It was a horrific accident in her own childhood that spurred 27-year-old Basma Hameed to want to learn tattooing so that she could help others.

When Hameed was two, a pan fell off a stove in her childhood home in Iraq, spilling hot oil down her face. She endured third-degree burns that plastic surgeons spent years trying to repair.

With every painful operation, Hameed hoped doctors would be able to erase her scars.

“You believe that once you leave the surgery room that everything is going to be alright and everything is going to go back to normal. But that wasn’t the case,” Hameed told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday. “Every time the bandages came off, it still looked the same to me.”

Finally, when Hameed was 16, her plastic surgery team told her they were out of options.

“My surgeon said: ‘Take your money and go on a vacation, because we can’t do anything else for you’,” she recalls.

“At that point, I still had red discoloration. I couldn’t take that and accept it. So I had to go and see what I could find.”

Hameed wanted to find a way to replace the eyebrow she had lost in the accident and learned about “permanent makeup,” or cosmetic tattooing.

“And once I looked into that, I thought, ‘Well, if we can do tattoos for eyebrows, eyeliner and lips, why not use the same technique and mix pigments that match your skin and tattoo into the scar?’

She admits the idea seemed strange at first, but she decided to take a two-year esthetician course at George Brown College in Toronto and learn everything she could about micropigmentation tattoos by apprenticing with a tattoo artist.

“And that’s when I got in front of the mirror and started working on my own face,” she says.

Hameed doesn’t remember feeling scared about trying a permanent procedure on her own face. “I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I really had nothing to lose,” she says.

It took about three years, but today, Hameed has an almost-perfect skin tone, with few reminders of the accident that defined her childhood.

She’s now opened up her own clinic that offers cosmetic tattoos, as well as “para-medical tattoos” for burn and cancer survivors, and people with all kinds of skin colour conditions, such as vitiligo.

She now gets so many referrals from plastic surgeons, she’s having trouble keeping up. She’s opened a second clinic in Chicago and has also created a training academy, to train more people in her techniques so they can work directly in plastic surgery clinics.

Most of Hameed’s clients need between eight and 20 one-hour treatments. But because health insurance doesn’t cover the procedures and because many can’t afford it, two years ago, she started the Basma Hameed Survivors Foundation charity, to raise fund for people who otherwise could not afford her fees.

Hameed says what she enjoys most about her work is being able to help people who -- like her once -- have few other options.

“And when people hear my story, they feel so much better and realize there’s still hope,” she says. “You never have to give up and say, ‘You know, I have to accept it.’ Just finding out there is something makes them feel so much better.”