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Four decades as NHS volunteer teaching skin camouflage to transform lives

17 May 2018


For over 44 years, Eileen McMahon has volunteered at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital (L&D), helping hundreds of patients to feel confident in their own skin.

Eileen was born in Ireland and moved to England with her family when she was just 17. She had always wanted to become a nurse and although things did not work out this way, Eileen still had a passion for caring for and helping others.

In 1974, Eileen began volunteering with the Red Cross, providing beauty therapy services and massages for psychiatric patients at L&D Hospital. This service was considered an important and beneficial part of their treatment by their doctors. Eileen recalled: “The patients used to really look forward to us coming. I remember visiting all of the pharmacies around Luton asking for the sample make-up products, so that we could use them on the patients.”

Such was Eileen’s skills and determination, she also helped the Red Cross to open similar beauty therapy clinics in both Napsbury and Fairfield.

Three years later, in 1977, Eileen was asked by the Red Cross to attend a training course in London, to become a qualified skin camouflage practitioner.

Skin camouflage is an NHS treatment for patients who suffer from a range of debilitating skin conditions or injury including Vitiligo, disfigurements, scarring, and in some cases patients who self-harm. Eileen also works closely with cancer patients and plastic surgeons at the L&D. The treatments provided by Eileen help both adults and children, teaching them how to apply prescription makeup and creams to reduce the prominence of their condition, giving them more confidence to face everyday life.

These special creams and powders give waterproof coverage and match the skin colour exactly helping to cover any skin defects, disfigurations and prosthetic face pieces. 

Shortly after completing the course, Eileen along with the Red Cross, helped the L&D Hospital open their first skin camouflage clinic. Eileen started the clinic with just two creams and rolls of cotton wool that needed cutting to a size of three inches by three inches before she could use them. She even used to make her own cleansing creams from paraffin oil, bees wax, and Borex Powder. Now, four decades later she still volunteers at the L&D working closely with the charity ‘Changing Faces’, and has hundreds of coloured creams and powders to help people regain self-confidence and independence.

When asked about her biggest achievement Eileen shied away from mentioning that in 2015 she was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of her distinguished voluntary service, having already been awarded the queens badge of honour, which is only held by 30 people at one time. Instead Eileen says: “My biggest achievement is changing people’s lives. I receive a lot of feedback from patients about how happy and appreciative they are with the service that myself and Changing Faces provide.”

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