I have always been predominantly Irish (as far as I know, at least that's what they tell me). That equals: pasty and translucent for most of the year except for maybe two weeks in the end of August. I did live in Hong Kong as a kid but never really got a tan because it's not really the place where you tan and when I lived in Bali for 2 years in my early 20s, I did get a great arm-tan because I was always on my motorbike running errands. My work involved a LOT of schlepping. Because of the Irish and French and potentially some German in me, I've always been prone to burning, and I just never thought twice about lathering up with a nice ol' factor 40+ so the sun couldn't get at me. So, when the doctors and pharmacists warned me that my medications would make me very sensitive to sunlight, I wasn't that phased. Although, since then, I've gone through moments where I would get a little manic about it. I've also started a hat collection. So far this includes a Yankees cap I stole from my father and a floppy hat I found in Woodstock. I need some help on the hat front. 

Just casually applying some sunscreen by a pond wearing a scarf in June with shorts to balance it out. Photo by  Lenny Kohlmayer

Just casually applying some sunscreen by a pond wearing a scarf in June with shorts to balance it out. Photo by Lenny Kohlmayer

But, yes, after transplant, I had the fear of god put in me about even stepping in the sun. I was on high doses of Prednisone (a commonly used steroid), and I still am today. This is the main medication that makes you very sensitive to the sun. So I would go outside covered up, wear a lot of long skirts and a LOT of oversized muumuus. I was, at the time, 200 pounds or 91 kgs (I had edema from surgery and being pumped with fluids). More recently, the same day the above photo was taken, I threw a bit of a wobbly about being in the sun. I was away with friends, for the first time since my most recent episode of rejection and it was all a bit overwhelming. I sat by this bucolic setting in upstate New York and just started crying and couldn't stop, for a while, about the idea of being in the sun, about having to wear the sunscreen, about the idea of getting skin cancer from doing something wrong. My friend Michael, who has had his own set of health issues in the past and is very zen about the whole thing, talked me off a ledge and made me feel a lot more at ease. Point is: I am absolutely still afraid of being in the sun, of getting a tan, of getting skin cancer and lesions, of making sure I'm protected year-round (especially since I'm so forgetful) but I can't let it take up TOO much space in my head, otherwise I'll go mental. And there is already enough of that to go around. All I can do is be informed and responsible and make sure I don't bake like a potato at midday with body oil on (which is probably not recommended for anyone, ever). And put good products on my skin. The not tanning thing doesn't bother me, and I have never liked sitting on the beach. It's so hot! You can't read! It's so sandy! Your phone always does that thing where it says TOO HOT with an exclamation mark! Why do people love it so much? I think everyone who likes the beach is a liar. 

Genuine elation at stepping on grass for the first time after hospital, which was one of my goals. Photos and goals thanks to the incomparable Karina Geiger. Beautiful abaya covering my massively stretched body thanks to  Pitusa . Check the umbrella I'm holding, doubles as parasol.

Genuine elation at stepping on grass for the first time after hospital, which was one of my goals. Photos and goals thanks to the incomparable Karina Geiger. Beautiful abaya covering my massively stretched body thanks to Pitusa. Check the umbrella I'm holding, doubles as parasol.

After my initial surgeries in the summer of 2015, we went into winter and wearing sunscreen wasn't as much of an issue, but I had some great tinted moisturizer for my face (SPF 42) that my aunty gave me, which is great and which I'll list here. Then I started researching other non-toxic products, because I already knew the regular stuff wasn't the best in terms of ingredients. Which took me down a crazy rabbit hole, because sunscreen is really one of the most toxic products we can put on our bodies and as I've said before, if I'm putting massive doses of chemicals into my body each day, I'd rather put the least toxic products available to me onto my skin (or make my own). 

So this is what I've been using thus far, I'm still searching for the perfect one but I do like these products. 


I really like their SPF 30 Unscented Moisturizer, it's light, it keeps you protected and it hits all the big things you want from an organic skincare company. I haven't tried any of their other products but I've read good things.

Raw Elements

I have the Eco-Formula SPF 30 but they have a whole range, I also got the little EcoStick which is good for when you forget to put on your hands and neck in the winter (I am very forgetful), I just carry it around with me in my handbag. 

Elta MD

This is the one I was given and it's great, it's light and it's free of all the bad stuff. It's not the most eco friendly company, but I do think it's also good bang for your buck as I've had mine for 8 months and still have yet to finish it. 


Listen, I know what you're thinking, is this bitch crazy? She wants me to spend that amount on sun creams when I can just get Banana Boat for $10 and be done with it? Well you could, and that's your prerogative. But I will say 2 things about that. I understand it's pricey, and I balked at the prices at first too, but for me it's an investment in my skin, that I won't necessarily have to deal with anything down the line and that I can be confident that I'm using something that is non-toxic and I recognize all the ingredients in the products is a HUGE plus. The other thing is, this stuff honestly lasts forever. I have had both the Raw Elements and the Coola products since December 2015 and I still have a lot, and granted I didn't use the body cream everyday in winter, but a little goes a long way. If you work it out to PPU (pay per use), it's actually reasonable. Buying the crappy stuff, in my opinion, is like cutting your nose to spite your face. You can also make your own, which is the best and cheapest option. And it's mega easy. I'll post about making your own sunscreen another day. For now, if you're interested in any of these: go forth and fuel the global economy!


'Nora...your lips' I have heard this phrase in different iterations oft repeated by my friends and loved ones in the months since my transplant. I wish there was something I could do about how dry they are but it's honestly as if they have a life of their own. It's true that I've always had an unhealthy relationship with lip balm and I've always slept with it under my pillow and had about 20 tubes on hand at any given time which some might categorize as unhealthy but I think it's just good storage and common sense. So it is most likely I am not really helping anything by constantly applying all sorts of things to my lips to help but really just creating a small dehydrated desert over the small amount of real estate on my lips. This article on The Guardian website doesn't make me feel better.

Lip Balm has never steered me wrong. I have never wanted more from lip balm. It always gives me what I want.

Lip Balm has never steered me wrong. I have never wanted more from lip balm. It always gives me what I want.

As I've said before, a big problem for me since transplant is dryness. In fact, I went to a dermatologist just yesterday due to a poor choice made at my work commissary and resulting hives. The fun just keeps coming and coming and coming! Turns out, there is a reason why they make you cook your turkey to a certain degree in a frying pan before eating it (when you do this, the turkey gets chewy and disgusting and is not worth eating anyways so I don't even see the point). When I told the dermatologist this, she said 'Oh, that's funny you mention turkey, a lot of people get hives from it.' Well, people with good immune systems do not seem to get hives (just saying hey to my old hearty immune system) from eating a turkey sandwich, but I guess I do. Or people who are prone to hives.  It's also bizarre that I would react with allergens from turkey and not a foodborne illness but I'll keep it as a head-scratcher because I like to have answers sometimes. I don't know I'm not a doctor stop questioning me. All I know is that I had never had a reaction like that to food. I have photos but I'll spare you, they are wild. She also said 'You're clearly very dry' (pointing at my bare arm) 'So I recommend moisturizing twice a day.' Ohhhhh, thank you so much, no I never thought of that. I'm just bitter because my arms are like little raisins baked in the sun in the Arctic circle, because they are definitely not tanned. There is not enough body oil in the world to reverse it. I could bathe in body oil and I still think I would be a bit dry. Also I tend to think if you're not coming in for Botox to a dermatologist appointment you're worthless to them and so they'll fix you up with some creams, antihistamine and a prescription for moisturizer and send you packing. So I'm working on finding something to combat how dry my skin has become that's permanently effective and also resisting urges to eat turkey sandwiches in my company's cafeteria. The learning curve is steep and also doesn't seem to have a directly linear path. I'm also a TOTAL DAREDEVIL AND I WANTED A FUCKING TURKEY SANDWICH OK. But, for anyone who is immunosuppressed, take it from me -- not worth it. Turkey is kind of gross anyway and there is also some debate on whether it makes you sleepy so why you would choose to eat it for lunch when you're at work is beyond me, Nora of days gone by. 

Dry lips comin in hot.

Dry lips comin in hot.

Back to my lips. My lips are a total freak show right now and I've been choosing to largely ignore it. I am not fishing for compliments here nor am I hoping that some friendly lip Samaritan comments in the comments section (below: you just click comment and then type in your comment it's super easy in case you wanted to know) writes something like 'But no, Nora, you look ravishing, your lips are like an angel's bottom.' No I'm not hoping for that. I'm fine with it and I'm pretty sure they will get better with time.  They are super chapped though and I have tried a lot of different ways to try to combat this. Before all this happened, I definitely used too much lip balm and they would get chapped in the winter because I used too much of the sweet nectar. Now I have the added pleasure of medication mixed in with a compulsion for lip balm and I'm up the creek without a paddle, and the creek has been emptied because it's the apocalypse and there is no water left on earth. My friend Layla has suggested I try using a toothbrush to buff my lips and then put lip balm on before I go to bed. Which is actually helpful and stopped me from looking like I had just done a four day bender in the Sahara Desert at any given time. I also started making my own lip balm, which is also a work in progress but I'm perfecting the recipe, and it avoids using any products with toxins that might dry my lips even further. For now, here is my recipe I've been using so far. I got it originally from this book: and have now modified it for my own use and enjoyment. It's very moisturizing and heals cracks. If you get the ingredients they will last you for months on end, and it's a minimal investment for months of gifts. I can't say if you'll be as quaint and crafty as me, but you can try. 

Lip Balm Recipe

3 tbs beeswax

2 tbs cocoa butter

3 tbs unrefined coconut oil

2 tbs sweet almond oil

3 tbs Calendula oil

8 drops Vitamin E Oil

10 drops lavender essential oil (lavender is calming and a stress reliever. But there are SOO many other amazing essential oils you can add to your lippy)

I throw in Geranium or Peppermint oil sometimes. You can use whatever other essential oil you might enjoy. Then you just mixy mixy and you're done. Nope. Wish it was that easy. You could do this but you'd just have a big crumbly, oily mess and it wouldn't resemble lip balm even closely. It wouldn't even be cousins with lip balm. This does take minimal effort but you still have to put your back into it, this is not Pinterest things do not just magically empty into mason jars on their own by magical fairies in the forest.  

Ready for my lips to look like this. Photo from  DJ Olley.

Ready for my lips to look like this. Photo from DJ Olley.

Take a double boiler (if you are fancy and own one of those) or do bain-marie (just sticking a metal bowl in a pot of boiling water) and melt the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil. This is a very delicate process, you have to pay attention otherwise the beeswax will HARDEN before you throw in the other ingredients which you do NOT want.

Then just stir in the sweet almond oil, Vitamin E oil, Calendula oil and the essential oils (in the same bowl or pan) and put into packaging of your choice. I put them in metal tins because they look the cutest and most quaint (and most eco-friendly) but you can also order the tubes off Amazon. Then please let cool for half an hour before closing. THEN comes the fun part, you can make labels for them and give them away or use all the lip balm you want like the lip balm hoarder I hope you are. This is where I get my essential oils, cocoa butter, Calendula oil and Sweet Almond Oil, they're a one stop shop for everything and you can be sure that they aren't trying to swindle you: Mountain Rose Herbs.