Christine Valmy, an immigrant from Communist Romania who helped build the professional skin-care industry in the United States from the ground up in the 1960s, founding the country’s first licensed skin-care school and becoming a sought-after authority in the field, died on Jan. 18 in Bucharest. She was 88.
Her daughter, Marina Valmy de Haydu, the director of the Christine Valmy international schools, confirmed the death, which was announced only recently. Ms. Valmy had homes in New York, Paris and Bucharest, where she was involved in charity work, her daughter said.
Skin care was not Ms. Valmy’s original choice of careers. By 21, soon after World War II, she had graduated from law school at the University of Bucharest. But the Communist authorities forbade her to practice law because her family owned land and properties, her daughter said; Ms. Valmy’s father was Romania’s customs director before the Communist takeover and had since been relegated to unloading ships as a stevedore.
Her disappointment, her daughter said, led to prolonged depression and a life-changing suggestion by one of her doctors: to take dermatology and cosmetology courses at the university’s medical school. She did, and after graduating in 1948, she opened a salon in Bucharest offering face treatments using botanical remedies she made herself.
But the business barely provided a living — “We were living hand-to-mouth,” her daughter said — so Ms. Valmy moved to Greece and ultimately to the United States looking for better opportunities. She arrived in New York in 1961 with just $25 to her name and her daughter and parents in tow. They settled in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Ms. Valmy was quickly surprised to discover that there were no skin-care specialists offering facials and individualized skin advice in New York — services common in Europe.
At the time, cosmetologists were so focused on the booming hairdressing trade that skin care was not even taught in cosmetology schools, said William Strunk, the president of the Aesthetics International Association, a trade group for skin-care specialists founded in 1972.
Most American women were not making a habit of thoroughly cleaning their skin, exfoliating and unclogging pores. Skin was viewed largely as a canvas for powder and blush.
“Women were just putting makeup on top of problems,” Ms. Valmy de Haydu said, but her mother “harped on the fact that people have to take care of the living organ that is their skin.”
In 1966, Ms. Valmy, a woman of regal bearing, opened a professional school on 57th Street, where she began teaching the latest techniques in skin care and how skin functioned.
“Christine was able to inspire the first wave of professional skin-care experts,” Mr. Strunk said.
She is widely credited with coining the word esthetician, which she cribbed from the French word for beautician: esthéticienne.
Magazines and newspapers solicited her advice, and she marketed a line of creams, masks and exfoliants under her name. But Ms. Valmy was quick to acknowledge that there were no miracle potions that could give someone a flawless complexion.
“It’s like caring for your teeth by brushing them three times a day,” she said. “Caring for the skin is something you have to do all the time.”
She also founded a trade group, the American Association of Estheticians, and by 1968 she had set up an American chapter of an international association of beauty therapists called Cidesco, from Comité International d’Esthétique et de Cosmétologie.
Josephine Wackett, the vice president of Cidesco International, credited Ms. Valmy with distinguishing the “scientific skin-care treatments” offered by estheticians from cosmetology, which in the United States mostly meant hairdressing and manicures. “She was a true pioneer,” Ms. Wackett said.
In 1971, Representative Lawrence J. Hogan, a Maryland Republican, entered into the Congressional Record a tribute calling Ms. Valmy a forward-thinking leader who had established her field “as an honored profession” and a source of hundreds of jobs.
To date, more than 85,000 estheticians have graduated from her 15 schools in 8 countries, including Japan and India.
She was born Christine Xantopol on Oct. 25, 1926, in Bucharest, the daughter of Christofor and Florica Xantopol. She changed her name to Valmy after arriving in the United States, taking it from the 1792 battle in which the French defeated the Prussians.
Two of her marriages ended in divorce. Her third husband, Henry Sterian, a fellow Romanian, died in 2010. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two grandsons. Her son-in-law, Peter de Haydu, is president of Christine Valmy Inc.
Ms. Valmy wrote three books, which she sometimes autographed with the inscription “Your face is my business!” “Esthetics,” a seminal textbook in the field, published in 1979, called for more rigorous standards for her profession.
In the late 1970s, Ms. Valmy and others successfully lobbied for the licensing of estheticians as a distinct profession. Before then, only a hairdressing license was legally required to treat skin.
“If you’re going to be a shoemaker,” Ms. Valmy said, “you don’t go to a tailor school.”