. “Let them know I am a safe space, and that you can share your struggles with me.”

She likens the process to one akin to a therapist’s role. It’s something she likes doing while at her day job at Oracle Tattoo, too — chatting with her clients and making them comfortable is as important as poking them with a sharp object.

“You don’t know what everyone is going through,” Ms Tan explained. “They may come in looking happy, but actually, they may be hurt.”

Jen never expected to reveal her tattoo work done with breast cancer survivors

Due to patient confidentiality, Jen was never able to share her tattoo work to the public. Only her close friends and family were privy to her work with patients.

It wasn’t until this year that she finally had a patient’s consent to post about the work she has been doing for the past seven years.

Source: @tattycattyjen on Instagram

“I didn’t expect it to ever see the light out there or become public or anything, so I’m very happy that people are becoming more aware of it now,” she said.

Because her work is now more public, she also accepts requests from clients who’d like to get a nipple reconstruction tattoo from her personally.

Previously, the clinic would arrange a room for her in a hospital, where she’d go to do her nipple reconstructions. But it meant having to schedule several clients on the same day, as it’s easier than shuttling back and forth.

Since she shared her story on Instagram, more clients come to her studio on an ad-hoc basis, and she sees two to three of them every month.

Deriving meaning through her work and proving herself

For Ms Tan, tattoos are a deeply personal art form that should have a meaning.

She is glad that her mentor managed to convey to her parents that being a tattoo artist can be a legitimate path, and that she could produce something fulfilling and significant through her work.

A Medusa piece that Ms Tan is particularly proud of

Given female tattoo artists like herself weren’t common when she first started, it had been a real uphill battle to convince others — and sometimes herself — that this was the right way to go.

For a long time, Ms Tan felt she had to do more to prove herself in a male-dominated industry. This included being on magazine and site features, which she thought would give her more “value” and worth.

Now, the proportion of male and female tattoo artists in Singapore is largely equal, and she feels like she’s helped carve a path for others like herself. “It’s just really awesome to see more female artists,” she shared.

Besides challenging certain industry norms, Ms Tan also chose to challenge herself when she joined Oracle Tattoo, which specialises in realism tattoos, in 2022. Even though she was making a comfortable living at Visual Orgasm Tattoo where she’d been since 2011, she felt that she was stagnating in terms of art style.

While Ms Tan previously had a cuter doodle-like style and specialised in linework and handwriting, the artists at Oracle Tattoo were specialists in black-and-grey realism tattoos.

Source: @bradleytattoo on Instagram

It was a radical departure from anything she’d done previously. For the first time in many years, she felt like a student again, learning to be an artist. But the other artists at Oracle Tattoo have been very supportive, she said.

Even when she wanted to do a colour realism piece, which the studio generally doesn’t do, her fellow artist Bradley Tan still gave her pointers and advice on things she could improve on.

“It was really not easy… because the whole studio standard is so high,” Ms Tan admitted. She was even a little intimidated when she first joined.

But to her surprise, everyone was friendly to her and treated her as an equal.

Now, Oracle Tattoo feels like home, and she hopes others who come to get their tattoos done will feel the same.

Asks for more sensitivity towards breast cancer survivors

Ms Tan also hopes that those who know breast cancer survivors can help them understand that they’re still loved, and still beautiful. Unfortunately, some of the stories that her clients shared about their loved ones or family caused her to feel “a little sad”.

“It will help them very much with their morale and how they view themselves [to be more sensitive],” Ms Tan advised.

I’m grateful that I’m able to, with my capabilities as a tattoo artist, help these cancer patients. And I’ll always be ready to tattoo anyone with a mastectomy scar.

You can find Jen on Instagram at @tattycattyjen, and her tattoo studio Oracle Tattoo on Instagram.

Also read: Woman Shares People’s Curious Comments On Her Tattoos, Proves They’re Still Taboo In S’pore

Woman Shares People’s Curious Comments On Her Tattoos, Proves They’re Still Taboo In S’pore

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