Sue Arnold: Give me the face of a 50-year-old any day

'I'm not altogether sure I go along with Catherine Deneuve's well-travelled road face theory'
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It would have made more sense, surely, if the cosmetics company that has just sidelined Liz Hurley had replaced her not with a younger model but with an older one. Her mother, say, or better still her granny, if she's still around and up to it.

What's the point of a 20-year-old advertising Estée Lauder's lifting, toning and firming moisturiser cream which, I'd better warn you before you race out to buy it, costs £110 for a pretty meagre jar. Twenty-year-old faces don't need lifting, firming and toning. It's the 40-plus face that requires the regular oil change, the underpinning and the compost.

Mean as I am, I'd be far more likely to fork out one hundred quid on skin cream if Sophia Loren or Jeanne Moreau, both well past 50 but still devastatingly glamorous, were promoting it. Come to think of it, Catherine Deneuve – another 50-something femme fatale – only agreed to do the L'Oréal campaign if they promised not to airbrush out a single line. The lines on a woman's face, explained Ms Deneuve, are like the roads on a map. The more lines she has, the more interesting her journey has been.

Mmm, well, it sounds romantic but I'm not altogether sure I go along with her well-travelled road face theory. There are maps and maps. I'd probably settle for the Michelin guide to Exmoor but I'm not sure I'd be too happy if my face looked like the London A-Z.

The best face cream I've ever had came free with the facial I'd just been given by a toothless old woman in Kerala. There was a handwritten sign on the beach saying "beauty parlour" and an arrow pointing into the undergrowth and, since I had nothing to do one afternoon, I thought I'd give it a whirl. Even by South Indian standards it was cheap. I'm not exactly sure how much the facial cost, because I had everything – shampoo, massage, manicure, pedicure and facial – all of which came to just under £5. It wasn't luxurious. The salon was a wooden hut about five foot square with a concrete floor, a single plastic chair and no running water. Two small boys kept the bucket in the corner constantly filled from the outside tap.

It was amazing what that toothless old woman achieved with a comb, a plastic bowl and a small piece of flannel, which, as far as I could make out, she used in every one of my treatments – including the pedicure and facial. As I left, she appeared to be mopping the floor with it.

No matter. It was easily the most economic and rewarding four hours I'd ever spent. My hair shone, my nails gleamed and my skin was as dewy fresh and luminous as, well the face of Estée Lauder. As for the skin cream, there was another, smaller bucket next to the water bucket containing a thick pungent solution the colour of treacle and not unlike lumpy porridge, which my beauty therapist scooped into a jam jar and handed to me as I left.

"Ugh," said a friend who has devoted her entire life to finding the perfect moisturiser. "I wouldn't clean my shoes with it." Neither would I, but it's done miracles for my face. This exchange, I should tell you, took place in London's most fashionable spa, where my friend was enjoying a so-called indulgence day. For £150 she was spending the entire day swimming, sun-bedding and being generally pampered.

We were lunching in the conservatory; I, as a visitor, being the only one not wearing a towelling bathrobe. At a distance they all looked like the inmates of a mental institution.

"You women," said a male acquaintance when we emerged. "You wouldn't catch men wasting their time on such nonsense."

Nonsense, indeed. Another male acquaintance told me with satisfaction that he had just been given a completely new beauty regime that included eye moisturising, scrub, bionic plant exfoliant and age maintenance night lotion.

Not the face of Estée Lauder, I take it? "No," he said. "Men don't need role models."

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