Before Heading Back to Dallas, Barbara Bel Geddes Checked Her Face with Skin Maven Janet Sartin

updated 12/16/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/16/1985 01:00AM

For 39 years Janet Sartin has been advocating a controversial wrinkle for wrinkles—avoid moisturizers. Bianca Jagger, for one, thought Sartin was mad. "But she was right," says Bianca. "After a month, my skin became uniform and normal. I've never used moisturizers again,"

"People have been so brainwashed they think that if they don't use a moisturizer their skin will wrinkle," says Sartin. "It's actually the opposite," she notes, "moisturizers impact the pores."

Sartin's ban on moisturizers is not the only concept that has made her a maverick in the beauty field. She's also against foundations ("They cover up the skin's shortcomings and won't make blemishes disappear"); she eschews facial masks("They cause the skin to lose elasticity"), and she opposes scrub brushes and abrasive cleansing pads ("They strip the face of its natural oils"). And forget about using vitamin E on your face. "That," she declares, "is all myth and nonsense."

So what does she prescribe? Basically, getting down to basics. Sartin spells out skin care with three c's: cleansing, correction ("to bring the skin into balance") and consistency ("everyday care to maintain beautiful skin"). To aid her clients she has developed a line of 40 cleansing and cosmetic products, from soap to shampoo, sold at 40 stores here and abroad.

"She's a genius," said Vogue's fashion doyenne, Diana Vreeland, now in her 80s. Since setting up the Janet Sartin Institute in Manhattan in 1947, she has treated a host of loyal luminaries, including Diana Ross, Gloria Vanderbilt, Dustin Hoffman, Catherine Oxenberg and Barbara Bel Geddes. In the Institute's darkened, hospital-like rooms, she combines massage and electrical impulses to firm up the skin and make it more elastic. Raves Calvin Klein, 43: "Janet has the most incredible hands. To lie in the black room with no telephones and everyone speaking softly—her treatments are one of the few true luxuries I have."

For such services, Sartin commands up to $250 an hour, making her one of the top nonmedical cosmetologists. "I go beyond saying you have a dry or oily spot there," she points out. "I know something about your health. I can tell that you can't drink rich red wine or that you might be allergic to shellfish. The skin is a great tattletale." Men, who make up a quarter of Sartin's clientele, have their own problems. "Shaving gives them a lot of irritation," she notes. "New hair can't penetrate the skin because of this; the result is ingrown hairs." Her solution: an astringent to use after shaving and at night.

Sartin learned about skin care in 1937 when she landed a job in Manhattan with famed Hungarian Dr. Erno Laszlo. "My first client was Katharine Hepburn," Sartin recalls. "I couldn't believe it, having this famous face in my hands." After nine years, Sartin, who grew up in New Jersey the daughter of a medical supplies manufacturer, set up her own salon. A divorcée, Sartin married Alexander Greenberg, a dry-goods salesman who helped run the business until his death in 1975 (their son, Cary, works in the company).

Sartin, who keeps fit by swimming four to six laps twice a week and eats no meat, is renowned for her youthful appearance (she is in her mid-60s). "You're only as young and beautiful as your skin," she insists, and adds firmly, "I don't believe in chronological age."

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