In 1928, Elizabeth Arden introduced a new facial treatment into her salons advertised as the Vienna Youth Mask. It used a well-established medical procedure generally referred to today as ‘medical diathermy’.
Elizabeth Arden’s Vienna Youth Mask used diathermy to warm up the facial tissues of clients so, like other beauty treatments – such as massage, patters and circulation creams – its primary effect was to stimulate blood circulation.
The Vienna Youth Mask stimulates the circulation, producing health as Nature herself does, through a constantly renewed blood supply.
The amazing value of this treatment lies in the depth to which it penetrates, causing the blood to flow in a rich purifying stream to underlying tissues and muscles…charging them with new youth and vigor. It stirs the circulation as no external friction or massage can possible do.
Concentrated on the face and neck, as the treatment is given in Miss Arden’s Salons, it is as though electric energy were poured into your very veins. Fresh blood flushes the surface, carrying away impurities. The skin is cleared and brightened. Best of all, there comes an exuberant, glad-to-be-alive feeling, a freedom from fatigue that is the true measure of health.
However, there is more to the Vienna Youth Mask than this; as mentioned in the profile of Elizabeth Arden in ‘The New Yorker’ published in 1935, the Vienna Youth Mask also has links to the rejuvenation therapies that generated a lot of interest in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Vienna Youth Mask, perhaps more than any other Arden creation, represents the accommodation of science to the beauty business. Arden thought it up ten years ago, in Vienna, when she heard Professor Steinach talk about diathermy—the application of heat to tissues in the body by means of electrical current—and the benefits derived from it by soldiers whose muscles and nerves had been injured in the World War. Physicians for some thirty years have used this method in treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, but it took Elizabeth Arden to turn it into a beauty treatment. With one Dr. Last of Vienna, she invented the Youth Mask, a device made of papier-mâché and lined with tinfoil, which is fitted over the client’s face and connected by conducting cords to a diathermy machine. Arden’s belief is that electricity so replenishes the cells in a woman’s face, which, she says, die first under the eyes, and next under the chin. Medicine offers no corroboration for the Arden theory; diathermy does stimulate circulation, but it cannot restore dead cells.
There were two rejuvenation treatments with links to Beauty Culture. The first was devised by Serge Voronoff [1866-1951], a French surgeon of Russian extraction; the second – mentioned by ‘The New Yorker’ article – was developed by the Viennese physiologist Eugen Steinach.
Serge Voronoff’s rejuvenation work centred around experiments involving testicular transplants in animals. In 1920, his research culminated in the transplantation of thin slices of testicular tissue from a chimpanzee into the scrotum of a human male – reputedly his older brother Georges Voronoff. This rejuvenation treatment was widely copied in the 1930s and led to monkey gland operations being carried out on men around the world.
Voronoff’s work was followed by Helena Rubinstein who even went so far as to claim that she had studied with him. This interest by Rubinstein in glands, and hormones in general, would culminate in her introducing hormones into cosmetics in 1931.
See also: Hormone Creams, Oils and Serums
A similar interest in testicular tissue was followed by Eugen Steinach. However, rather than transplanting testicular tissue, Steinach used vasoligation to ‘restore youth and vitality’, arguing that his procedure triggered the proliferation of hormone secreting cells in the testes. Again, his ‘Steinach operation’ was widely adopted in medical circles and numerous procedures were carried out on men around the world.
Experiments to use both of these techniques on women were also conducted; Voronoff transplanted ovarian tissue from female monkeys into women as a treatment for menopause, and some women had their ovaries treated with low doses of X-rays, supposedly the female equivalent of the testicular ligation of Eugen Steinach.
As the 1935 ‘New Yorker’ article makes clear, there is a direct link between Steinach and Elizabeth Arden but also with a Dr. Last (a colleague of Steinach), who was working on female rejuvenation, but had switched from irradiating ovarian tissue with X-rays to heating them with a diathermy machine. It was this Dr. Last that Arden hired to develop the diathermy machine she used to power the Vienna Youth Mask.
Understandably, both Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein were following any research that showed promise as an anti-ageing treatment. In the long run Helena Rubinstein’s use of hormones would prove to be more significant to Beauty Culture. Until they were regulated and then banned by health authorities around the world, cosmetic companies large and small rushed to included hormones in their skin care lines from the 1930s onwards.
Diathermy as a warming treatment did not do as well in salons and, as far as I can tell, no major salon-based company followed Elizabeth Arden’s lead in the use of these machines in body-warming treatments in the 1930s. Arden herself abandoned the Vienna Youth Mask in 1938, replacing it with another diathermic treatment, the Intra-Cellular Mask.
Elizabeth Arden maintains that there is no face so lost to beauty that it cannot be transformed, revivified, remodelled. To this end, she has now created, with the aid of a continental specialist in electro-therapy, the INTRA-CELLULAR MASK. It is designed to promote the health of the actual cells which comprise the tissues of the face by means of a new method of adapting micro-waves to this particular purpose, and is an outstanding achievement. For women over thirty, for women whose tissues have become depleted through illness or worry whatever their age, the Intra-Cellular Mask treatments are invaluable. The Intra-Cellular Mask, itself, is a simple perfectly co-ordinated electrical device, confirming in every detail to the rigid tests imposed by Miss Arden and the scientist who designed it with her. The treatment is always given by a graduate nurse, trained especially in electro-therapy work. It is followed by Miss Arden’s Muscle Strapping treatment and proper make-up, which are included in the price of the complete course.
The reason for the switch to the Intra-Cellular Mask in 1938 may be simple. In that year the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) was passed in the United States and Arden may have reasoned that officials from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), charged with administering the Act, would be unlikely to look kindly at a treatment that used either ‘Vienna’ or ‘Youth’ in its name; Intra-Cellular Mask would be less likely to produce regulatory problems.
Updated: 29th April 2015
Cumberbatch, E. P. (1937). Diathermy including diathermotherapy and other forms of medical and surgical electrothermic treatment (3rd ed.). Great Britain: William Heinemann (Medical Books) Ltd.
Harriman, M. C. (1935). Glamour, Inc. The New Yorker, April 4, 24-30.
Miller, N. L. & Fulmer, B. R. (2007). Injection, ligation and transplantation: The search for the glandular fountain of youth. The Journal of Urology. 177(6), 2000-2005.
Trimmer, E. J. (1967). Rejuvenation. The history of an idea. London: The Scientific Book Club.