Makeup artist Linda Seidel grew up in a family where she was taught never to use words like “beautiful” or “ugly” to describe someone’s appearance.

“My father always said one of the greatest injustices was judging a person on the way they looked,” she recalls.

Still, Seidel’s own looks must have played a role in her being hired to waitress at Baltimore’s Playboy Club when she was 18.

“I was called ‘Bunny Gidget’ because I was the tiniest bunny they ever had,” says Seidel, a divorced mother of two and grandmother of five, who is still petite and looks decades younger than her 68 years.

“When I first started working at the Playboy Club, a guy came in with a cleft palate. I felt such compassion for him and I showed him the best service. He wrote into the club to thank me and I was made ‘Bunny of the Week.’”

By that time, Seidel had been styling hair and applying makeup for everyone in the neighborhood for years. Yet it was her experience with the man with the cleft palate, as well as her own struggle with teenage acne, that were pivotal in her decision to use her talents to help people with disfiguring facial conditions to lead fuller lives.

In her 20s, Seidel set up shop at the elegant Andre’s Empire Salon on North Charles Street, where she provided makeup services for brides and other well-heeled clients. At the same time, Seidel was on a mission to find a natural-looking makeup to camouflage even the most severe skin problems.

Eventually, she discovered a New York-based brand that was up to the task. She brought it back to Baltimore and tried it on a client referred by Johns Hopkins Hospital who had a disfiguring birthmark that covered half of her face, neck and torso.

“I used the makeup on the birthmark and — oh my God! — it disappeared,” Seidel recalls. “About five minutes into it, the woman said, ‘I’ve never seen myself without the birthmark.’ She started weeping, then I started weeping. Afterward, she hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for giving me my life.’ [After that] I said, ‘I will never do anything else.’”

Seidel became the go-to makeup artist for people with burns, scars and congenital disfigurements, receiving referrals from area plastic surgeons, trauma centers and pediatricians, and teaching people of all ages to camouflage their problem sites.

Though the makeup from New York was able to cover scars, it fell short when it came to matching skin tones. So Seidel became an expert on corrective cosmetics. In time, she hired a chemist and created Natural Cover, her own brand of camouflage makeup.

Her book, “The Art of Corrective Makeup” (Doubleday), was published in 1984. Magazine profiles in publications including People, Family Circle and The New York Times Magazine, and television appearances on shows like “Oprah” and “Sally Jessy Raphael” followed.

Linda Seidel Cosmetics continued to expand her offerings to accommodate additional skin tones. A “second generation” product is creamier than the earlier version and works well for clients who have undergone dermatologic procedures such as chemical peels that leaves skin raw and dry. The makeup can even be used to cover tattoos! Currently, Natural Cover is available in 20 shades. Seidel also created a primer and waterproof powder to maximize the efficacy of the makeup.

These days, Seidel is as busy as ever. Based in Owings Mills, where she sees a range of clients, Seidel also spends time consulting and training other makeup artists; volunteering with nonprofits; and assisting her daughter, bodypainting artist Jen Seidel, with makeup for photo shoots and special events.

Recently, Sinai Hospital’s Alvin & Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute ordered Seidel’s products for its boutique, and she has been training the institute’s staff in application techniques as part of its “Look Good … Feel Better” workshop, which helps women undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy feel better about their appearance.

After many years of working almost exclusively with clients with disfiguring conditions, Seidel has come to realize that almost everyone struggles with concerns about their appearance.

“When I started with corrective makeup, I was so high on it. Bride and glamour makeup went out the window,” Seidel says. “But over time, I got back into it. I’ve learned never to minimize or question what bothers or doesn’t bother people. It’s all about perception,” Seidel explains.

“I’ve been a makeup artist for 40 years, and I’m just as passionate about my work as I was on the first day. I’ll never retire.”

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Photo by Steve Ruark

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