Paramedical tattoo artist helps cancer survivors feel like themselves again
Nichole Shervanick works her mini-tattoo machine deftly, applying pigment with a needle as fine as a strand of hair to the lips of client Becky Logan. A numbing agent keeps Logan comfortable, and she gives a thumbs-up when asked how she’s doing.
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When Shervanick has added the finishing touches, she hands Logan a mirror and they admire her new ombre brows and lip blush tattoo, the colors for which Shervanick custom-blended for Logan.
Shervanick, 35, has been a permanent cosmetic artist since 2017 and is the owner of Haven Permanent Cosmetics and Aesthetics in downtown Gig Harbor. In 2022, she underwent a double mastectomy after learning she carries a BRCA1 gene mutation, which significantly increases her chances of getting breast cancer.
Shervanick has now added to her services areola restoration for people who have undergone breast surgery, including mastectomy, breast reduction, augmentation or other procedures. Combined with her service of scar camouflage, the results can be life-changing, as she’s heard from her clients.
“I think it just really gives people a sense of confidence back,” she said. “I don’t think you really realize when you lose a part of your body how much it meant to you until it’s gone.”
Small changes, big effect
Shervanick’s career as a permanent cosmetic artist began in late 2017 and early 2018, as the trend was taking off in the United States. She had previously worked in medical offices doing a range of support jobs. There she learned how even small changes, whether elective or medically necessary, can make a big change in one’s appearance and self-confidence.
Like tattooing, permanent cosmetic services use a variety of techniques to apply pigment into the skin. The tools used in permanent cosmetics are more delicate, however, and the effect fades somewhat over time. Brows on average remain vivid 12 to 18 months; lips last an average of 18 to 24 months.
“Technically they would all be considered semi-permanent tattooing,” Shervanick said. “But it’s not a tattoo, because it’s not going as deep into the skin as a tattoo would be, and it’s a different ink. So, it’s considered semi-permanent because it does fade over time, but it never fully goes away.”
What is areola restoration?
Shervanick trained with master permanent cosmetic artist Angelina Anderson, co-owner of DAELA Cosmetic Tattoo in Portland, Oregon. Services Shervanick offers include microblading (for brows) and ombre brow shading, velvet lip blush, saline tattoo removal (for brows and lips), scar camouflage and areola restoration, which creates the appearance of a 3D nipple through artistic application of layers of pigment shades.
Both scar camouflage and areola restoration are considered “paramedical tattoos” since the individual’s need or desire for them arises out of a medical condition or procedure.
“Following an injury, surgery or illness, people are often left with an altered physical appearance,” Shervanick explained. “This can range from a small scar to a change in the skin’s pigment, or even the loss of a certain body part entirely, which can significantly impact a person’s sense of self.”
A range of services
Shervanick previously worked out of a small salon near the post office in Gig Harbor. She leased her current space near the waterfront in July 2020, then redesigned it in a contemporary chic motif during the pandemic. The result is sophisticated, yet welcoming. She and her husband Ryan, a firefighter with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One, juggle their careers with raising three children, ages 2, 7 and 9.
Shervanick has three employees who offer a range of aesthetic and permanent cosmetic services such as eyelash extensions and lifting; facials; microneedling (which minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and scars on the face); semi-permanent eye liner; teeth whitening; waxing and sugaring (the latter a type of body hair removal often used in sensitive areas); hair extensions; and custom coloring.
As an example of prices, lips range from $600 to $700; brows are $475 to $675. Areola restoration is $500 for both breasts, less for one.
Haven offers free consultations. “We need to make sure that we’re giving them what they want because it’s their face after all,” Shervanick said.
Shervanick also is a certified trainer and offers a variety of permanent makeup courses to teach the fundamentals of the art and how to set up your own business.
‘I love my clients’
Clients seek permanent cosmetic services for a variety of reasons, Shervanick said: For fun, for convenience, for self-expression and to address changes related to age or certain medical conditions.
“Honestly, well, my eyebrows. I don’t have a ton of hair there,” said Logan, a permanent makeup first-timer. “So, I was spending a lot of time filling them in. So, I figured if it saved me time, it was a pretty good idea. And then lips it’s just nice to be able to just wake up and go instead of having to sit there and do your lips, do your eyebrows and do all these different things.”
Each permanent cosmetic artist has his or her own style, Shervanick said. “So, my goal is as natural as possible with everything that I do. One thing is I want everything as realistic as possible. That’s kind of more my style.”
That said, Shervanick believes in supporting and uplifting fellow cosmeticians across the board. She’s found her dream job.
“I love my clients,” she said. “I love being able to change something about someone that they specifically want. … Gig Harbor is just the best. We have huge support from the (Downtown) Waterfront Alliance and the Chamber (of Commerce), which is amazing. And just being in this small town, it’s just really fun. And I just I love coming to work every day.”
A life-saving test
Four years ago, a doctor told Shervanick about genetic testing to screen for increased risk of breast cancer. The doctor, who she calls her “guardian angel,” was simply providing information about the availability of the test, which she decided to take.
“We had no clue it was in our family,” she said.
A few weeks later, Shervanick’s doctor called to tell her she carried an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 gene that significantly increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone has two copies of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes — one copy inherited from their biological mother, one from their father. Both are tumor-suppressing genes, the CDC states:
“When they work normally, these genes help keep breast, ovarian and other types of cells from growing and dividing too rapidly or in an uncontrolled way. Sometimes a mutation occurs in the BRCA genes that prevent them from working normally.” That raises the person’s cancer risk, but not everyone with mutations develops cancer, according to the CDC.
A courageous decision
Shervanick reached out to medical experts and learned all she could about her condition. “I wanted to educate myself on what exactly this meant for me and my family and my future,” she said.
Through her research, she found that the genetic mutation she carried put her lifetime risk of breast cancer at 72 percent.
Her parents and older sister tested as well. The BRCA1 mutation was passed from her father, and her sister also has it.
Shervanick in November 2022 underwent a prophylactic (preventive) bilateral mastectomy, a difficult decision but one that reduced her risk to 2 percent. In February 2023, she had breast reconstruction surgery. She said mutual support between her and her sister, who also had a prophylactic mastectomy, helped her manage through the ordeal.
A gynecological oncologist closely monitors Shervanick for early signs of ovarian cancer, and she plans to have her fallopian tubes removed, as recent research shows that some ovarian cancers start in the fallopian tubes. She eventually will have her ovaries removed, as well.
A passion to help others
Shervanick shared her story on social media to raise awareness of the potential benefits of genetic testing and follow-up genetic counseling. She has advocated for insurance companies to cover genetic testing. Denials are often based on the fact it’s an elective test. Her insurance covered the test after she documented her case.
When Shervanick publicly shared her decision to have preventive surgery, she received an outpouring of encouragement.
“I have an amazing support system, I think that’s huge,” she said. “I had amazing people reach out that had gone through it as well, themselves, whether that be cancer-related or not. Someone from high school reached out when I shared my story that she had a very similar gene and had had the same surgery a few months prior but hadn’t shared it with anyone.”
Shervanick did not lose her nipples in the mastectomy. But if she had, she would have had areola restoration, which she’d learned about through her instructor. She received training in the technique from Anderson in April 2023 and has since been trying to spread the word.
“People aren’t aware this service is available,” she said. “And you know, some people don’t want it and that’s 100 percent fine. This is just for people who want it.”
Although none of her clients to date have been transgender, she’d welcome inquiries from all individuals who have undergone breast surgery and who may want areola restoration and/or scar camouflage.
During October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Shervanick is offering free areola restorations for up to five people.
Haven Permanent Cosmetics and Aesthetics
Address: 3200 Tarabochia St., Gig Harbor
Phone number: (253) 509-5359
Email: [email protected]
Related story: The Wigged Out Ride on Sunday, Oct. 1, raises money to supply wigs to women going through cancer treatment.