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Beyond Beauty: Violets are Blue Skincare

by Feifei Sun

Cynthia Bestemen Founder, Violets are Blue

Looking good is feeling good, especially for women with cancer. But the spa and beauty industries haven’t always understood how to best accommodate those in treatment or remission. Now, that’s changing.

If there’s one word Cynthia Besteman would choose to describe her breast cancer diagnosis in 2011, it would be “devastating.” If there’s a second word she would use, it just might be “shocking.” “I had no family history with cancer, didn’t smoke, rarely drank and hadn’t touched red meat in 25 years when I received my diagnosis,” Besteman says. “I figured it had to have been caused by my environment.”

Besteman immediately ransacked her home, and rid her closets of detergents, cleaning sprays and other household items with chemicals linked to cancer. Investigating her beauty cabinet, however, didn’t dawn on Besteman until a few months later, when she was waiting in line to pick up a prescription at her local pharmacy. The person in front of her was talking to the pharmacist about a topical treatment, and as Besteman watched the pharmacist rub the cream into the customer’s forearm, she learned just how quickly the ingredients in skincare products are absorbed into a person’s bloodstream. “I was blown away,” she says. “When I got home, I immediately googled all the ingredients in my skincare products.”

Her research opened her eyes to the many toxins found in over-the-counter bath and body products, including parabens, phthalates and triclosan. Soon afterward, she began researching how to make her own organic skincare products, eventually launching her company, Violets are Blue, in 2013.

Based in New York City, Violets are Blue is a collection of body products, from foot salve and deodorant to lip balm and face serum, made from natural ingredients free of parabens, sulfates, alcohol and synthetic fragrance. Products are packaged in Miron Violet glass, known for its ability to block visible light spectrum rays and maintain the integrity of what is inside. Besteman originally launched her company specifically with cancer patients in mind; products contain nourishing ingredients like sunflower oil, cocoa butter, white tea, carrot seed and evening primrose, designed to soothe skin that’s been dried out and damaged by radiation or chemotherapy.“

When I was in radiation, I felt like every ounce of moisture had been sucked from my body,” Besteman says. “My nails were cracked and falling off. My hair was fried. It felt like I was stuck in the desert without water, SPF or an umbrella. My skin hurt all over.” But she soon realized that women without a cancer diagnosis could also benefit from all-natural skincare goods, and now Violets Are Blue offers a Signature line for those women, and a Beloved line for women with cancer whose skin needs extra hydration and replenishment.While the idea of skincare products dedicated to women who have received a cancer diagnosis or are in treatment seems both necessary and a no-brainer, they haven’t always been available. In fact, only in the last decade or so have the beauty and spa industries truly evolved to better accommodate cancer patients.“

Twenty years ago or so, it was nearly impossible to find products specifically designed for people with cancer,” says Christine Clinton, a Pennsylvania-based massage therapist and educator with particular expertise in treatment for cancer patients, and founder of Christine Clinton Cancer Care. “That has really changed because of supply and demand—as more people are affected by cancer, companies are realizing that if they don’t offer products and services for these patients, they’re denying access to wellness and care to so many people.”

The National Cancer Institute reported that in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S.; worldwide cancer cases are projected to grow by 50 percent, from 14 million to 21 million, from 2012 to 2030. “Cancer is not new, but the growing number of people affected by it has certainly increased demand for education and the need for products that specifically address the needs of those going through cancer,” says Pamela Friedman, president and CEO of CV Skinlabs, a line of products developed for sensitive skin particularly vulnerable to chemicals and toxins, including people who have been diagnosed with cancer or are in treatment or remission. The brand was founded by Britta Aragon, herself a cancer survivor and her father’s primary caretaker during his eight-year cancer battle, after realizing the need for skincare products without the very toxins and chemicals linked to cancer in the first place.Elsewhere, companies and organizations are realizing that the beauty and spa industries need to expand their offerings beyond just products. Last year, French skincare brand Biologique Recherche partnered with Wellness for Cancer, a nonprofit organization, to adapt facial and body spa treatments for cancer patients and those in remission. Treatments, which rolled out in the U.S. and France in June, are slated to expand to 70 countries around the world.“

What’s unique about our approach is that we’re not offering a specific treatment—we’re adapting every treatment to the specific needs of the patient, which is affected by age, existing skin conditions, and a number of other factors,” says Julie Bach, executive director for Wellness for Cancer. “It’s an incredibly personal approach.” Biologique Recherche and Wellness for Cancer are working together to train every aesthetician to assess cancer type, cancer therapy, surgery involved and long-term conditions, like risk of lymphedema, in order to best accommodate each spa guest. They’re also training aestheticians on how to best talk to cancer patients. For example, “you don’t say ‘sorry’—you can’t be sorry for something you didn’t cause,” Bach explains. “Instead, we suggest saying, ‘Thank you for sharing that with me—this must be a difficult time,’ and work with their specific massage needs—for example, how to massage the chest area on a patient whose lymph nodes have been removed.”

Clinton, who has also worked extensively on adapted and specialized massage for cancer patients, says these developments are steps in the right direction for the wellness industry, which is just starting to realize the healing potential it can have—through both products and services—on women battling cancer. And Bach agrees. “Normally, you’ll have a spa do a cute pink pedicure and then give the funds raised to cancer research instead of reinvesting it into the people who can help a client,” she says. “Massage therapists have all this information and this beautiful gift—and we’re excited to show the industry what it takes to do this at scale.”

For Compromised Skin

If you or a loved one is undergoing treatment for cancer, or wants to clean up your skincare regimen afterward, here are some extremely gentle and effective product and brand recommendations.

Organic Highlighter

Violets are Blue Beloved Foot Salve

Designed to alleviate cracked heels and damaged skin, this foot salve combines shea and cocoa butter with olive and sunflower oils for maximum nourishment. $15-$22

Defiant Beauty Itchy Skin Oil

From the line created by cancer survivor Jennifer Young, this moisturizing, fragrance-free oil is especially formulated for skin that’s undergoing or recovering from chemotherapy. $23


Odacité Skin Care

After French-born Odacité founder Valerie Grandury was diagnosed with breast cancer, she began blending her own skincare, and never stopped.

CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray

A gentle and hydrating spray that brings instant, cooling hydration to severely damaged skin that’s too sensitive for lotions or creams. $15-$34


De La Terre Skincare Oncology Skin Support Kits

With a cleanser, balm, serum, mist and more, there is one kit for chemotherapy, another for radiation. $165

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