Born in Chicago and raised in Phoenix, Mitchell enrolled in medical school, but had to drop out when her father died. Turning to modeling, she found that her older friends often asked her about the aging effect of Arizona's dry climate on their skin. The advice she gave led her into beauty care as a profession. She moved to California (and eventually ended a seven-year marriage to a real estate investor).
Nance's lucrative operation today employs five skin-care experts, including her widowed mother, Laura, and relies entirely on word-of-mouth recommendations. (She does not advertise.) What's more unusual, 40 percent of her clientele is male. "Sex has nothing to do with skin," she insists, but has found that men need more moisturizers around the eyes, mouth and neck. She even has a good word about shaving, man's daily curse. "Shaving is a form of facial exercise done when the skin is moist," she says, "and that's good for it."
Mitchell's one-and-a-half-to-two-hour facial starts with cleansing and "derma-layering," her own method of sloughing off dead skin. She applies an enzyme paste (which includes papaya and pineapple) and massages with her fingers. "Aging slows down the exfoliation of dead skin," she says. "If we keep that momentum going, shedding dead cells as fast as when we were younger, age won't show as much."
She is opposed to skin vacuuming machines and massagers ("Equipment is just drama"), explaining that "it is not good to overwork the skin. Beauticians used to say, brush, brush, brush the hair. Then they found it was breaking, splitting and pulling. So it is with skin. You just can't be working it with that intensity. It brings too much blood into the face and can break or expand capillaries."
Unlike some cosmeticians, Mitchell is against acid peels that chemically remove top layers of the skin to erase fine lines. "They result in an unnatural look, like the shiny quality of skin after it recovers from an ironing burn," she observes. She does use a steam machine—judiciously. "People think steam is moisture, but it can be very drying if abused," she says, cautioning that saunas may result in loss of body fluid and the expansion of broken capillaries. Long, hot baths can also "make for flabby skin," so she advises a short bath, tepid shower and moisturizers.
Although oily skin tends to look youthful longer, the excess oil often clogs pores. She squeezes blackheads with the aid of a tissue and says, "If you have to pick, pick with the elbows, meaning no fingernails." Afterward she applies a tightening mask and then moisturizers.
Mitchell favors makeup, as long as it is removed properly, because foundations protect the skin from smog and soot and because "I think a lot of women are much prettier with it on."
Soap on the face is a matter of preference, says Mitchell, who favors hypoallergenic, fragrance-free soaps for the face. Sunbathing is a no-no. "Whatever color a person gets will be harmful. It dries the skin and hastens the aging process," she warns. "If you must, use sun block or sunscreen and be aware that after-shave colognes, perfumes and even medication taken internally can cause discoloration of your skin. Always rinse salt water and chlorine off after swimming."
Regular exercise and diet are parts of any beauty program, Mitchell says. She drinks a half gallon of distilled water every day; eats fresh meat, fish, vegetables, fruits; avoids sugar, salt and coffee. "Anything you can do to prevent the body from heating up, inside and out, will prevent aging," she counsels. "And that includes avoiding spicy foods and smoking."
Sagging skin from dieting can also be a problem, "so diet slowly, exercise and hope the Lord is kind to you," says Mitchell. "A person will have an easier time tightening the skin if he or she is younger and has fewer pounds to shed." Otherwise there is plastic surgery. She warns that it will not create the porcelain qualities of a child's skin. Get a list of reputable surgeons from the AMA, she recommends, then consult several. "If a person gets into the hands of the proper surgeon who is a good technician and a creative individual," she says, "it can be a very exciting experience."
"This office is operated for celebrities who like to sneak in and out," says cosmetician Nance Mitchell of her apartment-salon located discreetly on residential LaPeer Drive in Beverly Hills. There the petite 35-year-old blonde gently cleanses the pores of Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Tina Louise, Lucie Arnaz, Shirley Bassey and Trapper John co-star Gregory Harrison. Jennifer Revson, a Revlon heiress, drops by for Mitchell's $40 facials ($80 for house calls). Although Nance suggests a facial every four to six weeks ("A professional can get to places on your face that you can't"), she often sees actors and actresses once a week because the damage to their skin from heavy makeup, hot lights, nerves, poor diet and lack of sleep is so extensive.