Wonderful Older Women: ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth

I think ‘anti-ageing’ is a negative phrase, and much prefer ‘age-enhancing’ or ‘age-defying’

September 24, 2012 | By:

In the second of her series on the wellbeing industry's inspirational figures, Jo Fairley hears about the regimes that keep a very busy businesswoman looking good

Beauty_Wonderful Older Women_ESPA’s Sue HarmsworthSusan Harmsworth MBE could make you come over all envious: she has what appears to be the best job in the world.  Not only is she the creator of the ESPA range of skincare and bodycare (one of the first British luxury ranges to use the power of aromatherapy, mud and sea minerals); she has also built a phenomenally successful global spa consultancy that has taken her round the world, many times over.

She oversees the design, development and management of five-star spas in locations from Beijing to Bali, Dubai to Delhi, Moscow to Milan. Happily, she not only has a team of 170 spa professionals helping her, but her sons Michael and Charlie now have key roles within the ESPA empire.

Sue is a former health and beauty journalist, a poacher-turned-fabulous-gamekeeper, and is a glowing example of someone who practises what she preaches while enjoying the finer things of life: good food, nice wine and – yes – sunbathing. (A no-no for many beauty industry figures, but Susan believes our bones need that vital vitamin D.)


I caught up with her one-to-one at ESPA’s latest launch, for the rather marvellous LIFESTAGE Net8 Serum (which I’ve been using ever since). It’s a one-stop shop, skincare-wise, for fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, redness, open pores and more.

Susan shares her philosophy: “I am a great believer in being the best you can at each stage of your life. We want to fight ageing, but not in a negative way. So I think ‘anti-ageing’ is a negative phrase, and much prefer ‘age-enhancing’ or ‘age-defying’!”

Here, then, is her expert advice on age-defiance:

What are your wellbeing must-haves and must-dos?

As I am in my sixties, I know how women’s bodies change. I have also been in the industry for 40 years and have worked with generations of women and all their problems at every stage. So this is a very special time for me. Health is the most important issue now. So although I am working at the same pace as in my thirties, I have to be smarter about it.

Sleep and rest is key. I have learned to shut off all technology by 9pm to start a slowdown, in order to maximise sleep. I really believe in keeping the bedroom a special place for rest, relaxation and sleep. So no emails or TV after 9pm; and mostly no stimulants either – coffee or alcohol – though, at the same time, I try not to be boring about it.

I also love my bath routine. Hot baths with lots of salts and oils are a must – even if it does make the skin a big saggy! I just keep exfoliating and use masses of moisturiser.

Staying physically strong in terms of bone and muscle is also important to me, and I have a personal trainer when I’m at home, working with the TRX rope and weights. I also ensure I swim when travelling. To improve bone strength, I walk and take Vitamin D3, magnesium, Vitamin C and fish oils.

What about skincare?

Skincare is jst second nature to me and, though I believe less is more, I can’t live without serums and oils. I also don’t believe in aggressive procedures, because keeping the skin strong – so it can deflect sun and environmental bombardment – is key. As well as my must-haves [below], I do get regular facials, because hydration becomes an issue with the travel.

How do you feel about your age?

I am 67 and loving it. There is a freedom (finally) at this stage of life.

What would the Sue Harmsworth of today tell her 20-year-old self?

Don’t run before you can walk. Live for the moment. Assume nothing. Life is not a rehearsal. Always do your best but continue to learn each and every day.

Don’t stress: angry people are usually angry at themselves, not you.

Appreciate yourself: every woman is beautiful as a person in her own way. Develop your own style; don’t copy. Be curious and ambitious. Life is not easy!

I try to teach all of the above to my team daily.

What are the five skincare/make-up products you can’t live without?

•  ESPA LIFESTAGE NET8 Serum, £100 for 30 ml

•  ESPA Regenerative Face Treatment Oil, £65 for 28 ml

•  ESPA 24 Hour Replenishing Eye Moisturiser, £35 for 25 ml

•  ESPA Refining Skin Polish, from £13 for 15 ml

•  Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser (US site), £33 for 40 ml

What wisdom have you gained over the years?

That people are the same the world over. That it is no good over-planning, as you never know what is coming round the corner. So all you can do is try to be prepared. Health is the most precious gift we have. Blood is thicker than water!

I have been lucky enough to study many, many treatment cultures, so understanding people of all types and levels is a huge gift. And it’s important to keep teaching; wisdom and experience should be passed on. Value what you have, not what you can’t have.

Do you have a favourite spa or spa treatment in the world?

I am blessed to spend a lot of my life in spas and can’t really name one in particular. We have special therapists worldwide and I have just returned from Singapore, where I had a wonderful Chinese acupressure massage in our new ESPA on Sentosa, an island off Singapore.

As we age, treatments become a necessity not a luxury, so I love anything that keeps me supple and moving better. There is a lot of proof now of the physical and mental benefit of massage in particular.

What’s the one thing that would make your life better/easier now?

Less long-haul travel!