RESULTS: The length of time after tattoo placement inversely correlated with color score (P < 0.0001) and shape score (P = 0.0007). The time following tattoo placement was also inversely correlated with all quantitative color parameters. Each color parameter fit a 1-phase exponential decay model.
BACKGROUND: Nipple-areolar complex (NAC) tattoos are an effective cosmetic solution for creating a finished look following breast reconstruction procedures. NAC tattoos are prone to significant fading, leading patients to seek revisions. This study was designed to quantify changes in NAC tattoo appearance over time.
METHODS: A total of 71 images of 39 patients were analyzed for NAC tattoo color and shape by 5 blinded medical student graders using a customized scoring system. Subsequently, each image was analyzed using ColorPic software (Iconico, New York, NY). Red/green/blue and hue/saturation/value color parameters were collected. Color quantities were normalized to the individual patient's skin tone to control for variability in lighting. Spearman correlations and nonlinear regressions were calculated utilizing GraphPad Prism 6.0 (GraphPad, La Jolla, CA).
CONCLUSIONS: The decline in qualitative color and shape score agrees with clinical experience of tattoo quality declining over time. The color qualities of the tattoo approach those of the patient's skin over time, ultimately reaching a plateau. This can be modeled using a 1-phase decay equation. In practice, tattoo colors may be selected that compensate for the predictable changes that will occur. The results of this study will help optimize tattoo color and may alleviate the need for NAC tattoo revisions.
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