Legendary skincare expert Eve Lom believes we use too many beauty products and should concentrate on cleansing and letting our skin breathe
Eve Lom is scrutinising my face. "I think you are very sensitive to acidity - metal, definitely, and strong smells - which go directly into the sinuses and you might have a slight problem with wheezing. You get quite deeply intoxicated whatever you breathe in - and it reflects on the skin."
Wheezing? Ooh, lovely and glamorous. But she's spot on. How can Lom tell all this just by looking at me?
The Czech-born skin guru, who splits her time between Paris and London puts her hands on my jaw and diagnoses further trouble. "You have a slight problem with the breathing and the gastrooesophageal junction, where it joins the stomach, because of the slight red blotchy areas. I think you could benefit from craniosacral therapy to release any restrictions."
Seeing my expression, she laughs: "I'm not a witch."
In fact Lom, 59, who has no children, is one of the finest facialists in the world. It's rare to get an interview with her. Since she first launched the high-end cosmetics company that carries her name in London in 1985, she has become a multi-millionaire with the likes of Kate Hudson, Eva Mendes and Lauren Bacall for clients.
Her cult product is a wax-based cleanser that smells like Christmas pudding - which is massaged on to dry skin, then steamed with hot compresses using a muslin cloth. It's on every beauty editor's Top 10. But she is also an expert in anatomy, nutrition and massage.
She has no time for pseudoscience. She thinks anti-ageing creams are a bit of a con - and has zero tolerance for Botox and chemical peels. "The problem is we are bombarded with products. Fifty years ago it was just cleanse, tone, moisturise. Today the phrase I hear over and over from women is: 'I'm confused.' And I think that's why I am so successful. Because they see I keep my range to a minimum, and my main emphasis is on cleansing and exfoliating."
Eve Lom products, in their dinky white pots with gold lettering, aren't cheap. The cult Cleanser costs £45 for 100ml, but it does replace toner, exfoliator and make-up remover - and anyone who has bought her best-selling Rescue Mask knows it lasts an age.
The first thing she does when someone comes to her with a problem is to get them to reduce the number of products they are putting on their skin. We may be buying more skin products than ever before, but acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis are on the increase. If we let our skin breathe more, we'd look and feel better for it. "It's all down to oxygen, water and food."
She tells me sternly that I should never put moisturiser on my T-zone - nose, chin and forehead. "I think the worst part is that we are over-lubricating, overclogging. We are doing far too much for the skin, and the skin doesn't like it. So what happens is it stops functioning properly."
Her whole routine takes three minutes. "I am a desperately impatient person." The secret is to get rid of dead skin cells, which clog the pores, to allow the new cells to come through. She compares it - with real gusto - to scrubbing the kitchen floor before polishing it. "If your skin isn't clean, anti-ageing cream isn't even going to penetrate. It's like putting that cream on concrete." For oily skin like mine, the trick is to apply heat to the pores so the oil can be melted down - otherwise it will stay under the first layer of skin and you get a spot.
She has a reputation for straight talking. "From the minute you're born, the skin starts dying," she says brutally. But she is very much on women's side. Her secret is pleasure - but in moderation.
We are doing far too much for the skin, and the skin doesn't like it. So what happens is it stops functioning properly
She has no time for pub culture - where we drown our sorrows - but is nostalgic for the old days where people drank for pleasure "and a martini lasted you two hours". Her own pick- me-up is a plate of liver and a glass of rosé.
It seems to work. Tall, thin, blonde, she looks a decade younger. Yes, there are laughter lines around her eyes, but this is a face full of energy and curiosity.
"I like things that are clean, ironed and starched. I can't do that any more with my face," she jokes. Her latest trick is to wear "decoy" glasses with little blue studs so no one actually notices the wrinkles.
She has a routine - stretching, deep breathing - but she hates the gym. If her trousers get too tight, that's the time for "one glass less, one piece of bread less".
Lom isn't your typical beauty maven. She can talk about opera, politics, anatomy (she attends cranial dissections in her spare time).
She's horrified by our perfectionist society where everybody wants to live for ever. "We want to be beautiful and young, and therefore we go for Botox, we go for surgery - and on the other hand we want natural food. These are huge contradictions. We don't want to do simple things, drink water, cleanse."
Yes, cleansing is old-fashioned, unglamorous even - but nothing beats a good scrub. "The Japanese, the Turks... all those women in harems, they soak for ever, scrubbing their skins off. The more you exfoliate on that gentle level, the more the skin cells come through - and that, to me, is rejuvenation."
The pressure is so high today, she laments. "I feel sorry for Madonna. To be in that firing line, I think I would die, I would be paralysed. Because every move, every step, every wrinkle that she shows, every sleepless night, that's it. But the beauty of her is she's got the stamina to do it. At the age of 50, my God! I admire her because her arms are like rocks. I don't know which one is the man or the woman in that couple. He looks more feminine than she does," she adds, sotto voce. "Isn't that funny?"
Her idol is Carla Sarkozy. "She started the whole return to femininity. We needed a little bit of a wakeup saying, 'Hey, just try and be a little elegant sometime.' She's very clever. I hear she may be trying to IVF at 42. Why not? Twenty years ago, a woman of 35 was considered an old woman if she had a child."
Lom grew up in rural Czechoslovakia. Her mother was in and out of sanatoriums until she died of TB when Lom was 16, leaving her in the care of her grandparents.
"My granny was a practising witch doctor, there were not many products in Czechoslovakia then so granny used to send us into the hills to collect camomile, mushrooms, blueberries, hops, flowers and herbs and she used to make them into potions to heal people's ailments. It stuck with me and I still use camomile in my facials today."
In 1968 the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. Lom, whose father was a politician, was an idealist. She threw Molotov cocktails at Russian tanks. To avoid prison, she fled to Paris in 1968, when she was 18, where she worked as a dancer. When she tried to return home she found herself ostracised by the communist regime. She didn't see her family for 11 years.
She stayed in France, a political refugee without nationality: "a terrible humiliation". Naturalisation took seven years. It is to this loss of identity that Lom attributes her sense of drive and, in particular, her wish to create a brand in her own name.
It's a feeling that never dies. Today she tells me: "It just started niggling me a bit seeing the Russian invasion of Georgia.
I tell you, no matter how long you live your life, when it comes to something like this, Jesus, it throws you back years. Every night I keep this sadness in me. And we are to a degree helpless."
In Paris she married the English-Czech actor, Herbert Lom (Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films), then spent the next few years following him around the world. She loved him but hated being a "bored housewife". "I didn't want to be Mrs Lom. I didn't want to live in Hollywood."
Yet it was in Hollywood that Lom met renowned skin specialist Georgette Klinger, who inspired her to become a facialist. She also began to pick up her starry client list here. She became fascinated by the therapeutic side of beauty, studying lymphatic drainage, cranial osteopathy and nutrition.
When they came to live in London, she tried to sell her favourite beauty products but was turned down. So she started mixing her own concoctions in yoghurt pots. "The cleanser came from a place of anger." She started up her own salon in 1983 and teamed up with a Czech skin specialist to launch herself as a brand.
The marriage to Lom ended - but she kept his name after the divorce. "I had registered it before and, besides, it is an anagram of Love Me, which I like."
She remarried a Turkish Cypriot who helped her run the business and in 1994 she got her first outlet, in Dickins & Jones. She says she sobbed like a child when she handed over her pots.
Recently Lom sold the company to Space NK because the business had become so successful, though she remains very hands on. "We had 120 per cent increase every month and we needed infrastructure. My husband at the time was 67 and he said: 'If something happens to me, I don't want to leave you in a mess'."
Now they are separated and Lom says she has been looking again. Like many fifty-something women she is unimpressed.
"As I go through the airport, I think, 'God, I wouldn't even go near this one!' she laughs. "You can't help comparing: I mean, a man of my age is just a complete creep physically. Women really do pay more attention to themselves, but men are catching up. For me, when a man uses salve and eye cream and serum... I'm sorry, but with all due respect... Just shave, don't smell, have a nicely ironed shirt. That's a man."
So what next? When she retires, she's threatening to tour all the major opera festivals for an entire summer. But she's still involved at Space NK. And you can book in for a private session with Eve at her clinic in Spanish Place.
She talks in horror of the cosmetic companies who design the pots first - and then just fill them up. Because Lom understands just how much women suffer over their skin.
"The cleanser has been on the market for 20 years now and it is getting stronger and stronger," she says proudly. "It's hope in a jar."
Yet she tells me she's always loathed the word "pamper".
"My driving force has always been anger, it's my adrenaline," she says, with a wink.
Eve Lom Treatment, 2 Spanish Place, W1 (020 7935 9988, www. evelom.com)
BEAUTY REVIEW: EVE LOM
What is it?
This facial consists of a consultation followed by a deep cleanse and warm wax application to the face. Lymphatic drainage techniques, including muscle tension release, and a relaxation massage are performed. A camphor and eucalyptus mask is applied followed by warm camomile pads placed on the eyes.
What does it claim?
Decongested, radiant skin. The massage stimulates circulation and cell renewal. any science to it? The therapist uses massage to unblock the lymph nodes and help drain congestion and puffiness under the eyes due to blocked sinuses, hay fever or allergies.
What's it like?
You relax under layers of towels as the therapist applies Lom's legendary cleanser. This is followed by a thick coating of warm paraffin wax, to open up your pores. Next, the therapist peels back the wax and starts removing blackheads. Then she gives you an acupressure massage of back, arms and chest. The clay mask is applied to clean out sinuses and relax pores, then ice cold water is pressed onto the face to close pores. Finally, day cream containing wild flower oils is applied.
My skin looked squeaky clean and glowing. Despite the blackhead extraction, there were no red marks. And I genuinely felt less congested. I'll certainly be back.
Cost and details
One hour 30 minutes, £115, at Space NK, Westbourne Grove, W11 (020 7727 8002). To find your nearest Eve Lom therapist contact Space NK customer services on 020 8740 2085, www. spaceNK.co.uk