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My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Saila Hanninen is a force. The Denver-based sales director, marathoner, and Ironman triathlete has raced all over the world. In June 2017, at age 35, she was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, and she approached it with the same strength she brings to every part of her life. Here, Saila shares her approach to beauty, including the best running tights, a great shampoo for fine hair, and how she’s changing lives through running…

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

How did you first get into running?
My dad was always a marathoner. In high school, I would run with him and I fell in love with it. I was 17 years old and my family was living in Atlanta when we got a mailer for the Thanksgiving Day marathon. This was back in the day where you had to fill out a form and mail it in. I was going to do the half marathon, but jokingly said, ‘Maybe I should do the full.’ My brother laughed at me. So I checked the box and was like, ‘Watch me!’ Running is the one time of day when I can be in my own thoughts, whether I’m running with music or without. It’s when I feel most alive.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

What’s your daily skincare routine?
I moved from New York to Denver two years ago, where the winters are rough and the air is really dry. My skin is much drier here than it’s ever been before, so I focus on moisture as much as possible. I’ve been leaning towards cleaner products lately, and I love Follain. They tell you what each product is focused on, and they have lots of reviews, so it feels like you’re getting a consult when you browse the site. My current cleanser is the PAI Camellia and Rose hydrating cleanser, which is gentle. After that, I use the Maya Chia Super Critical Omega-3 oil, which is great when I need something calming and hydrating.

How do you care for your hair?
I use Oribe Gold Lust shampoo and conditioner, which is great for repair and restoring. My hair is on the finer side, and this gives it the best feeling and more volume. It also smells delicious.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Do you wear makeup?
Since moving to Colorado, I wear less than I did back in New York. I find that I feel better — and my skin is happier! — without much makeup. But if I’m going to throw something on, it’s mascara and bronzer. I’m not loyal to any mascara, but I’ve lived on NARS Laguna bronzer for years. I’ve tried others, but the big powder block is the one I buy over and over and over again. If I want to glam it up for an event or night out, I’ll use Dior Airflash foundation, which is almost like being airbrushed. For eyeshadow, I’ve found that Chantecaille has neutral shades that look good on blondes.

What’s your desert island product?
The one makeup item where I’m brand loyal is the Bobbi Brown gel pot eyeliner, which I’ve been using for as long as they’ve made it. I like the jet black, which I draw on with a brush. You can make it thinner or thicker depending on what you’re going for. I’ve tried other liners over the years — liquid, pencils — but I like that the gel goes on smooth and stays put all day.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

In June 2017, you were diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. What happened next?
Lung cancer doesn’t have a good prognosis, and it felt like a death sentence in the beginning. The first doctor I met with told me there was a less than 10 percent chance I would live five years and that if I wanted children, I should be comfortable with someone else raising them. I’m a businesswoman — I work in sales — and I knew I would be doing myself a disservice not to look into all my options. After scheduling multiple meetings, I found my current doctor, who is committed to a treatment plan that makes me feel happy and healthy and normal as I can be.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

You’ve become such an advocate for education and awareness. What do you want people to know?
Cancer isn’t something you understand just by being a good human — most of us don’t know much about treatment, medication, etc. until you’re forced to learn about it, when you or a loved one is diagnosed. You have to quickly get up to speed and learn the jargon. But what I’ve discovered through this experience is that there are incredible options for treatment, and more are in the works. The most important thing is to be an advocate for yourself. Don’t settle for the first thing you’re told. Do the research and dig as much as you can, despite how scary it may feel.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get into running but might be intimidated?
A lot of people say, ‘I wish I could get into running, but I hate it!’ But you kind of have to accept that in the first few weeks of any new physical activity, it feels miserable because the body isn’t used to it. Once you get past that initial phase, the body pretty quickly adapts, and it gets better and better. Whether you’re starting from nothing and training for a 5k, or you’re at a 5k building towards a marathon, it’s all about gradually training, so your body can adjust. It’s also good to have guidance along the way, whether it’s an individual coach, or an app like Peloton, which I use a lot.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Is there any running gear you’re into right now?
My number one must-have is Lululemon leggings, which I wear year round, whether it’s 10 degrees or 100. I love that the Fast and Free tights have a phone pocket — you can fit a fairly heavy iPhone and run 18 miles and it won’t bounce around. Their black leggings and black sports bra are my go-to. I also just got this metallic windbreaker that I love. It’s really crunchy sounding — I recently wore it on a conference call and was told I was really loud!

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Why did you start your foundation?
After my diagnosis, people I hadn’t seen or talked to in years would reach out and say, ‘How can I help?’ But in hard moments, there’s very little people can do — you’re the one in the hospital, you’re the one doing the doing. I wanted to create a way for this army of people to help not just me, but millions of other people. Jaksaa raises funds that go directly to the doctors researching cancer — there are amazing individual researchers out there who have to get grants and win awards in order to get funding. By helping them raise the money for more clinical trial treatments, there will be more advancements when someone else is diagnosed down the road.

How did you choose the name Jaksaa for your fundraising team, and what does it mean?
Jaksaa is a Finnish word that doesn’t have a direct English translation, but the closest meaning is ‘the strength to endure.’ When I did the Ironman in Barcelona, I registered as a Finnish citizen (I’m a dual citizen), thinking it would be unique, but when I got there, there were Finns everywhere! All day, the Finnish people were cheering, ‘Jaksaa! Jaksaa!’ I knew what it meant, but that was the first time I’d heard it as a cheer. Soon after, I was diagnosed, and it’s the word I grabbed onto.  

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Tell me about your tattoo.
I never thought I would want a tattoo, but when my diagnosis was confirmed, my mom and I agreed to get matching tattoos of the word Jaksaa. It’s my daily reminder to be strong and keep going. I love that it means a little something different to everyone in every situation, whether it’s finishing a marathon or just pushing through a hard day.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Has your perspective on beauty shifted in the last few years?
When I lived in New York and worked in advertising, I saw the most glam side of beauty. Living in Colorado, dealing with a disease, and experiencing things outside my control gave me a whole new perspective. My hair was falling out and my skin was going crazy because of my medication. When you go through something like that, you realize a lot of the pressure we put on ourselves is self-inflicted. There’s so much beauty in being around people who make you feel loved and supported regardless of what you look like on the outside. Having supportive friends and family has had so much power in my life, both with running and with health. Five of us will be running the NYC marathon together, and our goal is to cross the finish line — together. I know that if the day of the race something goes wrong and it’s not the best day for me, my four friends will get me through it.

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

What’s one time in your life when you felt the most beautiful?
Consistently, one of the times I feel the most beautiful in my own skin is at the finish line of a race, with a medal in hand, especially if I’m with a friend. I love the environment of a marathon, especially in bigger cities, with crowds and being part of a shared challenge and experience, and the adrenaline at the end when you know you’ve pushed yourself past comfortable. There’s always a moment midway through where you’re like, ‘Everything hurts, why did I do this?’ Then you get to the finish line and you’re like, ‘I could do this again!’ Over and over, that’s when I feel the strongest and most beautiful, inside and out. That’s why I keep doing it!

My Beauty Uniform: Saila Hanninen

Thank you so much, Saila! You’re amazing.

You can follow Saila in the NYC Marathon this Sunday, using the NYC Marathon app. She’ll also be posting live updates on her Instagram stories, as well. Good luck to everyone running this year! And if you’d like to donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, you can do so here.

P.S. More incredible women share their beauty uniforms, including a daily runner, a polar explorer and a soccer player.

(Photos courtesy of Saila Hanninen.)

  1. what a beautiful story; thank you for sharing!

  2. Jen says...

    What an inspiration! Thank you, Saila!

  3. Rachael says...

    Best wishes to you Saila! You are an inspiration. Jaksaa!

  4. AJ says...

    All of the above, plus (since this is a beauty uniform)….
    I’m a long time wearer of gel eyeliner and I used Bobbi Brown forever like Saila, but if anyone wants a low cost dupe, Maybelline makes a great gel eyeliner as well that comes with its own little brush. I’ve since switched.

  5. I’m guessing it was no accident that you featured this story on the first day of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Thank you. <3

  6. Ms PC. says...

    Hello CoJ, Thanks for posting this wonderful story about such an amazing and inspiring woman. May I also take time to thank you for the tone of the piece – the focus is beauty, rather than cancer. The difference might be subtle, but to me as someone living with advanced breast cancer, I really appreciate it. As Saila says so eloquently, she just wants to live as happily, healthily and normally as possible. For me, finding stories in the media where cancer is not treated as life-defining, but simply a fact of life that needs to be dealt with like everything else, is really a breath of fresh air. It makes me feel less defined by my health, and more able to be my whole self. And I totally stand with Saila about being your own advocate, and about educating yourself and those around you. I also send massive hugs and love to everyone dealing with cancer, and their friends and families. I just want to tell you that you are so strong, and you can do this, and I really believe in you. With grateful thanks again.

    • Michelle Jacques says...

      Hugs to you! You sound like a truly inspirational woman with an understanding of what’s important in life. May courage, grace and gratitude follow you all your days. Love M xxx

    • KylieO says...

      This comment is so beautiful. Much love and strength to you xxx

  7. Judy says...

    All the best to Saila on Sunday during the NYC marathon and beyond! What an inspiration.

  8. Eva Maria says...

    Sending you love!
    You are beautiful.

  9. Alexandra says...

    I work in a research department at Dana-Farber and see on a daily basis how funds like these are fueling some of today’s most promising cancer research. Thank you for your hard work and support, Saila! I will be cheering for you this weekend!

  10. Deanna says...

    Second the Lululemon Fast & Free tights!!!! They’ve gotten me through many a long marathon training run. The fabric is smooth, dries quickly, and comes in all sorts of great colors and prints. The design is also great.–perfect pockets on the legs for phone or nutrition and comfy waistband with pocket for keys or other small things. High recommend for any of you fellow runners.

    Salia, you’re a force and I am so glad Jo and co decided to share your story. This is 100% my favorite beauty uniform post of all. Have an AMAZING time on Sunday. YAY for amazing women and running!

  11. Fía says...

    Cannot imagen doing a marathon myself, but after reading your article, I might give 5K another try :)! And if you need a new marathon to attend, check out the Atlantic Airways Tórshavn Marathon. Quite the challenge I´m told.

  12. Laura says...

    An inspiring story and woman. Was really surprised to see the Finnish flag in the first photo – greetings from Finland! :) Jaksaa jaksaa!

  13. Sylvie says...

    Great story. Thanks!

  14. Emily Wallis says...

    Thank you! I am so inspired and grateful for this story. My husband was just diagnosed with the same cancer, and is undergoing treatment for tumors in his brain, shoulder and lung. We had already made the commitment to live our best, most normal life for as long as possible. Saila is letting me know this goal is attainable and sustainable. Lots of love and prayers Saila! xo

  15. katie says...

    fortitude is hot! thanks for featuring such diverse beauty uniforms – i love seeing how gorgeous everyone is in their own unique ways! KEEP KICKING ASS SAILA! Rooting for you!

  16. Helena says...

    Great post! Love that you included someone living WITH lung cancer with Nov being lung cancer awareness month. We must learn more about this disease, raise more money. Lung cancer kills more women than all other cancers combined!

  17. Cynthia says...

    Absolutely inspiring!

  18. liz says...

    runners are the best!! <3 : ) Saila is amazing, thanks for sharing!! good luck!!

    • Kia says...

      Amazing and inspiring!!!

    • Eva says...

      First I noticed the Finnish flag, because I am also from Finland. Then I paid attention to Atlanta, as I have also lived there. Finally I realized that Saila and I went to the same school (AIS)!!! Since then I moved to Sweden and currently live in Germany, so this is a pretty amazing coincidence!

      Saila, your story is an inspiration. I wish you all the best! 🤗

  19. Gina Adams says...

    Very inspiring. Nothing compares to the feeling you get from running. What are your preferred running shoes?

    • says you says...

      I’d also love some winter running clothes rec’s because I feel like I want to run but have no idea how to dress. Just moved to Denver!

  20. Rachel says...

    Running my first marathon in NYC this weekend and this is such perfectly-time inspiration, and helping to calm my pre-race anxiety!

    • Sarah says...

      Good luck Rachel!!! I’m so excited for you!

    • Jill Sady says...

      I’m there doing my second. Cheering for you already in the sea of runners!!!

  21. Mara says...

    Thank you, Saila, I LOVE the message about being your own advocate, educating yourself, etc. Last spring I saw a specialist who flatly recommended I schedule an invasive procedure with him to explore the possibility of my having a devastating autoimmune disease. I flew into a panic, at the same time that this doctor ghosted me and wouldn’t return my calls. I had no answers and felt absolutely helpless. So I set out to educate myself, and also met with other specialists and got a second, third, and fourth opinion. Luckily, the other doctors deemed this procedure unnecessary for now, and thanks to some lifestyle and dietary changes, my symptoms all but went away. Unfortunately, a lot of doctors get a tidy sum of money for safe but unnecessarily procedures, and I suspected the first doctor of this. I also learned that if you aren’t fond of someone’s bedside manner, move on! Medical stuff is scary and you need to be comfortable and feel cared for by your doctor – not have him/her ghost you after bombing you with bad news.

    Saila, you’re really a force, and such an inspiration! Keep on running and adventuring!

    • Nade says...

      Second this!

  22. Erin Baird says...

    Wow – crazy small world sometimes – I went to college with Saila and rode with her on the equestrian team! We’ve lost touch and I had no idea about her being diagnosed with cancer. I do know that she’s a strong force and an amazing woman!

  23. NSU says...

    Yay for having a runner the week of the NYC Marathon. Very in the spirit!

  24. Cheryl says...

    -Jakasa-
    I just want to send that energy to you, Saila! Do you feel it?

    • Cheryl says...

      Jaksaa
      The tattoo paragraph misspelled it!

  25. Calla says...

    It’s so interesting how a sudden or traumatic event like that can change your perspective on beauty. Shortly after my mom lost her hair during chemotherapy she said she had an epiphany. She was looking around a room at women and thinking about how they probably all fret and complain about their hair; grey, too frizzy, too thin, too thick, too straight, and she thought “It’s ALL beautiful, all of their hair is beautiful and they don’t even know it.” It’s not until you lose something that you realize how trivial all your worries about it were.

    I try to remember this about health in general, and take moments to be grateful when I’ve walked around the city all day or am taking a dance class, or swimming in the ocean. It really is such a wonderful privilege to be able to move around freely and I hope I take advantage of that as long as it is the case.

    • Eva Maria says...

      That is so true!

  26. Quinn says...

    That photo of her and her mom’s matching tattoos is so powerful.

  27. Renee says...

    Thank you for this inspiring post! My mom was diagnosed with the same type of cancer, also Stage IV, three years ago. I’ve been amazed at all of the new treatments that are in the pipeline. The drug she is on now, which is keeping the cancer at bay, was not even developed when she was first diagnosed. It’s so important to support scientific research—it’s giving our family and many others so much hope right now! Saila, thank you for sharing your story. Rooting for you from here in the Midwest!

    • Emily Wallis says...

      Renee–would you mind sharing the name of the drug your mom is taking? I just commented, but my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer three weeks ago. We’re still reeling, but luckily, already undergoing treatment. Love and prayers for you and your mom. xo Em

    • Sarah says...

      Thank you for sharing your story Renee. My mom has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and the initial diagnosis felt like an immediate death sentence. Your comment has given me so much hope and strength and I thank you so much. Sending lots of love to your mom.

    • Renee says...

      Emily and Sarah, hugs to you both! This is tough stuff. We had no idea what to expect when my mom was first diagnosed, but we have been amazed at her quality of life so far at the three-year mark. She started on Tarceva, developed resistance to that, and is now on Tagresso. (Not sure of spelling!)

    • Susan says...

      Echoing this! I’ve talked to many people with lung cancer through my work and so many of them have shared this same idea. Often when people get diagnosed they start doing research or talking to their doctors and they get numbers that are averages and percents like the 10% chance of living 5 years that Saila was told. But the average person diagnosed with lung cancer isn’t 35 years old or a marathoner and Ironman triathlete. And if that gives her even just a little bit more time, that little bit more time gives her so many advances in treatments that can give a little bit more time on top of that. And in the time gained from that new treatment, scientists are only improving on that even more. If in only 3 years, they developed a drug that keeps your mom’s cancer at bay, imagine what they will have in three more years. Sending love and well wishes to you and your mom!

    • El says...

      Renee, Emily, and Sarah — thank you for sharing what’s going on in your lives at the moment. My mother was also diagnosed with Stage IV NSLC (after 68 years of perfect health!) a little over a year ago and it rocked us terribly. She’s since undergone radiotherapy for brain tumours (which thankfully worked); was on a targeted therapy drug named Gefitinib (which shrunk her lung and spine tumours but she has since developed a resistance to); had one round of chemo after they found it had spread to her liver (no luck there); and has recently started immunotherapy with a drug named Opdivo/nivolumab. We’re doing our best to remain positive and thankful that with each hurdle there seems to be a new step to take, and have our fingers crossed that we won’t run out of options soon. It’s been the hardest year of my life, so I’m sending all my love and good vibes to you three from here in Australia, along with everyone else dealing with this terrible disease. x

  28. Elise says...

    Amazing! Love this beauty uniform.

  29. Liz says...

    Wonderful and inspiring! :-) Good luck with the marathon!!

    • Mandy says...

      What an inspiring woman. Good luck and Jaksaa with your next marathon and continued journey xx

  30. Alyssa says...

    Inspiring and beautiful.

  31. Anonygirl says...

    This was so inspiring. If running wasn’t a migraine trigger for me, I’d get out there and pound the pavement. I think it would be really good for me in this season of life, but the three day migraine after is not worth the high.

    • Jessica says...

      Anonygirl, that sometimes happens to me too! I’ve found that my trigger (which is very well might be different than yours!) was dehydration and not the actually physical activity itself. Sometimes I still get migraines after working out (and drinking wine!), but I know that for me, I have to drink lots of water and stay hydrated! Relaxing is probably number 2 — if I’m clenching my shoulders and jaw and arms and neck and back while running, I’m sure to get a migraine. I sometimes shake out my arms while running and pay close attention to my muscles in those areas during and after a run.

      Good luck finding an exercise that works well for you and doesn’t cause migraines!

  32. Heather says...

    Wowza that was a powerful read! She really is such a force – love this beauty uniform!

    • Raquel says...

      Totally agree. What a force and role model.

  33. celeste says...

    Great job Caroline! I just loaded the Couch to 5K app back on my phone after a running hiatus this morning and planned to start Day 1 today. God bless you Saila and good luck this weekend! I’d add that Trax (grippers for your shoes) and head lamps/lights are great investments.