Lipstick Angels is a nonprofit business that provides complimentary beauty services to patients receiving chemotherapy in LA. (Photo: Getty Images)
For many, the idea of doing actresses’ makeup for movies, TV, and red carpets sounds like the definition of having “made it.” But after 15 years in the Hollywood biz, celebrity makeup artist Renata Helfman gave up that world after discovering clients who were much more rewarding to work for: Those suffering from cancer. Four years ago, the Angeleno founded Lipstick Angels, a 501c3 nonprofit business that with the help of professional makeup artist volunteers provides complimentary beauty services to patients receiving chemotherapy at three different LA-area hospitals.
“Five years ago I was working at a job and, like anyone in my career, I really wanted to give back,” says Helfman. “My heart didn’t feel full. I thought of all these things I could do: Go feed the hungry, all the things you think about. Then it hit me. Why don’t I take the craft I know and feel really confident in and go to the hospital? I’m sure there are people who could really use services.” After finding no existing beauty program at Cedars-Sinai, she decided to start her own.
Helfman began solo, using makeup from her stage kits. Then she took it to the next level by forming a nonprofit, creating a formal application and training process for volunteers, and partnering with beauty brands that are green, chemical-free, and healthy for cancer patients — Burt’s Bees, Glominerals, Tata Harper, Odacite, Amazing Cosmetics, Innovative Skincare, and Hope Gillerman on the current roster. A beauty store called Credo in San Francisco gives one percent of all sales to the organization (that also accepts donations), which hopes to eventually produce its own product line. “When you’re going through something like this, you’re super sensitive and most of the products you’ve used don’t work anymore and can actually hurt your skin when going through radiation,” says Helfman. “These products make them feel beautiful but they’re also healing and helping their skin.”
A patient receiving a hand massage as part of the Lipstick Angels service. (Photo: Lipstick Angels)
It’s at the outpatient infusion centers that volunteers and Helfman give hand massages, hydrating facials, and apply makeup to patients from their late teens up to their 80s or 90s, some of whom have lost their hair and eyebrows and are depressed. Many are trepidatious and emerge transformed. “It’s easy to forget how something as simple as makeup can completely change your outlook and totally lift your spirits,” says Melissa, a City of Hope patient. “I received countless compliments for how beautiful I looked, and can honestly say I felt as beautiful as people said I did!” Indeed, patients often ask to be wheeled past the nursing station to show off their look.
“To take something that is dreadful and one of the worst experiences that people think could happen and turn it into something they almost look forward to — that is a miracle and a true testament to the heart of the Lipstick Angels program,” says Nicolann Hedgpeth, DNP, RN, AOCNP, program director of Long Beach Memorial’s Ambulatory Infusion Center. In fact, some patients schedule their chemo appointments around the Lipstick Angels days. “We’re building relationships with patients,” says Helfman. “We don’t see them once, we see them through their whole chemotherapy. There are so many stressors when you have cancer, but part of our training program is how to work with people psychologically to get them out of that rut and get the makeup back on their face.”
Founder Renata Helfman with a patient. (Photo: Lipstick Angels)
Perhaps her most touching moment thus far was when after seeing her reflection, a patient told her, with tears streaming down her face, “Renata, today I’m not going to wait in the car to pick up my son from school. I’m going to go in and get him.” And with that, Helfman, who is actively trying to expand the program, says, “I realized we’re not only helping her, we’re helping her whole family. It’s absolutely transformational, and I pinch myself that I get to witness it.”