Hours before Sephora opens its doors to the public, the beauty emporium is already bustling. Inside, “cast members” (Sephora-speak for sales associates) are mingling with nearly a dozen women whose skin care and makeup concerns run much deeper than demystifying the secrets to con-and-nontouring. These participants are among the first to attend Sephora’s brand new Brave Beauty in the Face of Cancer class, which launches nationwide this week.
This unique endeavor is met with a rousing — and emotional — response from its participants, among them, 45-year-old New Jersey native Chiara, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
“I felt like a martian,” she says, examining her face in a mirror as she recalls the jarring changes in her appearance since beginning treatment.
“My skin was definitely dry, and I had no hair, so I needed to draw on eyebrows, she adds. While her hair has since grown back, Chiara no longer dyes it. This morning, she hopes to find products that compliment her now gray mane. Another goal: to learn about the most flattering colors for her skin tone. “I have been focusing on my health, not on what’s the best color for me,” she says.
The sentiment can be felt throughout the room, in which this small group, like millions of men and women, has prioritized health above all else in the face of their cancer diagnosis.
But for this few, Sephora’s new class is a welcome distraction that’s not only inspiring confidence, but providing a safe, supportive space where they can relate to one another.
Says Chiara, “I wanted to see what tips I can learn, but because the class was geared toward [persons with] cancer, I was excited to come and connect with other women.”
With the introduction of Brave Beauty in the Face of Cancer, Sephora launches its first-ever class that focuses on solutions for those whose skin and hair have been affected by their cancer diagnosis.
It is part of the retailer’s Classes for Confidence program, which provides complimentary workshops geared toward teaching basic makeup tips to build confidence in people who are in the midst of major life transitions.
Corrie Conrad, Sephora’s Head of Social Impact, says that for the prestige beauty retailer, this new initiative has been a labor of love. “In January 2015, we [at Sephora] asked ourselves, ‘Where can our strengths make a difference in our communities? What are we uniquely positioned to do?’ We had this amazing infrastructure that doesn’t just offer makeovers, but empowers our clients — and when we realized that for our colleagues in-store, it was all about making a connection, I thought, ‘How can we use our classes to intentionally create one of those moments that are meaningful to our employees?’”
Nearly two years later, the program kicked off in 2016 with a Workforce Re-Entry class in which instructors taught a natural, professional makeup look to those in the process of returning to work.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes Sephora was creating a class for people experiencing visible effects of their cancer treatment.
“There was a lot of legwork that needed to be done, because we wanted it to be done right,” says Conrad, who reveals the curriculum is the result of a series of focus groups Sephora conducted to identify their audience’s most pressing needs. “The groups included employees who are cancer survivors themselves and could share from their journey. Our goal was to just listen,” she says.
At present, more than 40 stores have signed up across the U.S. in a number of states, including: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. (More locations will be added throughout the year; check sephora.com for updates.)
Because Sephora wants to ensure that each attendees needs are fully met, they’re keeping class size super-small. No more than 12 people will be able to sign up for a session, and for every three-four participants in attendance there will be a coach present to provide additional hands-on help.
Sephora is also open to attendees bringing their own support system, so they’re allowing participants’ family and friends to sign up as well using the same process.
Men are also welcome, says Conrad, “Hair loss and skin effects from cancer treatments know no gender, and we want to be a safe space for all of our clients.”
Leading each class is an appointed instructor, who’s undergone rigorous training. Over 90-minutes, that instructor will provide insight on everything from skin care to makeup techniques for complexion, brow and eye makeup.
It’s an experience facilitators like Michelle, a cancer survivor herself, are elated to be a part of. “I shut down and never spoke about the fact that I had cancer. So I think this program was an eye opener that I can be an inspiration for others. I am so glad I am a part of it,” she says.
During demonstrations, coaches will use Sephora’s shade matching tool Color IQ to find the best base for each participant’s face. The handy, hand-held device about the size of a smart phone eliminates the need to swatch already sensitive skin.
Another useful product on-site, waterproof eyeliner, which the instructors use to teach attendees how to add definition to their lash lines, but which is a necessary formula for the moving tutorial.
“When our instructor said, “I’m a survivor, too” I started crying,” Chiara says. “That was very touching.”
Instructors aim to use products with fewer “chemicals of concern,” Conrad explains. But she stresses that should a participant have questions or concerns about what ingredients to apply — or avoid — they should reach out to their medical professional.
Can’t make a class? Sephora has created yet another way to connect with their knowledgeable staff. Employees around the country will be wearing lavender Classes for Confidence pins (above) to identify themselves as a resource for those seeking tips.
“Everyone’s cancer journey is unique and different, but I think the pin builds a bridge,” says Conrad. Adds instructor Michelle, who’s one of many you will spot proudly wearing the pin, “To me it represents bravery. Clients don’t have to feel scared or shy. I didn’t talk about [having cancer]. But seeing how much I have overcome, I see the good in this.”