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This Article Was Published in the SPCP Newsletter March 2010

From Nails to Nipples by Earleen Bennett

Honestly, five years ago I thought I would be 70 years old still sitting at a manicuring table, loving my life, gossiping and making women’s nails beautiful! I loved my job. For 29 years, I was a licensed nail tech, salon and spa owner and all around girly girl. Then, after much encouragement from my clientele, I decided to take classes in permanent makeup. I thought it would fit nicely into the spa and salon atmosphere. At that time there were 7 of us in the spa. I was overworked and my hands were beginning to hurt from the long hours. I was afraid I would have wrist problems, back problems and maybe not be able to last in this job.

So off I went to permanent makeup school. The school had two students with one teacher for a week - all of 40 hours. Even then, I was not naïve. I knew there was a LOT to learn. School taught me some, but when I worked on in the practice stages of the first few months, I knew I needed more. I kept reading, learning and taking more classes. I joined the SPCP in the beginning, then, I let my membership lapse for a short while, and I later rejoined. I find it invaluable now.

As time passed, I did more and more makeup and slowly stopped taking new nail clients. I knew where my new profession was headed – full time. I was working in two offices that were both wonderful, but small. I reduced the spa to a nail salon, with myself and one other tech, and was also in my PMU office, the Asheville Permanent Makeup Clinic. I spent the year doing 3 full days at each location. Finally, I retired from the nail industry and sold my small nail business to another tech in town.

I was more than a little scared but I jumped right in as I always do. Then BOOM. The bottom fell out of the economy and we know what a rollercoaster ride it became.

During this time, about 4 years into my PMU career, I was ready to take it to the next level and started marketing my services to doctor’s offices and plastic surgery centers. I had a wonderful client and friend who had gone through breast cancer treatment: mastectomy, chemo, and reconstruction, the whole long ordeal. She is now recovered, but it was a long haul and I was there with her through it all to hear her stories every two weeks. She loved her reconstructive surgeon, and I wanted a tummy tuck. So, I went to see her doctor, Dr. Conway, at the Plastic Surgery Center of Asheville and instantly liked him. We consulted and after a few weeks I had the procedure done. In the end, I made friends of his office staff, and the doctor.

I started doing PMU procedures on the girls in the office. And, they took good care of me. Toward the end of my treatments, Dr. Conway suggested I start doing areola pigmentation for him. Dr. Conway does the majority of Breast Reconstruction surgery in Asheville NC. We discussed the idea, and how I would work. We talked about what I would charge and how to work with insurance. I decided, after much debate and fighting with insurance companies, that I would do areolas for free, for any woman with breast cancer. It is the way I always wanted to do it and it’s the way it always will be, at least for me..

Because my mother died of cancer (lymphoma) when I was 17 years old, my heart goes out to anyone with this devastating disease. I always wanted to do more and find a way to give back, and, in an amazing way, it found me. I worked together with Dr. Conway, and now several Plastic and Reconstructive surgeons in our area, to provide this service to hundreds of women. And, it is just beginning. Through social media sites such as Facebook and the word has spread. On a website that I update regularly with photos and explanations of the procedure, women find me from all over the country and internationally. In this past year, I saw women from 10 states and Canada, plus I counseled women from all over the world. It is an amazing feeling and the most gratifying part of my career to date.

Through all the stories, the tears, and the friendships, an idea came to me to start a non profit organization for women which was beauty based. I did research, read books, talked to doctors and professional contacts and decided to start “Beauty Through Cancer.’ Only a year ago, this was a thought. I had no idea of how quickly it would happen, or how well it would be received. I spent weeks preparing papers for the IRS and all the other state and government agencies: budgets, forms, mountains of paper. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was determined. Amazingly, our 501(c)(3) status was approved in 5 weeks, a process which normally takes 12-18 months. A wonderful board of directors helps guide me, and our areola pigmentation program is the center of the entire organization.

I love what I do, but would issue a word of caution: do not be overly ambitious about an endeavor such as this. It takes many hours of work each day. Not only do I run my permanent makeup clinic but also am overseeing, learning and struggling every day with the issues of a non profit and volunteers. I donate at least a full day to free areola pigmentation each week. I am not rich, I am not famous, but I am dedicated, and good at this work. Because of Beauty Through Cancer, I teach CEU classes for the beauty industry about the effects of cancer, hair loss, skin and nail issues. I hope, in the future, to share the knowledge of areola re-pigmentation with others. Teaching was always a huge part of my life.

I never took a formal class for areola pigmentation, I am self taught. This is NOT the preferred method, and although I could do permanent brows, liner and lips, it was not the same. Many hours of reading, watching DVD’s and getting the help of industry professionals at SPCP conferences - and practice, practice, practice. Without the doctor’s faith in me, and his belief in my ability, so he felt comfortable sending me his patients, this could not have happened. It is not an easy part of permanent makeup, but I believe it is a service that should be provided to the public with care, with dignity and without exploiting them because of their need. There are many artists around the country who provide this procedure at little or no cost and I encourage all of you to train in it and consider it. Whether you do it occasionally or as a regular part of your business, just keep a few things in mind.

Do it well or don’t do it.

You are finishing the work of doctors who have built the foundation for the work you provide, and if you don’t do a good job, it can reflect on them.

The women you work on will look at this every day of their lives and think of you often. Make sure they think of you in a positive way, you are changing their self esteem.

Areola pigmentation fades and needs to be touched up in the future like any other permanent makeup procedure. These women may be a part of your lives for a long time, don’t get involved in something you won’t follow through with. If you do it free now, do it free in the future.

Just do it! It will change your life as it changes theirs!