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Paramedical makeup artist helps mask the pain for burn survivors

Tara Jacques was doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. This is her before and after with paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp.
Tara Jacques was doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. This is her before and after with paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp. Leilani Kopp

She blinks once, twice, it’s hard to take a look. To her, she looks as though she’s been mummified.

With more than 30 per cent of her body covered in second and third degree burns, she’s lucky to be alive.

It’s unnerving, it’s sad, it’s debilitating and worst of all — it’s her own body.

For burn survivor Tanouja, this was life after a domestic incident in 2009 put her in the Intensive Care Unit for a month. She was burned on her chest, upper shoulder and arm. The doctors in Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa where Tanouja is from, said she had a 50/50 chance of surviving.

After leaving the hospital Tanouja says she had so many surgeries for her burns she cannot keep count.

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“Do you still count them when you’ve had so many?” she says. “I think I’ve had maybe 25 but I can’t be sure.”

But that was before LeiLani Kopp walked into Tanouja’s life.

More than Makeup

A special FX and cosmetic makeup artist by trade, Kopp is a dedicated individual in the relatively unknown industry of paramedical makeup and tattoo artists. A pioneer in this highly specialized field, Kopp is armed with her own brand of medicine — brushes, sponges, hand-cut wigs, a unique makeup she developed and the latest, a tattoo needle.

Her technique and specialty coupled with each layer of makeup applied on her clients, means the difference between getting a glance versus a self-esteem destroying stare in public.

For Tanouja, she found out about Kopp through the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund in March 2012. Not willing to go through another surgery, Tanouja began going to Kopp for skin needling. It’s a technique where a small needle is used to gently scratch the surface of the skin, which in turn stimulates collagen and elastin production.

“I go about every three weeks and LeiLani works on the scar on my sternum and the scar on the upper shoulder and arm,” Tanouja says. “The process is very, very slow.”

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While the process may be slow, she says it’s made a huge difference.

“I used to cover the scar completely because it was so disastrous. The sternum is the worst place for a woman because it’s difficult for the grafts to take and it’s hard to heal. But now I don’t bother [covering my scars],” she says.

“In fact now I wear backless dresses because the scar isn’t as bad.”

Paramedical Makeup Artist: How it all began

The Langley-based Kopp started her career in film, television, and special effects in the 1990s when the corrective makeup industry was non-existent. While working in glamour was her job, Kopp wanted to pursue her passion, which was helping those who could truly benefit from her skills.

She started volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society at Vancouver General Hospital styling wigs, and teaching makeup tips to patients on how to camouflage skin discoloration due to the side effects of their treatments. This led Kopp to get certified as a paramedical makeup artist in Los Angeles. At the time, it was the only place that offered the highly specialized training.

As Kopp continued to volunteer, she realized film and TV makeup was too harsh for sensitive and postoperative skin and instead developed her own foundation made with natural ingredients. Along with developing the makeup came the realization that not only cancer survivors, but people with other afflictions like burns, scars, surgical bruising and birthmarks, needed help.

“My motivation was to boost the self-esteem and confidence of those undergoing treatment to look and feel better,” Kopp explains.

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Tanouja can attest to the difference Kopp has made in her life.

“LeiLani not only works on your body, she gives us more than help,” Tanouja says.

“She gives us concrete results and really holds our hands and walks with us through the years as we rebuild our lives again.”

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PHOTO GALLERY: Paramedical makeup artistry

Tara Jacques was doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. This is her before and after with paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp.
Tara Jacques was doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. This is her before and after with paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp. Leilani Kopp
Before and after paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage due to burns from a car explosion.
Before and after paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage due to burns from a car explosion. Leilani Kopp
Paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage.
Paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage. Leilani Kopp
Before paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage from burns.
Before paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage from burns. Leilani Kopp
After paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage from burns.
After paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage from burns. Leilani Kopp
Paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage.
Paramedical makeup artist LeiLani Kopp camouflages serious skin damage. Leilani Kopp

Breaking down the barriers

Regardless of the results, as a paramedical makeup artist Kopp is often faced with overcoming equal amounts of skepticism and cynicism from the medical profession. When she first started, it took her three years to finally break into the medical community.

Ironically, it was a female doctor who gave Kopp one of her first breaks into the medical profession. Prior to that she had a hard time breaking down barriers and educating the medical profession that she was in it for altruistic reasons and her skills have eased the pain and emotional scars that accompany disfigurement, illness and disease.

And yet, more than 25 years later, although she’s made significant headway, it still remains a struggle.

“It’s still a battle and I still have to send out information, and before and after [photos] to get people to know about the services in the medical community,” she says.“Unfortunately they think there’s nothing more that can be done. And it’s sad, it shouldn’t have to be that way.”

It’s been a steady game of creating trust and proving she’s not in the industry to capitalize on these people for financial reasons.

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It’s important to note that Kopp has never charged for her services (camouflage makeup, skin needling, wig styling or tattooing) when she works with burn and trauma survivors.

Initially her work as a professional makeup artist supported her altruistic passion of helping people and now, her Sweet LeiLani cosmetics affords her the ability to continue her dreams.

Paramedical makeup and tattoo artist Leilani Kopp.
Paramedical makeup and tattoo artist Leilani Kopp. Leilani Kopp

Over the years Kopp has spent countless hours volunteering and working with the Vancouver Burn Unit, BC Cancer Society and the Firefighters Burn Fund. In fact, Kopp and her team have partnered with the firefighters for more than 15 years to volunteer their time at the Kids Burn Camp.

She has since expanded her specialized procedures to include scar-relaxation, skin needling and areola or nipple re-pigmentation for women who have had mastectomies and/or breast reconstruction.

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“I was working with burn survivors doing corrective makeup and they had no lip lines or eyebrows and I could call in a person who did permanent beauty makeup, but they aren’t artists and they didn’t know how to draw on scar tissue.”

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Recognizing a need for this specialty, Kopp ended up back in Los Angeles, where she got her original paramedical training, and got certified as a tattoo specialist.

It’s through her innovative application techniques, specialized products, procedures and compassion that Kopp has transformed the lives of men and women.

Kopp has played such a huge part of transforming Tanouja’s life that it’s allowed her to pursue her dream of becoming a mature model.

“You would never say that I was a burn survivor and I think LeiLani has a lot to do with that. Not just with the physical but also indirectly with our well-being.

She works on our body, mind and our outlook of life. I don’t think there are many people that are like LeiLani.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Skin Needling

Chris was badly burned in an accident. This is after skin needling done by Leilani.
Chris was badly burned in an accident. This is after skin needling done by Leilani. Leilani Kopp
Chris was in a fire that exploded in a warehouse in his trucking company. He was badly burned from a gas leak.
Chris was in a fire that exploded in a warehouse in his trucking company. He was badly burned from a gas leak. Leilani Kopp
Charlotte's leg was badly burned when her pajamas went up in flames. This is after getting a skin needling treatment by Leilani.
Charlotte's leg was badly burned when her pajamas went up in flames. This is after getting a skin needling treatment by Leilani. Leilani Kopp
Chris was in a fire that exploded in a warehouse in his trucking company. He was badly burned from a gas leak.
Chris was in a fire that exploded in a warehouse in his trucking company. He was badly burned from a gas leak. Leilani Kopp
Skin needling done by Leilani.
Skin needling done by Leilani. Leilani Kopp