"Stop saying that!" cries her hairstylist, Serge Normant, throwing his hands up in the air. He has been fussing with her fine, blonde bob, a kind of Dutchboy cut with long, funky bangs and a modern angle shaped into the back. "I hate long hair on old ladies," says Barkin. Serge vehemently disagrees, but concedes that short and edgy suit Ellen fine. "She's got terrific style," he says.
She does. She's also terrifically approachable and down-to-earth and funny and actually, despite her aversion to looking at herself, quite happy to be of a certain age. "I have no problem being 53," she says. "Why would I want to be 35 again? I want to discover who I am in my 50s. And if I tried too hard to look younger, it would seem that I was uncomfortable with who I am, wouldn't it?" She happens not to be feeling especially well—she spiked a fever the night before—but she's a trouper in front of the camera, joking around, halfheartedly lamenting the condition of her body ("May I have some help with the posing, here?" she says at one point, looking down at her leg as she settles into a chair. "I like this nice line, running down my leg, of aging skin. I can only hope you'll feature that. I can only hope..."). The most surprising and consistent thing about her, though, is that she is unutterably nice. Unpretentious. Humble. Generous. (She leaves me a voice mail not an hour after the shoot; I'd asked her what products were in her medicine cabinet. "Hey, Val, it's Ellen," she says in her smoky voice. "I'm standing here in my bathroom and I'm looking at my moisturizers...I've got a lot of Starline stuff from Switzerland....") Though there are some things she declines to talk about, including her teenage son and daughter, and her divorce from billionaire Ronald Perelman, she is remarkably open about her beauty routine—like how she maintains her radiant complexion (it hurts), and what she's tried that she won't do again. Plus, your handy cheat sheet: Ellen's beauty rules for life after 50
What she never does that most people do every day: "I don't take showers; I find them assaulting. I bathe. Sometimes I take two baths a day. And I'm big on bath products: I love Jo Malone Amber & Lavender Bath Oil, and I like the Bliss scrubs."
What she does in the bath that you wouldn't do to your best friend: "I use a hard-bristle brush on my body to exfoliate. You might think it would hurt, but it doesn't. Maybe I have a high pain threshold."
Another thing she doesn't do every day: "I wash my hair once a week; twice a week at most. I don't think daily shampooing is good for your hair."
Just a few of the things she does in bed: "I sleep a lot—about nine hours every night. I always read or watch movies till about 2 a.m. If I'm alone, I might apply a hydrating mask before I get into bed. Sometimes after I shampoo, I'll put Kérastase conditioner on my wet hair and sleep with it like that."
How she resembles a puppy: "I have huge hands and feet. I'm 5'6" and wear a size 10 shoe."
The first thing she does the minute she gets home: "I take off my clothes and put on my silk Olatz PJ's. I have many, many pairs. Or else I'll wear sweats and a cotton tee. No bra—if I could give up anything in the world, I'd give up wearing a bra. Though I do have lots of pretty ones: Agent Provocateur, La Perla, Le Mystère."
What she thinks is worse than an old woman who's too thin: "Nothing."
Her favorite line: "Old is the new sexy."
How she regards beauty maintenance: "It's an ongoing process, like coloring my hair. I wouldn't just color it once and then let it grow in brown and gray!"
What she does for exercise: "I work out with [trainer] David Kirsch three times a week. I do weights, floor exercises, sit-ups and push-ups. No aerobics."
And she doesn't do aerobics because... "I'm lazy. And I've never had a weight issue. I gained 50 pounds with each of my two kids, but after they were born, the weight just dropped away and I was thinner than before I got pregnant."
Why she loved being pregnant: "I've never taken up much space. But when I was pregnant, I took up a lot of space."
Why many women might want to kill her: "At any given time, I'd like to gain about seven pounds."
What she never uses on her face: "Acids. I used Retin-A for about 10 years. But now I see Cristina Radu, a facialist in Los Angeles, every six weeks. She took me off all acidic products. (Radu believes that acids make the skin overly sensitive and irritated, and should be used only occasionally.) Now I use a gentle scrub twice a day for exfoliation, and very rich moisturizers in the Cellcosmet skincare line."
Oh...actually...except once every two weeks... "I use Dr. Brandt [peeling system] Laser A-Peel, which, now that I think of it, has acids in it."
What she tried once and will never, ever do again: "Botox. I don't like the way it makes people look. Too many people go overboard, and for an actress, that's deadly. It keeps you from being able to have expressions. Some actresses who used to have a beautiful smile have this weird kind of oval thing they do with their mouths instead. They can't frown anymore, either. They look like they've lost their minds."
Why she hasn't had a facelift: "I didn't get my nose fixed; my whole face is crooked. Any plastic surgeon would look at me and try to even it out, and to do that he'd have to change everything, straighten my nose, make my eyes rounder. I don't want to do that!"
What she would like to have if she knew how to get it: "Just a tighter version of my face."
One of the ways she's trying to get it now: "Thermage [a radiofrequency treatment that's used to tighten skin and encourage the growth of collagen]. I've been having it three times a year for the past three years."
What she thinks it's doing for her: "Really, I don't know. And it's painful—like burning-hot elastic bands snapping against my face. But I keep doing it."
Wait, there's more: "I also have Fraxel [a laser treatment that's used to improve skin texture]. It doesn't hurt, there's hardly any downtime, and I've seen a huge difference in my skin."
Oh, and more: "And every time I have Fraxel, I also have a peel."
Oops, and more: "I've used a filler. But I have it done only here and there, not all over my face. People are having fillers injected into their jaws; they look like squirrels."
So that's it, right? "For now. I'd never say I'll never have a facelift, but I'm way too scared of looking like a different person. I have no philosophical or political position on plastic surgery; I just don't want to look crazy. And I don't like not being able to tell how old someone is: It's creepy."
What her friend Susan Sarandon told her about being an actor and looking older: "She said, 'They'll always need women to play people's mothers. Then those of us who don't have plastic surgery will have jobs.'"
Who she wants to resemble at 60: "My mother."
Actresses whose looks she admires: "Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Annette Bening, all those girls who don't play around with their faces."
What kind of bag she's carrying: "Balenciaga."
And what's in it: "My cell phone, glasses—I had LASIK 10 years ago, but it wore off—sunglasses, Airborne [herbal immune booster], Rosebud Salve, my keys, vitamins and an energy packet, my wallet, a lucky eye from my producing partner Caroline Kaplan, and an amulet from each of my kids."
There's no makeup in there? "No, I usually don't wear it. On a regular day, I curl my lashes with a Shu Uemura curler and apply lots of moisturizer. If I'm going out to lunch, I'll use a black Maybelline waterproof mascara—my eyes tear—and maybe a little Chantecaille concealer and Rosebud Salve. No blush because my cheeks are pink enough."
No makeup, even when she's going out to dinner? "If I'm going out with friends, I'll also do my eyebrows with pencil. And if I'm getting really dressed up, I'll smudge a black Stila eyeliner pencil on my upper lid. I also like CoverGirl lipstick, a sheer nude. And Stila glosses, because they stay put, but they're a little sticky if you're kissing. I never wear foundation. Or eyeshadow, unless I'm being photographed."
And what does she carry in a little evening bag? "Powder, because you don't want shine [if you're on the red carpet], and lipstick and maybe a black eyeliner pencil, and my phone. But actually, I try not to carry a bag at all; makeup really stays on my face, so I don't need touch-ups, and it's not like if someone needed to reach me they wouldn't know where I was..."
A clue, maybe, as to why she is so regular and approachable: "My two front teeth were broken when I was 10. They were chipped in a huge V. I had caps put on, but they were always falling off. One day when I was 13, they fell off as I leaned out our third-floor window at home talking to my boyfriend. After that, I didn't replace them till I was 19. I mean, it wasn't enough to have the little eyes and the crooked nose, but I had to have the broken teeth, too."