Read an interview between Cosmetic Magazine and Elizabeth Finch-Howell Bench (chemist and founder of Derma-International)!
Please tell us the story of what inspired you to become involved in Permanent Cosmetics?
A. I was born with a port-wine hemangioma (purple birthmark) on the entire left side of my face. In the late 1950’s there was a doctor in NYC named Conway who was tattooing children with port-wine birthmarks and I was one of his patients. I had 12 tattooing treatments between the ages of 4/6. Unfortunately, you cannot tattoo blood vessels, so the treatments were unsuccessful. This stayed in my mind, this tattooing process. And I thought, “Ok you may not be able to tattoo blood vessels but you could tattoo scars and a host of other disorders”. This thought was constantly on my mind. In 1988, I met Dr. Roy Geronemus, then Chief of Laser Surgery at NYU, who started pulse-dye laser treatments on my birthmark. In March 1989, I took a course from a “school” in California on “Permanent Cosmetics” when I saw an advertisement, which mentioned “camouflage” as well as brows, liner, lips. We don’t need to elaborate on the quality of education, integrity or practical experience of these early Permanent Makeup “schools” because there wasn’t any. Not to mention the fact that the few “teachers” out there had only heard of permanent make-up just a few months prior to me taking the course. Dr. Geronemus gave me the opportunity of a lifetime and my career in cosmetic tattooing began.
What was your profession prior to permanent cosmetics?
A. At age 6, since the tattooing treatments didn’t work for me, my search for the best cover-up make-up began. In 1959, my parents took me to meet Lydia O’Leary at her Madison Avenue Salon. She was recommended by Doctor Conway for her corrective make-up. I remember walking into her office. This very beautiful dark haired woman in a black and white CoCo Chanel suit smiled and walked towards me. My mother had told me she had a birthmark just like mine, but where? She was absolutely beautiful. She asked me if she could show me something. She took out a jar of cream, put some on her face, took tissues and started to wipe her make-up off. As her make-up came off, there, on half of her face, was a birthmark exactly like mine! She showed me how to put the make-up on, how to blend and then set with the powder so that it becomes waterproof and smudgeproof. After I had the makeup on, she stood behind me with her hands on my shoulders looking into this large mirror and said, “Ah, there you are my dear” She became my mentor & inspiration. She inspired me and helped me throughout the years by giving me little gems of wisdom and encouragement. And, she always told me to make my life extraordinary!
I didn’t go to work for her company, COVERMARK, until years later. And for many years I have reflected back on her words.
“Life is everything we thought life would never be. Whether we have learned anything or not, our suffering has shaped who we are and, for better or worse, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.”
We understand that you perform only camouflage tattooing now. Is that true, and why has this been your decision?
A. Yes, I mainly perform camouflage tattooing and have been for years now because that was always my intention and I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Roy Geronemus believe in my work and me and refer an entire, full time camouflage clientele to me.
You have taken on the additional task of manufacturing and distributing pigments and other supplies. What are your goals related to this endeavor?
A. I have had a wonderful career in permanent cosmetics. I was very fortunate to have worked at the renowned laser surgeon, Dr. Roy Geronemus’ office for almost 14 years. Along with Dr. Geronemus patients and the patients of his entire staff of doctors he also recommended me to some of the other best surgeons in New York City. The supply of camouflage patients were numerous and endless. My “internship” and “residency” (so to speak) was phenomenal. It was through the myriad of patients with every scar imaginable that I honed the “camouflage” process, and discovered that the trick was to not match the skin color. If you try and match the surrounding skin color, the result will be a fake peachy-pink color not unlike a doll’s skin color.
My goal has always been to be the best-educated pigment manufacturer and camouflage tattooist I could be.
Can you share with us the most difficult case that you have worked on, and how, or if, you were able to remedy it?
A. The worst case I worked on was a woman in her 50’s who, 10 years ago was in a terrible car accident. Everyone else in the car was killed except for her. She had no face left. Dr Daniel Baker in New York City rebuilt her entire face over a 10 year period. I tattooed her eyes, brows, and lips for balancing and scar camouflage tattoo on several areas on the face. The transformation was so incredible. Also, the woman was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met (… and I’ve met some of the most extraordinary souls in my career).
You have been in this industry for a long time. What still excites you about it?
A. What still excites me about this industry is that there are always new and interesting things to learn and some of the most wonderful women and men to work and share with.
What do you see happening in our industry that really angers you?
A. One of the first questions I asked myself, when I first started, was, “what’s in this stuff?” I utilized a lab that my father’s business used and had the pigment analyzed. I didn’t like what I found out so, I took a crash course in chemistry & earth science from a chemist friend of mine-enough to find out all about iron oxide, titanium dioxide, organics, lakes, and, of course, carbon based India ink. What I found then, and is still going on today is that, people will believe anything they hear; believe grossly false information, and parrot this information without checking it out for themselves. This upsets me. However, it did take a lot of time and expense to find all this information out and if I had to do it over, now, I wouldn’t have the patience or energy!
I was also fortunate in the fact that my brother’s friend was a well-known Long Island tattooist, named Frank De Lisi, who I spent some time with and who gave me invaluable information.
And then in 1990, I met Pati Pavlik who shot straight from the hip and gave exact, truthful answers, and became a good friend of mine.
I started to mix my own pigments for my own clients. Over the course of the first 2 years, from media exposure with Dr.Geronomus, fellow technicians would call me to ask my advice about procedures and ask me what pigments I was using and I would say “I make my own —I know exactly what’s in them,” Also, the only brown colored pigments on the market had all red bases, which leaves mauve and salmon colored residue after fading- just putting yellow in doesn’t “cure” the undertone action either. And, what base is the yellow that you’re using to “warm” your brown up with? If it’s a green based yellow it won’t warm up anything, it will only lighten and ash (grey). They would ask if they could buy them from me and Derma Medical was formed.
Do you feel that all states should be regulated and whom do you think should be responsible for writing and implementing those regulations?
A. Yes, I certainly do feel that all states should be regulated. I think it should ultimately come down to the Health Dept. in each state. We, as practitioners should want to educate and help our health departments better understand what it is we do and work with them accordingly to help ensure that the public at large is not at risk.
Have you visited another country or state in which you were impressed by their regulations or way of doing things?
A. The other countries that I have been to in which I visited cosmetic tattooists were very similar to the US. In the US, however, I think states in which a cosmetic tattoo procedure must be performed under the auspices of doctor is a little much.
You use the coil machine, correct? Have you tried other machines that you like?
A. I like a reciprocating machine because the needles go straight up and down as opposed to a rotary which ovals slightly. There are many different rotary machines on the market and only one reciprocating – the coil wrap. I got very used to the coil wrap since starting in 1989 and now, it’s part of my hand. However, many of my colleagues use rotaries and love them.