It's impossible to talk about American culture in the 1960s — the style, the beauty, the politics — without mention of the Kennedy family, specifically the icon that was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The New York-born former First Lady was every bit the well-manicured beauty, recognizable by her tailored skirt suits, perfectly-coiffed brunette bouffant, and sun-kissed complexion.
To care for the latter, Jackie O. was reportedly a loyal client of NYC-based, Hungarian dermatologist Erno Laszlo, who also treated Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe during that era. Now, thanks to archives released by the Dr. Erno Laszlo Institute, on loan to NYC's Makeup Museum, we have a never-before-seen peek into what the Kennedy's medicine cabinet might have looked like — including Jackie's prescribed skin-care routine — and some of the products are still available today.
Below, you'll find the typewritten artifact detailing Jackie's bespoke skin-care consultation, as well as advice for her husband President John F. Kennedy, prescribed by Dr. Laszlo and dated May 1, 1963 — six months before the president's untimely death. Heading into the summer of '63, the order breaks down seasonal-specific guidelines for the weeks they would spend on their last vacation in Cape Cod, and it also shows the lengths Jackie went to in maintaining her very public image. "This document is a historical gem," says Doreen Bloch, Co-Founder and Executive Director at the Makeup Museum. "It speaks to the role of women in society, and the importance of beauty and flawless imagery in politics in the 1950s and 1960s."
The tone of the dermatologist's letter is intimate, and the details are precise (and somewhat unorthodox). He instructs Jackie to use facial toner on her armpits, eat a protein-rich diet with lots of fish "no matter what kind," and to forgo her sunhat, "because sun is good for her, and she should not be afraid of brown spots, he will make them fade in the fall."
As it pertains to her morning and night routine, Jackie was instructed to slather on two products daily: Erno Laszlo Light Controlling Lotion (a gentle exfoliating toner) and Erno Laszlo Phelityl Oil (a pre-cleansing oil). The dermatologist begins his note by giving his off-label use for the facial toner as an armpit treatment, instructing Jackie to apply her Light Controlling Lotion to her underarms as she would to her face. Dr. Laszlo also recommends she massage the Phelityl Oil into her arms and legs, likely to keep her body well moisturized.
Beyond curating her medicine cabinet, the document also features a suggested meal plan, presumably for her skin health. From two hard-boiled eggs with breakfast to beef and/or fish for lunch and dinner, Dr. Laszlo prescribed Jackie a protein-rich diet and permitted champagne. According to the record, "that is about the only thing she drinks." The document also notes that the doctor recommends Jackie exercise by walking, but claims that it "bores her."
Throughout the letter, Laszlo makes clear that the former First Lady should avoid heavy moisturizers and oils on her face over the summer. "Dr. stresses upon the importance of never applying more oil or creams on the face than what he has advised in his Instructions," the note reads. "Otherwise, the 'bumps' will never disappear, and blackheads and pimples will reappear." The detail suggests that during her visits with the dermatologist, Jackie might have exhibited skin concerns — pimples or other acne — which is why she was explicitly instructed to avoid potentially pore-clogging oils.
The prescription then gets even more intimate, with Dr. Laszlo giving Jackie instructions catered to her husband President John F. Kennedy — specifically about how to treat the reported breakouts on his back. According to the letter, Jackie was guided to smooth the Active version of the Phelityl Oil (a variation which has since been discontinued) on his back to prevent breakouts and irritation from frequent bathing. "[His back] is so dry and breaks out in pimples, because he has to take four baths a day," the document claims.
To help, Dr. Laszlo recommended the late President coat his back in Phelityl Oil before sinking into the bath, and then use the Light Controlling Lotion afterwards. "Mrs. K said she was not sure whether he would do all this," the note says. "However, if it gets really bad she thinks he would, but she will speak to him anyway."
While only two products mentioned on the prescription exist today — the Erno Laszlo Light Controlling Lotion and Phelityl Oil — they both seem to be foolproof summer skin-care investments if you want your studio apartment bathroom outfitted like a waterfront mansion on the Cape circa 1963.
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