From just a plain housewife to one of Hollywood’s most famous icons ever, Marilyn Monroe was truly an extraordinary person. Yet behind the glamour of her showbiz career was a woman who battled many insecurities. She often resorted to fascinating beauty rituals and secrets to carve out her legendary image. Read on to get an inside look into the unbelievable beauty tricks the star used to become one of the most famous women on the planet.
1. Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Monroe’s dewy and glowing complexion may have been the result of her strict moisturizing routine. Like most of Hollywood’s biggest starlets, Monroe trusted her visage only to celebrity skin guru and dermatologist Dr. Erno Laszlo. Laszlo was famous for creating customized beauty regimen for his clients, and Monroe’s routine was carefully designed to address her dry skin.
For Monroe, caring for her skin became an obsession. Her frequent cleansing often left her skin dry, which she would try to fix by slathering on a variety of moisturizers. In addition to coating her face with olive oil, Vaseline, and Laszlo’s still-popular Active Phelityl Cream, she also used a surprising product: a topical hormone cream.
2. Made in the Shade
While the Beach Boys were singing about California girls, and bikinis and sun tanning had become the norm, Marilyn Monroe went against the sun-kissed beauty culture by actively avoiding the sun’s harmful rays. The screen siren once coyly remarked, “I’m personally opposed to a deep tan because I like to feel blonde all over.”
Today, dermatologists have noted the correlation between exposure to the sun and skin cancer, or accelerated aging or thinning of the skin. Monroe was certainly ahead of the times when she chose to preserve her famously creamy skin from the aging harsh rays of the sun.
3. Baby Powder: Not Just For Diapers
Today, the hair care aisles of most drugstores are lined with a variety of dry shampoos: powderlike sprays that absorb oil and neutralize odors in hair. Yet, in the late 1950s, commercialized dry shampoos were still a beauty fantasy, so Monroe did the next best thing. She used baby powder to extend the time between hair washings.
Washing hair too often can dry out your scalp and fade hair color. Monroe, who was born a natural brunette with dry and curly hair, already had damaged hair because of the constant styling and bleaching. Because of this, she would use the powder to not only lighten her roots, but to give the illusion of a freshly washed mane of hair.
4. The Secret Behind Her “Pillow White” Hair
Norma Jeane (Marilyn’s real name) may have been born a natural brunette, but it was her blonde locks that really launched her into showbiz. When Monroe was just beginning her career, Emmeline Snively, the head of Blue Book Model Agency, advised her to dye her hair because blondes could be photographed easier.
Monroe turned to the late 1930s actress Jean Harlow’s hairdresser, Pearl Porterfield, when she wanted to achieve her now-signature platinum curls. Peroxide, bleach, and a specially formulated silver rinse were applied every three weeks. She would bleach her hair until she achieved the coveted color of “pillow case white”. This is a blonde so pale it resembled the white sheets she laid on.
5. The Smell of Success
Humans have been using fragrant oils to anoint themselves for both bathing and religious rituals since ancient times. For Marilyn Monroe, fragrance was an important way for the starlet to feel feminine and sensual. Her fragrance ritual, and fascination with scents, would become an important part of her life.
Monroe would famously quip that the only thing she wore to bed was “five drops of Chanel No.5”. It’s no surprise that decades later, her favorite floral scene continues to be a bestseller, as women around the world want to smell like a star. When she wasn’t wearing her signature Chanel scent, she also wore a rose geranium eau de toilette from the London based perfume house, Floris.
6. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important activities humans can do. Getting enough sleep can not only leave your body feeling revitalized, but can improve the look of your skin and eyes. Marilyn Monroe understood the importance of getting sufficient z’s.
In a 1952 interview with Pageant magazine, Monroe stated: “Depending upon my activities, I sleep between five and ten hours every night.” She also mentioned that she would often stay in bed, “luxuriating in every last moment of drowsiness”. Monroe revealed that she didn’t enjoy wearing uncomfortable pajamas or nightgowns because “they disturb my sleep”. Instead she slept under a heavy comforter, and only wore five dabs of her favorite Chanel No.5.
7. For Fitness, Think Strategically
Monroe, who once admitted she had a “languorous disposition”, was not a big believer in full-body workouts. The actress revealed that her workout routine was more about targeting specific areas; namely, her bust. She would begin by placing five-pound weights in each hand, with her arms extended, in a “spread-eagle” position.
Next, she would slowly move the weights towards her head fifteen times. She would repeat the exercise from another position, and end by rotating her arms in a circular motion until she was “tired”. Despite the benefits, Monroe wasn’t always compelled to work out, stating, “I couldn’t stand exercise if I had to feel regimented about it.”
8. Toning More Than Just Her Body
Under the guidance of Dr. Laszlo, Monroe’s face cleansing ritual seemed more like a chemistry experiment than a simple splash of soap and water. In a skin care prescription recently unveiled by The Makeup Museum, Dr. Laszlo prescribed Monroe an intricately customized guide to caring for her skin; namely, the importance of using skin toner.
Toners are liquid cleansers that can be easily absorbed by the skin. These offer a range of benefits, including removal of makeup, minimized appearance of pores, and hydrated skin. Monroe used Laszlo’s popular tinted mattifying toner, the Normalizer Shake-It. Because face soaps can throw off the pH levels of the skin, resulting in dryness, the use of toner helped restore her skin’s moisture.
9. Monroe’s Slick Beauty Secret
Before beauty bloggers were espousing the many virtues of double cleansing (using an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based one), Marilyn Monroe was proving that she was already well ahead of the times when it came to skin care. Monroe would use Laszlo’s oil-based cleanser, Active Phelityl Oil, to remove any traces of stubborn makeup residue.
This would then be followed by a second cleansing involving a creamy cleanser like his Active Phelityl Soap, and warm water. She would then cleanse and tone the skin using her favorite Normalizer Shake-It, followed by a heavy hydrating cream. After that, Marilyn would apply eye cream, not only under her eyes, but all over her face, neck, and décolletage.
10. The Foods Her Beautician Told Her to Avoid
Marilyn Monroe didn’t only entrust her skin to Dr. Laszlo. She also heeded his dietary recommendations. In a prescription recently revealed by The Makeup Museum, the dermatologist carefully outlined a list of foods that the actress should avoid in order to keep her complexion looking its best.
According to his prescription, Monroe was advised to stay clear of nuts, chocolate, olives, oysters, and clams. While most dermatologists now suggest incorporating nuts and olives for their anti-inflammatory properties, Dr. Laszlo may have believed that these rich foods could contribute to acne. Allergies and bacteria found in undercooked or raw seafood could cause rashes or other health problems.
11. The Drugstore Gem She Always Had On Hand
According to fellow actress and member of Monroe’s acting class, Renée Taylor, “Marilyn Monroe had the most luminous skin I ever saw.” While Monroe was often photographed stepping out of the most glamorous cosmetics spas, her favorite beauty product was one that can still be found on the shelves of most drugstores: Vaseline.
Monroe told Taylor that she would slather the thick emollient all over her body before stepping into a hot bath, where she would bathe for three hours. Today, dermatologists do not suggest that people replicate Monroe’s extended bath time, because being submerged in water for that long can actually dry the skin out.
12. How to Go For the Glow on a Budget
Marilyn Monroe seemed to be ahead of her time when it came to makeup. Vaseline petroleum jelly wasn’t only a vital part of her luxurious bathing ritual. The actress also incorporated it into her beauty routine. Monroe would dab the oily moisturizer on her eyelids to give them a glossy look. She also used the moisturizer as a highlighter.
Monroe would rub the shiny moisturizer onto the tops of her cheekbones and above the Cupid’s bow on her lips in order to emphasize them. The shine from the oil-based moisturizer, combined with the actress’s light-colored facial hair, would give her skin a glowing, almost ethereal appearance on film.
13. The Original Lip Kits
Before Kylie Jenner was selling sets of lip colors, there was another set of lips whose look women wanted to emulate: naturally, the Marilyn lip. While Monroe sometimes wore nude or pink shades, red seemed to be her signature color.
Behind what looked like a simple splash of red was an intricately designed blend of colors. Monroe’s makeup artist and close friend, Allan “Whitey” Snyder, used five different shades to change the appearance of Monroe’s lips. He would use darker shades of red on the outer corners of her lips, using lighter shades as he moved towards the middle. Lastly, he would apply a light shade on her Cupid ’s bow and bottom lip, to give the illusion of fullness.
14. Monroe’s Eye-Catching Makeup Technique
Marilyn Monroe may have been one of the most innovative women when it came to beauty, but her signature eye shadow look was actually inspired by another famous leading lady: Swedish film legend Greta Garbo. Garbo was known for her large and endlessly expressive eyes. This was the result of carefully applied eye makeup.
Monroe’s makeup artist, Allan “Whitey” Snyder, would replicate what Monroe referred to as the “Greta Garbo eye”, albeit with a few changes. He would blend a bright white eye shadow from her lids all the way to her brow bone. He would then take a pearly white eye shadow color, and apply it to the inner corners of her eye, giving the illusion of larger eyes.
15. The Secret Behind Marilyn’s Signature Cat Eye
For many fans of the late actress, no other celebrity has ever quite been able to exude the sensuality that Marilyn Monroe brought to the silver screen. One of the ways that Monroe was able to make herself look more sensual was by giving the illusion of heavy-lidded or “bedroom eyes”.
Like her intricate lip color technique, Monroe’s application of eyeliner was also complex. Her makeup artist used a combination of brown, black, white, and red eyeliners by Elizabeth Arden, to create her signature winged eye makeup look. One trick used to make her eyes look bigger was to draw a tiny white triangle between the top and bottom layer of eyeliner, at the outer corners of her eye.
16. Monroe Understands the Importance of Contouring
Decades before women around the world would incorporate the technique of contouring into their makeup ritual, Marilyn Monroe understood how using light and dark shades of makeup could dramatically change the way her face looked onscreen. This was largely due to the angles of the studio and camera lights.
While most makeup users today use a darker shade or bronzer to contour, Monroe’s makeup artist would use blush. He would dust a small amount of rouge on the tip of her nose to make it appear smaller and more defined. He would also use blush to carve out the appearance of her cheekbones, giving her a more sculpted and lifted look.
17. The Ingenious Secret behind Monroe’s Lush Lashes
While false eyelashes have long been a staple for celebrities, Marilyn Monroe’s inventive technique became part of her signature style. The false eyelashes available during Monroe’s time were often thick and looked unnatural. Monroe’s makeup artist realized that she could achieve the look of wispy long lashes without the bulk. That meant cutting her false eyelashes in half.
By applying half of the eyelash on the furthest corner of her eye, the eye shape changed completely. Her eyes now looked wider, and the shape became elongated. This look would revolutionize the makeup artistry world forever, and the technique is still used in film makeup today in order to change the eye shape’s appearance.
18. The Makeup Trick That Raised a Few Eyebrows
Marilyn Monroe changed the world of eyebrows, defying the thin penciled eyebrow looks that dominated the silver screen thanks to actresses like Marlene Dietrich. She showed women how properly shaped eyebrows could change the structure of your face, or even hide unwanted flaws.
Monroe was known to be self-conscious about her face and forehead, which she believed were too wide. Because of this, makeup artist Allan “Whitey” Snyder would often draw in her eyebrows in a pointy, triangular shape. Building on Monroe’s natural eyebrow shape, he would draw small peaks to further define them. The angled shape helped to minimize the “wide” look of her forehead while giving her face a lifted look.
19. Proteins Are a Girl’s Best Friend
Long before medical practitioners understood the benefits of proteins into a person’s diet, Marilyn Monroe raved about her protein-filled eating style. In a 1952 interview with Pageant magazine, entitled “How I Stay in Shape”, the actress detailed her often strange eating habits.
Before taking a shower, Monroe would begin her day by heating up a cup of milk. When the milk became hot enough, she would whip into it two raw eggs, which she would eat while getting dressed. The star was not a fan of eating lunch, and would continue her protein-rich meal during dinner. She would typically eat a steak, lamb chops, or liver, which she would enjoy with a handful of raw carrots.
20. Embrace Your Peach Fuzz
One of Marilyn Monroe’s least-known beauty secrets was that she embraced the light vellus hair on her face, often referred to as “peach fuzz”. While all humans have this light hair on their face, Monroe’s excessive facial hair was the result of her using a topical hormone cream, prompting her to grow more peach fuzz than usual.
While the studios often asked her to remove the hair, Monroe felt that this fuzz enhanced her looks. Under the harsh studio lights of the film sets, her light raised hair gave her face a soft glow. Monroe believed that her softer look allowed her to be filmed or photographed without using special effects such as specialized lenses or layers of Vaseline on the camera lens, which were often employed to give a more airbrushed look.
21. The Peculiar Behavior Behind Monroe’s Famous Figure
One of Marilyn Monroe’s biggest traits was her much-envied figure. Monroe’s measurements were reportedly 36-inch bust, 24-inch waist, and 34-inch hips. While her hourglass figure may have launched her career, Monroe often resorted to some strange and even extreme behavior to enhance and preserve her most famous attributes.
According to Monroe historian Gene London, she would always sleep in a bra. This was because she believed that by doing so she would avoid any potential sagging or lack of firmness. According to Allan Abbott, the funeral director present during her burial, Monroe began to wear false breast prosthesis towards the end of her life. She would don the “falsies” to give the illusion of a more voluptuous figure, particularly in tight clothing.
22. Monroe Wigs Out
Hair extensions are one of the most common parts of any hair stylist’s arsenal. Whether natural or synthetic, adding additional pieces of hair can give the illusion of a fuller mane and a more youthful appearance. While hair pieces and wigs are not new, more information is being revealed about their role in old Hollywood.
In 2005, the contents of Monroe’s makeup drawer went up for auction. In between ear plugs, false eyelashes, and some bobby pins, was a long blonde hair extension. It is believed that Monroe may have turned to the use of hair extensions because her own natural hair was thinning. This was likely due to the extreme bleaching and styling she would undergo to maintain her platinum locks.
23. Perfect Your “Wiggle”
When Marilyn Monroe was just beginning her career, she enrolled in a modeling workshop, held by modeling agency owner Emmeline Snively. Snively noticed something interesting about her student’s rather particular walk: Monroe seemed to wiggle as she moved across the room.
According to Snively, Monroe’s knees would lock as she walked because she was “double-jointed in the knees, so she can’t relax and that is why her hips seem to sway when she walks into a room. Her walk is a result of that locking action every time she takes a step”. While this rhythmic walk may have spelled the end of her runway career, Snively and Monroe thought that it could be a positive attribute. They were right.
24. Marilyn’s Plastic Surgery Secrets
In 2013, an auction featuring Marilyn Monroe’s private medical documents became public. Among the many pages of her medical file was a document from Hollywood’s premiere plastic surgeon, Michael Gurdin. His notes and X-rays stated what many people already assumed: Monroe had gone under the knife to enhance her looks.
Monroe was reportedly very self-conscious about her facial structure and chin, particularly after overhearing herself be referred to as the “chinless wonder.” According to the medical documents, Monroe underwent cosmetic surgery on her chin due to her insecurity. A cartilage craft was inserted into her chin, which was later replaced by another graft after the first had absorbed, or dissolved.
25. Was Marilyn Monroe Keeping More Beauty Secrets?
While rumors of Marilyn Monroe’s plastic surgeries have slowly been proven thanks to released medical files, it is widely speculated that her chin augmentation wasn’t the only time the Hollywood siren went under the knife. According to a memoir published by Norman Leaf, partner of Monroe’s surgeon Gurdin, Monroe may have also enhanced her nose.
According to Leaf, Monroe underwent a rhinoplasty procedure in order to refine the tip of her nose. And according to Rosemary Eckersley, widow of Hollywood plastic surgeon Franklin Ashley, at the time of her passing, she was also suffering from an infection caused by injections of silicone to her bust. Silicone, when injected freely into the body, cannot be easily removed, especially in Marilyn Monroe’s era.
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