Health and Wellness

After 20 years as a visual artist, this cancer survivor took a pay cut to create 3D medical tattoos full-time

Courtesy of Jenean LaCorte

In 2019, Jenean LaCorte put down her paintbrush and picked up a tattoo needle. 

In a major shift, she went from painting murals to making 3D nipple tattoos for people who've had mastectomies, as a full-time medical tattoo artist.

But as cool as her job sounds, it came with a price; committing to the new job meant accepting a pay cut.

"I really try to keep my prices at an affordable rate because most of the time patients have to battle their insurance to even cover the cost to be [re]imbursed, or they've [already] spent so much on all of their various treatments to get there," LaCorte tells CNBC Make It.

She now makes about $30,000 a year, which is less than what she made as a painter. And when she has clients who can't afford their tattoos, she finds ways to help them cover the costs, either by using her own money or by raising funds for them through partnerships with companies like Desert Harvest.

Still, LaCorte wouldn't change a thing, and says being a medical tattoo artist matters more to her than her salary.

'Back sore, mind lifted': She puts purpose over payment

LaCorte discovered the need for tattoo artists who create realistic nipple tattoos as her brother-in-law's sister struggled to find one post-mastectomy.

And as a cancer survivor herself, LaCorte knew how much scars could impact a person's body image. 

To remedy this, she made it her mission to come up with tattoo designs that use shadows to create a 3-dimensional effect of what an actual nipple would look like – and began extending services to people who've had mastectomies.

"When they look in the mirror for the first time in either months or years, and in some cases, decades, they finally see what looks like a breast to them. And it's a big moment. There's usually tears," LaCorte says.

"When you see that look on someone's face, when they have that back again, it doesn't compare to what you get back in your paycheck."

In her career, she's also used this method to tattoo a toenail on someone who lost their own from diabetes, and a belly button on a client who no longer had one after multiple surgeries.

"I've been able to help [many] people with a lot of scars," by camouflaging scars from self-harming, domestic violence and medical procedures, LaCorte adds.

"Even if you've tattooed for like eight hours in a day, which I've done a couple of those, it's like your back's sore, but your mind's just lifted."

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