This tattoo artist uses ink to cover up scars and rebuild skin


Jessica Burke had tattooed eyebrows, eyeliner and blush lips.  She also underwent microneedling to minimize the appearance of acne scars.  She said the surgeries made her feel more comfortable in her own skin.Jessica Burke had tattooed eyebrows, eyeliner and blush lips.  She also underwent microneedling to minimize the appearance of acne scars.  She said the surgeries made her feel more comfortable in her own skin.

Jessica Burke had tattooed eyebrows, eyeliner and blush lips. She also underwent microneedling to minimize the appearance of acne scars. She said the surgeries made her feel more comfortable in her own skin.

Jessica Burke had tattooed eyebrows, eyeliner and blush lips. She also underwent microneedling to minimize the appearance of acne scars. She said the surgeries made her feel more comfortable in her own skin. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Jessica Burke remembers when she started wearing makeup.

She was nervous, lining up for a photo at a new school, chatting with another girl.

“She asked, ‘Is this how your picture was taken?'” Burke recalled.

Another girl did her makeup — and Burke said she immediately started getting compliments.

As a young man, Burke suffered from cystic acne on his face. Cystic acne is an inflammatory form of acne that causes painful, pus-filled pimples deep in the skin.

Burke said it was like a breakthrough that would never go away. Sometimes, the acne is so severe that she avoids going out or seeing friends.

“I would lie and say I was sick and not feeling well so I wouldn’t have to show my face,” she said

For years, she wore makeup every day, first to cover acne and later to hide scars.

“Wearing makeup every day is literally putting on a mask. I hide myself every day,” she said.

In her 30s, Burke decided it was time to make some makeup permanent, so she got eyebrows and eyeliner tattooed.

Watch | When Tattoos Go Unnoticed:

She also underwent microneedling to minimize the appearance of scarring.

Plastic surgery still carries a stigma, but for Burke, it’s about feeling good.

Burke said she still wears makeup — but now because she wants to, rather than feeling like she has to.

“Now I really feel like I’m not wearing a mask every day,” she said.

From stunts to tattoos

Shannon Crotty, a nursing tattoo artist and esthetician in St. John, performs Burke’s microneedling and permanent makeup procedures — a program that includes post-cancer care and gender-affirming care. Part of a series of services.

Crotty didn’t start paramedical tattooing because she was already a tattoo artist. Her previous career was as a stuntwoman in the Newfoundland and Labrador film industry.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Crotty realized she was ready for a career change—although she still wanted to be creative. She now provides paramedical tattooing and other services at Winterhome Wellness Center and Spa in St. Johns.

Clients come to her for help hiding scars from acne, car accidents and even self-harm.

She also works with breast cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomies, both to hide the scars and to recreate the appearance of their nipples through tattoos. She uses ink that mimics skin to recreate the 3D appearance of the areola, which she calls the “illusion of protrusion.”

Paramedical tattoo artists like Crotty use tattooing techniques to cover up scars or reconstruct features such as areolas.Paramedical tattoo artists like Crotty use tattooing techniques to cover up scars or reconstruct features such as areolas.

Paramedical tattoo artists like Crotty use tattooing techniques to cover up scars or reconstruct features such as areolas.

Paramedical tattoo artists like Crotty use tattooing techniques to cover up scars or reconstruct features such as areolas. (Submitted by Shannon Crotty)

Clients often cry tears of joy when they look in the mirror for the first time after surgery, she said. For many survivors, Crotty said, it was “a step of completion.”

“They’ve really lost a part of themselves, and what I do is help them get it back,” she said.

“I feel like I’m at home”

Gemma Hickey, a non-binary activist at St John’s Hospital, discovered Crotty’s services while researching gender-affirming care. Hickey’s surgeons reconstructed their nipples during top surgery in 2017, but they wanted a more detailed reconstruction.

Hickey said they connected with Crotty during their first meeting, which they felt was important given the private nature of the surgery. Hickey had his first treatment earlier this year and they were ecstatic afterwards.

“When I look at myself in the mirror, I feel really good,” they said. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Gender-affirming care — like the procedures Crotty offers — can save lives, Hickey said.

“Trans rights are so politicized. It’s really important for people like me to know that they have options and don’t have to leave the province,” they said.

Crotty said that to her knowledge, this is the first time she has provided gender-affirming care to transgender or non-binary clients, and she will continue to offer that service along with post-cancer care, scar management and other treatments.

Crotty said clients often have emotional reactions after surgery, but her job is also meaningful to her.

“I’ve treated a lot of different things and they all bring me the same level of joy when I bring the same level of joy to another person.”

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