The truth about Marilyn Monroe’s skin care routine

There is something about Marilyn Monroe that just completely transcends time. Although she died long before many of us were even born, who on the planet does not know her name and cannot instantly conjure up her famous face? Her image, as captured by numerous photographers, is right up there with Mona Lisa as an icon of classic beauty for the ages. Tragically, her early death meant that, as Shakespeare once said of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety,” although we have a feeling that were she still with us, she’d be showing us just how much of a bombshell a 90-something can still be.

While it’s unlikely that even the most gorgeous of today’s fresh young faces will ever even approach Marilyn’s level of immortality, there is one aspect of her daily beauty routine that anyone can adopt, courtesy of NYC’s Makeup Museum. They shared her skincare routine circa 1959 with Refinery 29 and, amazingly enough, a number of the specific products prescribed for Marilyn by celeb dermatologist Dr. Erno Laszlo are still available some 60-plus years later.

How Marilyn took care of her face

According to Dr. Laszlo’s 1959 prescription, Marilyn would start off every morning by washing her face with warm water and Erno Lazlo Active Phelityl Soap (still available on Amazon!), followed by Erno Laszlo Normalizer Shake-It tinted toner (available as a limited edition from Erno Laszlo). Unfortunately, the Erno Laszlo pHelitone Eye Cream Monroe applied in tiny dabs below her eyes is no longer available, nor can you purchase the Duo-Phase Face Powder she sprinkled liberally over her face and neck before brushing off the excess (“after one minute”) with a piece of cotton. 

Each evening before dressing to go out, Marilyn would repeat the above routine, but at night before bed, she’d cleanse with Erno Laszlo Active Phelityl Oil, followed by an application of Erno Laszlo Active Phelityl Cream, which she’d wipe off before applying Erno Laszlo Controlling Lotion Toner. This would also be wiped off, then reapplied to her nose and chin only and left to dry overnight. On formal occasions such as singing “Happy Birthday” to the President Kennedy, Marilyn would add an extra step to her routine. After smoothing on Shake-It toner, she would apply eye cream to her entire face, neck, and décolleté, blot with a tissue, then follow up with a sprinkling of face powder. 

No, this skincare routine can’t make you into Marilyn’s double. It can still make you look pretty darn good, though, which is the best we mere mortals can aspire to.

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Marilyn Monroe’s diet and beauty secrets: How to get them now

Decades after Marilyn Monroe shone in the Hollywood spotlight, her beauty lives on.

And now, thanks to an artifact unearthed by New York City’s Makeup Museum, fans of the blond bombshell get a glimpse into how she stayed so gorgeous.

A document revealing the iconic actress’ personalized beauty routine is on display as part of the museum’s “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America” digital exhibit. In the letter, dated March 17, 1959 and addressed to Mrs. Marilyn Monroe Miller (she was married to playwright Arthur Miller at the time), dermatologist Erno Laszlo wrote out detailed skin-care instructions for the then-32-year-old star.

And upon studying the document, NYC dermatologist Julie Russak says it provides many clues about Monroe’s skin and that there’s much to be learned from her routine today. And many of the products she used are still available now.

“Laszlo was really ahead of his time,” says Russak, who runs Russak Dermatology Clinic on East 57th Street. “His regimen talks about taking care of the lips, the neck and décolletage — not just the face.”

“He personalized every prescription for all of his clients, and Marilyn Monroe was on the drier side,” says Patricia Schuffenhauer, Erno Laszlo’s chief historian and branding officer, in a video posted by the West Village museum. So, all the products in her routine “were to help hydrate her skin.”

In the mornings, Monroe was told to wash her face and neck in warm water with Active Phelityl Soap ($38 at ErnoLaszlo.com) before applying “well-shaken” Normalizer Shake-It treatment ($49, and also reportedly beloved by Greta Garbo) on her face, avoiding the eye area, and then immediately blotting it off.

Beneath her eyes, she was instructed to apply eye cream “in tiny dots, spreading it gently over the surface,” and then blotting it off as well. For the final step, she was meant to apply a powder to her entire face and neck — and then brush it off with cotton after one minute.

In the evenings, Monroe was directed to apply Phelityl Pre-Cleansing Oil ($58) with a cotton pad, cleanse using water plus the same soap from the morning routine, blot it dry and apply Active Phelityl Intensive Cream over it ($88) and blot off the excess with a cleansing lotion before re-applying the cream. Phew.

If that sounds like a lot of blotting, it is, but Russak says Monroe’s process — skipping any harsh rubbing and scrubbing and then reapplying moisturizer — helps reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier.

A key part of Monroe’s prescription, listed at the bottom of the letter, is a list of foods to avoid — “any kind of nuts, chocolate, olives, oysters and clams.” Turns out not diamonds, but diets are a girl’s best friend.

American actress Marilyn MonroeMarilyn Monroe

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