Marilyn Monroe's Skincare Routine Included a Crucial Step That Most People Skip

Marilyn Monroe's Skincare Routine Revealed


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It's no secret that we really love digging into celebrity skincare routines here at Who What Wear Beauty. From mining Instagram posts to reading countless interviews and asking the burning questions ourselves, we've pieced together the beauty secrets of everyone from January Jones to Drew Barrymore. If a star has shared a skincare product or practice they love, we've noted it—even stars from past generations, such as Marilyn Monroe.

Old Hollywood beauty secrets are tricky because they're just that—secrets. The Marilyns, Gretas, and Audreys of yesteryear were a lot more precious with their rituals than the Gwyneths, Tracees, and Jennifers of today. But recently, the forthcoming destination dedicated to the history of makeup, the Makeup Museum, shared an official document via Instagram outlining Monroe's exact skincare routine, as prescribed by her trusted dermatologist and skincare trailblazer, Erno Laszlo.

In a framed document dated March 17, 1959, type-written on personalized stationery from The Erno Laszlo Institute of Scientific Cosmetology and addressed to one Marilyn Monroe Miller, Laszlo laid out a detailed regimen of skincare rituals to be carried out in the morning and evening. The note also includes special instructions for evening outings and formal occasions so Monroe's skin would be on point for all those star-studded Hollywood fêtes. The vestige is part of the NYC museum's Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America exhibit. 

Ahead, we break down Monroe's prescribed skincare routine, updated with our current favorites to help you crack the code to that A-list glow. Keep scrolling for more.

A.M. Routine

Step 1: Cleansing Bar

It's no surprise that facial cleanser circa 1959 was largely in bar form. Though many folks prefer liquid washing solutions nowadays, they simply didn't exist back then. "Wash face and neck in warm water with [Active Phelityl Soap]," the prescription starts. Laszlo instructs the actress to first rub the bar directly against her skin before creating a lather in her hands and working it into her skin.

Our favorite cleansing bars:

Just because liquid cleansers are more popular these days doesn't mean bar soaps should be disregarded. This bar by Drunk Elephant is proof that formulas have evolved past their reputation as ultra drying or irritating. This one is infused with blueberry extract, marula oil, and honey to at once tone and promote moisture retention in the skin. 

For a gentle, dermatologist-approved cleanse for dry or sensitive skin, this Cetaphil bar checks all the boxes. It's a soap-free bar and leaves out harsh detergents that can dry or irritate your skin.

Step 2: Gentle Exfoliating Toner

Anyone committed to smooth skin with minimized pores knows that toner is the ticket. Still, so many people write this step off as unnecessary. If you won't listen to us, then take it from Monroe and her skin guru and get yourself a toner. Following cleanser, Laszlo's instructions say to "apply well-shaken [Normalizer Shake-It] on entire face—except around the eyes." The eponymous brand recently released an improved, limited-edition version of the original that helped to keep Monroe's skin glowing. It has glycerin, citric acid, and non-drying cosmetic alcohol to even skin tone, controls surface oils, and helps lock in moisture. Though most toners now don't need to be removed at all, Laszlo advised Monroe to blot off any excess with a tissue. 

Our favorite gentle exfoliating toners:

Typically, exfoliating is reserved for nighttime since it can make the skin much more prone to sunburn, but there are definitely gentle formulas that can be used in the morning. This one from Glossier is one such option. It contains AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs along with soothing aloe, hydrating glycerin, and calming niacinamide to protect and nurture the freshly exfoliated skin. Be sure to follow up with an SPF if you're using it during the day.

The Pixi Glow Tonic is another ultra-gentle exfoliating toner that's safe to use in the mornings, as long as you're diligent about applying SPF before heading outside. Glycolic acid exfoliates and smooths the skin, while aloe vera, ginseng, and other botanical extracts treat it. The result is an instant glow.

Step 3: Eye Cream

As eye cream aficionados, we're not at all surprised by this one. We're all about waking up sleepy eyes with a little cream in the mornings and, according to the shared document, so was Monroe. "Apply [Phelitone] under eyes only in tiny dots, spreading it gently over the surface," the instructions read. "Blot off with tissues."

Our favorite eye creams:

On mornings when restless nights or that third glass of wine during a Zoom happy hour leave your eyes looking puffy, dull, or sunken, this energizing eye cream acts like a cup of coffee for your skin—almost literally. It uses caffeine from coffee and ginseng to visibly invigorate the delicate skin around the eyes.

Brightening, firming, hydrating, lifting, and tightening are all the effects you can expect from this affordable option from LilyAna Naturals. It uses vitamin C, vitamin E, rose-hip seed oil, and organic hibiscus flower extract to leave the skin looking glowy and elastic.

Step 4: Hydrating Face Powder

Now, this is a step we're on the fence about. Instead of following up with a moisturizer or SPF, the next step in Monroe's prescribed regimen is a face powder (oh, the 50s!). "Dab Duo-Phase Face Powder amply on entire face and neck," the document reads. "After one minute, brush off superfluous powder with a large piece of cotton." Although the exact product recommended by Laszlo doesn't appear to be available any longer, it used to be sold at Nordstrom, and the vacant product page on its website describes it as "an emollient, feather-soft loose powder that seals in moisture and provides a sheer, dewy matte finish," a lot like this makeup-artist favorite by Koh Gen Do.

Our favorite hydrating face powders:

Speaking of powders that actually help to hydrate the skin, this one from French makeup brand By Terry uses whipped hyaluronic acid microspheres to plump the skin.

Water is the ultimate hydrator, which is why Becca uses it in its loose powder to cool and refresh the skin. Instead of drawing moisture out of the skin, this expertly crafted powder helps attract water to the skin to keep it looking soft and plump.

P.M. Routine

Step 1: Double-Cleanse

If you thought Monroe's prescribed daytime regimen was luxe, just wait until you hear about the steps her trusted derm laid out for the evenings "before retiring." (That's chic speak for going to bed.)

"Apply [Active Phelityl Oil] on entire face, lips, and neck with a large piece of cotton saturated to the dripping point," the note reads. After that, Monroe was told to continue on with cleansing as instructed in her morning routine. That's right—it looks like Monroe was on board with the ever-popular double-cleansing method.

Our favorite cleansing oils:

This all-natural cleansing oil is perfect for removing makeup and getting a thorough cleanse without stripping the life out of your skin. It houses a whole host of skin-loving ingredients like nourishing alfalfa, protecting sacha inchi oil, and hydrating squalane. Plus, it's completely nontoxic, vegan, and cruelty-free.

We've touted this cleansing oil over and over because it's just that good. It's both gentle and effective and provides a seriously deep clean. Word on the street is that it's also a great makeup-brush cleaner.

Step 2: Intensive Moisturizer

"After drying, apply [Active Phelityl Cream] on entire face, lips, neck and decollete," Laszlo writes. The intensive cream he prescribes, which is still available today, is super thick and ointment-like in texture.

Our favorite intensive moisturizers:

Facialists, makeup artists, and celebrities such as Victoria Beckham agree: Augustinus Bader's The Rich Cream is one of the best moisturizers on the market. It's not all that thick, but as its name suggests, it's rich. Aside from its hero ingredient—the brand's proprietary stem cell–stimulating system, TFC8— the cream also has luxe, deeply moisturizing ingredients like Brazilian Candeia oil and shea butter.

You won't see a professional makeup kit without a tube of this lotion-balm inside. Weleda's famous Skin Food isn't just known for its makeup-priming abilities, though; it's also an adept allover moisturizer for even the driest skin types. Plus, it's so cheap!

Step 3: Hydrating Toner

For most, moisturizer is the last step in the evening skincare ritual. But of course, Monroe's ritual called for an extra step. "Wash off cream immediately with a large piece of cotton saturated to the dripping point with well-shaken [Controlling Lotion]," the prescription reads. It might seem strange to wipe your moisturizer off before bed, but the key here seems to be that the toner used is a moisturizing one that will add even more skin-loving ingredients. The modern iteration of the one Laszlo prescribes has glycerin and clove oil to moisturize and improve blood circulation. Laszlo also mentions in his note to not wipe away cream from the lip and eye areas but rather to blot any excess away with a tissue. He then instructs to reapply moisturizer to the nose and chin—presumably the drier areas of the face. Now it makes a bit more sense.

Of all the toners out there, this one from French skincare favorite Caudalie is one of the best. It's deeply hydrating, employing the brand's hero grape extract to protect and strengthen the skin barrier.

This coconut water–based toner is a three-in-one cleansing milk that removes makeup and impurities but also hydrates and soothes. It also has algae and bamboo extracts to restore the skin's natural pH balance, remove hard-water residue, and add an extra boost of hydration to the skin.

Up next, celebs over 40 swear by these holy-grail skincare products.