Finding the humour during a tough and difficult time can be a positive way to deal with the trauma of breast cancer.
For Emma Conyngham, this tactic helped her to not only come to terms with her newly reconstructed breasts after her double mastectomy earlier this year, but has led to the development of a fun and innovative temporary nipple tattoo product for post-mastectomy patients called Nice Nips.
Nice Nips provide realistic, pre-made as well as custom-made, temporary nipple tattoos for women seeking to bridge the gap after their mastectomy through to their final nipple reconstruction surgery -- often a journey of many years.
This unique product, each piece affectionately named after various baked treats, was launched just a few months ago but is already proving popular with many women who are experimenting with the different looks the product can provide before deciding on a more permanent solution.
Reclaim Your Curves spoke to Emma about her product and the response she’s received.
RYC: Emma, how did you come up with the idea of selling temporary nipple tattoos?
I tripped over fake tattoos online when I was researching cancer. I had no idea they existed until after my mastectomy. I found some American ones and was very excited. When they arrived they were just a blob of pink paint but even then, they made a huge difference to how my boobs looked visually. But then I thought "I can do better than this". So I got a group of girls together who stripped off and let me photograph their nipples. Nice Nips are real nipples; not an artistic rendition which is why they look so real when they are on. My doctor laughed and freaked out when he saw them; he said they were the best product he had seen available for temporary nipples (tattoo or silicone).
I think women who are making decisions about nipple reconstruction should use both temporary tattoos like Nice Nips, and silicone ones with a permanently "cold" nipple. It's a big decision to have a nipple made but with a temporary tattoo you may decide just to get a 3D permanent tattoo when the time comes. In any case, forewarned is forearmed, and you will have a better idea of what you are getting.
RYC: There are a few temporary nipple tattoo products out there, what makes Nice Nips different?
I think mine are the most realistic! Nice Nips also has the biggest range of sizes and colours and I can do custom made. All other temporary tattoos have a hard line around the outside which looks really fake when on, but Nice Nips is feathered so the areola fades into the skin like a real nipple.
RYC: I love the fact your Collection uses names such as Cupcake, Chelsea Bun or Belgian Biscuit to describe the different colours and shapes available. Is there a story behind the names?
I was exhausted by the medicalisation of my boobs. Cancer is so abrupt, and serious, and complex and I had had enough of that. I wanted the business to be fun because nothing about losing your real nipples is fun. That was a deliberate choice; fun. I have had one woman complain that they feel it is insulting and offensive to use baking names for nipples which I struggle to comprehend and that the use of the word "fun" in relation to cancer "made her fume with anger". But I have learnt that everyone goes through cancer differently and has different responses and feelings. I still like the fun nature of Nice Nips; it's helped me cope so I won't be rebranding any time soon.
RYC: Lots of our members have been very impressed with how life-like the tattoos are. Without giving away any secrets, how do you produce the tattoos, and are they hypo-allergenic?
I started printing them at home on my own printer after importing the paper from the USA. I still print custom-made at home but the other nipples are now all professionally printed with vegetable-based inks. It took more investment but I think it's worth it and in the next few weeks I will be able to reduce the prices as bulk printing has substantially reduced the unit cost, so watch the website for major reductions to pricing!
I haven't got any documentation stating they are hypo-allergenic unfortunately as they are classed as a paper product. But temporary tattoos have been around for decades and almost everyone played with them as kids so people should know if they are sensitive. The harshest part of it is the eucalyptus oil used to remove them... if you don't wash that off properly you can get aggravated skin. So always remove them before having a shower and thoroughly wash the oil off with paraben-free soap.
"[My wife] is rapt! And I'm chuffed to see her so happy! And, I think she still looks pretty damned nice! We're just both very grateful!!!!" -- Husband of a Happy Customer, New Zealand
RYC: How does someone choose the right nipple style for them? How many nipples normally come in a set?
The fun nature of Nice Nips is that you don't need to get it right. You can pick and choose different ones. A darker tone looks great under lace or sheer fabric if you want to give your partner a smile on a saucy night out, but a paler one works for outfits where you want to go braless in a pale colour.
RYC: How long do they last and how are they best cared for?
My home-made ones last for 3-7 days depending on your skin, but the new professionally printed ones can last up to 2 weeks if you care for them. Always apply to clean skin (damp is fine) but absolutely no oil or moisturiser on your skin. Use a hair dryer on cool to dry them completely before getting dressed and avoid sweaty exercise or showering for the first 12 hours. Then, after each shower, dry them with a hairdryer and do not rub them when getting dressed.
RYC: I understand you also provide a custom-made service. Can you tell us a bit about how that works? Do the custom-made nipples last any longer than the pre-made sets?
Just email me a picture of your existing nipple, and send me the diametre measurements. I then make a sample sheet of 4 nipples which vary ever so slightly in shading. You pick the best one then I make 24 nipples at one time. They last slightly shorter than the pre-made sets because they are printed at home. There is a one-off fee of $65 which is the graphic design work I do to the file, then a print fee of $30; plus postage.
RYC: What are the costs of both the pre-made and custom-made sets?
Premade: NZD$19.99 for a pack of 3 sets (6 nipples)
Custom: NZD $95 for first order (comprises $65 set up fee, and $30 for 24 tattoos).
RYC: How long after surgery can they be worn?
I recommend everyone asks their surgeon. I wore mine from 6 weeks but I never had radiation so my skin wasn't as damaged. They look really good on top of nude-coloured micropore tape; it helps reconcile your new boobs after surgery when you can’t imagine how they'll ever look nice / normal again. Pop a pair of Nice Nips on and visually you can see the breast taking shape. Many women have used the word "transformative".
RYC: What's the response been to your product so far? Are you looking to expand the range?
The response has been amazing; I'm never going to become rich through this but the feedback I get from women who are in tears because they've worn a t-shirt to bed for 10 years; or stayed single because they can't imagine how a guy would respond to their post-cancer breasts, then they put Nice Nips on and their world changes. This is why I do it.
I'm not expanding the nipple range just yet but I am very soon launching eyebrows for women during chemo... watch this space!
RYC: How has creating Nice Nips helped your personal recovery from breast cancer?
For me it's been incredible. It gave me something positive to focus on; in fact I was so busy getting the business up and running that I didn't have 2 seconds to dwell on my own situation. I have often wondered if I've simply been in denial about having cancer because I marched through it so positively and optimistically. The only tears I cried were when my dressings came off after the mastectomy; I looked butchered. I wept then but haven't since. And it's also been good for my two daughters (ages 5 and 6). Having cancer hasn't been a trauma for them as they see that I "make boobies for other women" and they find it all quite amusing.
My experience with breast cancer has given me the opportunity to support other survivors with a product that hopefully puts a smile on their face, and helps them to feel whole again.
To find out more about Nice Nips and the product range available go to: http://www.nicenips.co.nz/
Special Offer for Reclaim Your Curves members: Everyone who buys 2 packs of Nice Nips will receive a third pack FREE up until Dec 24. Use the code XMASNIPS at checkout.
Interview by Jane Goodwin-Moore
Publicity and Consumer Information, Reclaim Your Curves
Video Published on Jul 13, 2016New Zealand Herald Focus -- by Ella Wilks.
Jane Goodwin-Moore is a writer and consumer. She interviews Australian health professionals about their role and thoughts on breast reconstruction in Australia