Piret Aava is in the business of beautiful brows. She calls herself the Eyebrow Doctor and regularly gives her more than 42,000 Instagram followers a look at how microblading, a semi-permanent tattoo technique to shape and fill in a person’s brows, can dramatically change facial appearance. She says clients include the likes of Serena Williams, Lara Spencer and Veronica Webb. Appointments reportedly cost $1,500, and there’s a long waiting list.
Aava’s newest venture is dramatic in a totally different way. She recently started providing women who have undergone mastectomies with incredibly realistic-looking areola tattoos.
Her interest in the art form was captured while scrolling on Instagram. That’s where she found Sylwia Dobrowolska and Sylwia Nawrot, who run Amazink Areola in Poland, performing areola reconstruction. Aava, who is originally from Estonia, decided to visit the women on her next trip home.
“I thought it was so amazing, what they’re doing,” Aava told HuffPost. “Even with brows, there is a life-changing aspect for people who don’t have brows or who are going through trauma or health issues. They are so grateful and happy and it makes me happy that I can really change someone’s life for the better. I feel like giving women areola will help fulfill me and help change people’s lives.”
Before she had a chance to make the trip, though, the Polish areola pioneers came to the U.S. and presented a master class in Washington, D.C., in April. Aava attended and began drawing areolas, surprised at how real they looked.
“The last time I drew was in kindergarten,” she said, laughing. “I was amazed by it.”
Aava, still just getting started, has performed a handful of areola tattoos and has made them a priority in her practice. Already, she said, women are responding.
“I didn’t realize how many people have a need for it,” Aava said. “But every time I talk about it, each one of us knows at least one person who has gone through breast cancer, either a sister, a mother, themselves. I’m really surprised how many people need it or had a bad job done on them a long time ago.”
Women who have mastectomies, in which diseased breast tissue is removed, often lose their nipples in the process. Some breast reconstruction techniques color an area to simulate an areola, but women complain they look nothing like the real thing.
Like Aava, plenty of other tattoo artists have taken to providing services for cancer survivors. Aava charges $1,500 an hour for her tattoos, and said the total cost can run to $2,500.
Making a realistic-looking areola is a challenge, Aava said.
“Seeing which direction the light comes and how to shadow took me a minute to figure out,” she said. “It takes practice to train your eye so it looks three-dimensional.”
For women who get tattooed, the experience can be emotional. One of Aava’s clients told InStyle that she “teared up” when she saw her tattoos for the first time. “I feel so much more complete when I look at them,” she told the mag.
Aava said she also finds the experience deeply moving.
“I feel like sometimes I get even more emotional than they do,” she said. “I have to tell myself not to cry, not to be a weirdo.”
Aava’s tattoos look so realistic that she said she’s gotten into trouble on Instagram, which removed an areola tattoo photo from her Eyebrow Doctor account. So, she started a second account called Areola Doctor dedicated solely to her areola tattoos.
“I took it as a big compliment because I guess they thought it was realistic,” she said.
“I really want more people to be aware that this is an option,” she said. “There are many bad jobs out there, they just draw a circle on you, but there are better options than that and I just want people to be aware and know it’s a possiblity.”