Julie Christian loves it when her clients cry after she completes her work. “There’s almost always tears when they look into a mirror. That’s the best part of my job,” Christian says.
A licensed aesthetician, Christian founded and operates Mermaid Permanent Cosmetics in Moyock where some of her diverse clientele receive medical tattoos to replace pigments or textures lost during mastectomies. Christian’s medical artistry creates lifelike nipple-replacement tattoos with a 3D appearance. They are hard to tell from the real thing.
One in eight U.S. women, about 12.4 percent of the female population, are expected to develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their life, according to research from breastcancer.org. In 2018, approximately 260,000 U.S. women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis − and approximately 41,000 of those will die from breast cancer.
Christian empathizes deeply with her breast cancer patients who have not only had significant body changes, but who also suffer post-surgical mental trauma. Relationships may be stressed and the woman’s self-confidence lost, says Christian, who is also licensed to provide medical tattoos in North Carolina.
“Breasts are a part of what makes us women, and (post-surgery) women still want to feel like a woman. A mastectomy can be absolutely devastating,” she says. “One client saw herself for the first time (after a nipple tattoo). She laughed, cried and then said `I’m whole again.’”
Another client had a dime-sized part of her areola removed during a lumpectomy. Her partner no longer found her sexually attractive, Christian says. Upset about the change, the woman contacted Mermaid Permanent Cosmetics for help.
“After her repair she was so excited. Her husband returned from a month-long business trip and she surprised him with the repair. She described it as a `very romantic’ weekend,” Christian says. “She wasn’t sure who was more excited him or her.”
Christian says helping patients move past breast cancer surgery is the most fulfilling part of her job, occasionally offering no-charge services for those unable to pay. But she also finds satisfaction in other applications of her skills acquired over years of study and work.
Mermaid Permanent Cosmetics, open since late summer, provides a variety of medical tattoos including both removal and filling in pigmentation. Carefully tattooing scars, stretch marks or lighter areas on skin discolored by vitiligo, Christian can make these marks virtually disappear. She can also create the look of eye brows or add permanent eyeliner, lip liner and scalp pigmentation.
As a master certified permanent cosmetic specialist she is also able to accept a limited number of students to train at her Moyock office to meet North Carolina or the more stringent Virginia requirements.
“I’ve seen a lot of other people’s work and had to repair some of it. It really hurts me so badly to have someone come in my office that hasn’t gotten a good procedure. There’s just a real need for quality training,” Christian says. “Virginia licensing is more involved, and I can prepare students for to meet their standards.”
Many of the procedures Christian teaches and performs in her office such as laser removal and tattoo application, is on areas where the skin is very sensitive so she uses a topical anesthetic cream to minimize pain. Simple procedures can be completed in a single appointment, but the more complex can take several sessions.
Depending on scope, Mermaid Permanent Cosmetics procedures start at about $200 and can reach $800. If the procedure is surgery-related it is often covered by health insurance. Christian is working to be able to direct bill patient insurance policies.
Direct insurance billing might be the last challenge of Christian’s epic journey to help women who have fought and won against breast cancer, others who have the desire to be their own ideal of beautiful and those who want to follow Christian’s footprints.