Lipstick Angels use beauty to help patients transform and heal

December 2, 2015 | by Veronique de Turenne

How’s this for unfair -- the chemotherapy and radiation that can save a cancer patient’s life are the very things that wreak havoc on appearance.

Enter Renata Helfman, a Hollywood makeup artist and the founder of the nonprofit group, Lipstick Angels. Staffed by volunteer makeup artists and aestheticians who offer their services for free, the mission of Lipstick Angels is to show patients how a regular beauty routine can help them look and feel better.

“A lot of times women being treated for cancer are hesitant to focus on beauty,” said Helfman, whose group regularly visits City of Hope. “Our job is to let them know it’s not only OK, it’s going to make a difference in their confidence and emotional well-being.”

After four years of working with cancer patients, Helfman and her staff have amassed a range of tips for how patients can reclaim the sense of self that the rigors of cancer treatment so often strips away.

Here, Helfman offers some beauty and safety tips for cancer patients, as well as a bit of advice for caregivers.
  1. First, throw away your makeup. Yes, a tough one, but cancer treatment leaves you vulnerable to infection and starting fresh with brand new products lets you proceed with confidence.
  2. Consider going all-natural. Product lines of lotions and cosmetics such as Burt’s Bees or Physician’s Formula eschew complicated chemicals in favor of more skin-friendly formulas.
  3. Get a hand massage. Closing your eyes while someone gently rubs a rich and fragrant lotion onto your fingers, palms and wrists eases dry skin and erases stress. (Ditto for a foot massage. Do it often.)
  4. Is your skin very dry? Adding a few drops of lotion or body oil to your hands and body can make a big difference.
  5. Aromatherapy lifts the spirits. Try a dab of essential oil on a cotton ball to carry with you and sniff as needed. Scents such as lavender, rosemary or lemongrass can relieve anxiety and help with nausea.
  6. Use this time for a fresh start. Chemotherapy changes your skin and its color, so experiment with new colors for foundation, blush and eye shadows.
  7. Learn to fill in your eyebrows. YouTube is a great source of videos with information specifically for cancer patients.
  8. Before you start chemotherapy, take photos of your eyebrows. When the time comes, you’ll then have a template to copy. (And if you’re adventurous, experiment with new shapes or colors.)
  9. Skip the manicures and pedicures during cancer treatment. The risk of infection is too great. Try a bit of essential oil massaged into your nail bed to keep cuticles soft and supple.
  10. Use disposable makeup brushes. Infection is a risk and disposables are readily available at your local drug or big box store.
  11. Using liner can help. It’ll define eyes when lashes are lost to chemotherapy. While the glue for false eyelashes is probably too harsh for daily use, applying false lashes for a special night can give a glamorous boost.
  12. Go pink and peachy with foundation colors. Chemotherapy can make your skin sallow and the warmer curve of the color wheel will be your friend.
  13. Not a fan of foundation? Try a tinted moisturizer for a bit of color.
  14. Get a dewy glow. Just skim a few drops of body oil over your completed makeup.
  1. Make it easy for the patient to say “yes”. Cancer patients can often feel they are taking too much of your time. Couching offers of help in terms of yourself – “It would be so much fun if…” or “I’d love it if you would let me…” makes it easier for the person to accept your help.
  2. Be patient. Be encouraging. Don’t give up. Cancer is an isolating experience and sometimes it takes a bit of coaxing for a friend or loved one to accept help.

Learn more about the services offered at City of Hope’s Positive Image CenterSM, where patients can receive advice on topics such as skincare and hair loss, as well as book one-on-one sessions with licensed cosmetologists and image consultants.


If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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