Facials pioneer Aida Thibiant, 80, is retiring

Thibiant was known as “face saver to the stars” and launched her own spa in 1972. Her next move: “I always dreamed of having my skin-care line everywhere.”
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

AT ONCE homey and luxurious -- boasting a staff of mostly European and Russian aestheticians who will tell you straight-up when it’s time to wax that cheek fuzz -- Thibiant Beverly Hills has been an institution for 33 years, having deep-cleaned the pores of almost every major star, including Deborah Harry, Jodie Foster, Rod Stewart and Hayden Panettiere.

But even well-moisturized eras must end. Now 80, Aida Thibiant is retiring and selling her business to plastic surgeon Harry Glassman and his business partner, Herminio Llevat. Though Thibiant will stay on for a year as a consultant, the new owners will be converting the business into a medical spa by September, delegating a suite of treatment rooms for Botox, Restylane and lasers.

The change-over is a sign of the times, as more spas morph into medical facilities. Facials can delay aging, but injections can erase time -- if only temporarily.

Thibiant is part of a generation of beauty pioneers (think Estée Lauder and Georgette Klinger) who took the concept of skin care from at-home, waxy cold creams to professionally administered regimens. But with the rise of filler injections, that epoch is also ending.

“I wasn’t going toward the medi-spa, but that’s the future,” said Thibiant, who speaks with a lilting Armenian accent and is usually clad in a neat tweed Chanel or Escada. “I have to follow the flow.”

Glassman, who will be at the spa two days a week, said the facility and its staff will otherwise remain unchanged.

Thibiant, who was raised in France and studied to be an aesthetician in Paris in the 1950s, immigrated to L.A. with her late husband Michel Thibiant and her two teenage sons in 1970. Back then, few Americans knew what an aesthetician was.

But they soon learned. While she was working at the Sanctuary, a trendy fitness center in Beverly Hills in the early ‘70s, Thibiant’s facials became a favorite of Ali McGraw and other celebrities, garnering glowing reviews in Vogue and beauty journals that coined her the “face saver to the stars.” Her philosophy was to “always nurture, build up and protect the skin,” or to let the skin do what it’s able to do naturally. Not exactly a medi-spa doctrine.

She launched her first spa in Beverly Hills in 1972. Her tough-love facial became the industry standard: It emphasized deep cleaning over easy massage, meaning extractions to the nth degree.

In the 1980s, she developed the still-popular skin-care line Principal Secret with Victoria Principal. Her TV spots helped solidify the current mode of celebrity-paired-with-expert format in beauty infomercials.

Even though Thibiant is retiring, her products are not. Llevat will work with Thibiant in the coming year to create a new skin care line, the first to be distributed outside the spa. The beauty maven has lots of practice, having launched her first products in 1978 via Thibiant International Inc., a beauty manufacturing factory in Chatsworth that Michel Thibiant spearheaded in the ‘70s. It now manufactures Guinot Paris skin care products in the U.S. and others for big-name beauty conglomerates.

“I always dreamed of having my skin-care line everywhere,” she said. “I didn’t have time to do it before. You actually can do everything, but you can’t do everything perfectly. And now it’s going to happen after I retire.” Thibiant smiles and shakes her head. “It’s unbelievable.”