A tattooist who has left her mark on the bodies and hearts of women affected by breast cancer has been named the best in the country.
Kelly Forshaw-Smith won the medical micropigmentation award at the Micropigmentation UK awards in Nottingham, the top ceremony for the British permanent makeup industry.
The 37-year-old mother of two, who recently opened her own clinic in Brighton Road, Worthing, also came third for scalp tattooing for patients with alopecia or thinning hair, creating the appearance of thicker hair.
She said: “It means everything to me. It’s the recognition I have wanted after more than 15 years in the business. To be named number one in the country – I was rather excited.”
After working for her father Keith Forshaw’s wig company, Kelly followed in her mother Dawn Martin’s footsteps by learning how to do semi-permanent makeup at her company Finishing Touches, based in Haywards Heath.
She then specialised in medical tattooing: a varied field which helps patients who have had reconstructive surgeries such as skin grafts. Over the years, she has worked with torture victims from around the world, people with severe burns and acid attack victims to improve the appearance of their scars.
She said: “Anything that involves the adding of colour or the improving of texture – that is what medical tattooing is.”
A common procedure she carries out is tattooing areolas, the area around the nipple, on women who have had mastectomies due to breast cancer.
She said she worked with five surgeons in London, and would sometimes have 11 patients a day.
She said: “It gives balance to an area and makes surgery complete.
“It is the finishing touch – and in the case of the areola, it is almost literally the cherry on top that makes their journey complete.”
She spent several years working and teaching her techniques in countries such as the USA, Iceland and Australia, and set up her own London-based company, Medicos, in 2006.
From tattooing-on sideburns to missing toenails, there is no area of the body she does not treat.
Kelly said: “I love it, it is the best job in the world.
“The reward for me is seeing the patients’ reactions immediately after. A lot of patients cry and break down out of happiness. It is just a delight.” The treatment is carried out using a technique called nipple areola complex tattooing, where over several sessions layers of colour are added to the skin, and the illusion of a 3D nipple is created. Scar tissue is treated using dry needling, known as multi-trepannic collagen actuation, which involves a needle pricking the surface layers of the skin to stimulate collagen production, improving the appearance of scars. Kelly said it had given some of her patients the confidence to go swimming again, and helps young children who may be struggling to cope with the change in their mother’s appearance. The medical tattooist also works with several charities, including Facing the World, a London-based charity for children with facial disfigurements.