Tattoo therapy helps people with body-altering medical conditions

This article was originally published on Global News.

WATCH ABOVE: For some people, tattoos are a method of self-expression. For others, inking is all about self esteem. Su-Ling Goh has more on how tattoos are being used to help those with medical conditions. Warning: parts of this video are a bit graphic.

EDMONTON – While tattoos are often a way for people to express themselves, they can also help improve the self esteem of people with body-altering medical conditions.

Tammy Zielke has alopecia areata. In 2003, the then 27-year-old noticed a small bald patch on her head. While her hair would at times grow back, it continued to fall out.

Feeling self conscious, Zielke used creative ways to hide her hair loss, wearing hats, wigs, even eyeshadow.

“People did their eyebrows with makeup, which I thought, ‘My head is almost like eyebrows’ and that’s what I did,” she explained.

“It was working, unless it rained. That was bad. Working out, exercise – that was not great either.”

Zielke spent years researching alternative methods and eventually came across scalp micropigmentation. The tattoo therapy, offered by Scalp Aesthetics in Edmonton, uses a carbon-based ink, rather than the traditional ion oxide ink used in mainstream tattooing, to make tiny dots in the scalp.

“We can create a buzz cut look or we can also, if your hair is thinning, kind of colour the scalp a little bit to give the illusion of a fuller head of hair,” said Kay Manuel, a trained scalp aesthetics technician who works in Edmonton.

Micropigmentation is also used on women who have been through breast cancer. Joanne Berube, president of Sherwood Park’s Dermallusion Permanent Cosmetics, works with women who have gone through breast reconstruction. She tattoos nipples and areolas to make breasts look more natural after surgery.

“I’m trying to recreate things that should be there naturally,” said Berube.

Patients are referred to Dermallusion Permanent Cosmetics by their plastic surgeons and treatment is covered by Covenant Health. It usually takes two to three treatments and Berube sees about 30 patients per month.

While some women are hesitant about the treatment at first, Berube says most are overjoyed when they see the final results.

“They tell me that they are so, so happy they have done it because they are able to put everything they’ve gone through with cancer behind them,” she said.

“Now they can look in the mirror, feel good about themselves, feel feminine again. I have some tell me that their husbands are more comfortable, as well.”

That rewarding outcome is also felt by Zielke, who says finding micropigmentation was a dream come true and helped boost her confidence again.

“I’ve never been so happy,” she said. “For me, this was winning the lottery.”