Updated: Oct 1, 2019
When I first moved to France as an Au Pair in the French Alps, I think I spent 90% of my 75€/week allowance on French beauty products. Just google "French pharmacy products" and you'll see about a million links to articles on cult-favorite French beauty products from pharmacies. And "cult" is not an understatement. French women swear by their products along with youtubers, bloggers and the many people who have found themselves between the bright & shiny shelves of a French pharmacy.
So what is a French pharmacy?
Unlike the pharmacies in the US, you will find no chips & candy, no hallmark cards and definitely no refrigerators stocked with sodas and beers. French pharmacies are all about health and beauty. You'll find everything from over-the-counter and prescription drugs, sunscreen, essential oils, soaps scented with lavender from Provence to the shelves and shelves of cleansing milks, facial oils, micellar waters, serums, creams and thermal spring water mists.
And these little babies are everywhere. There are over 22,000 pharmacies in France and can pretty much be found on every street corner. Just look for the blinking green cross. Having a bad day? Why not a new face serum? Or a beauty elixir by Caudalie? It makes everything a little better.
So a little bit of a French pharmacy addict myself I decided to ask the pharmacists if they had any secrets of their own that they'd be willing to share.
Here's what I learned:
#1 Think Simple
Most people imagine the french girl as beautiful without trying, hair imperfectly coiffed as if she just lifted her head from a silk pillowcase with their skin dewy and bright. After living in France, I can tell you this isn't always true, but there is some truth in this.
One of the first things a pharmacist told me was: "Sois simple." Or "Be simple." You don't need a million products in your bathroom cabinet to have glowing, bright skin. It's also about eating healthy, drinking water, and getting exercise, and then following with those few essentials that you'll find below.
#2 Micellar Water: le good et le bad
The number one essential each and every pharmacist recommended was: l'eau micellar, or micellar water. If you've read anything about French beauty products this is probably one you've heard about. The water in Paris is notoriously harsh so many women decided to start cleaning their skin with this "water" instead.
According to the French beauty site, Femme Actuel,
"L'eau micellar gets its name from the tensioactive micelles that clean the skin by attaching to impurities. Micellar water doesn't contain soap or perfumes so it is suitable for all skin types. It feels like water, but has the efficiency of a making-removing oil, but with less of that greasy feeling."
Unfortunately, critics say that it might not provide a thorough cleanse. So if a simple cotton ball and micellar water isn't working for you day & night, try a double-cleanse routine by using it before you use a regular face wash to ensure twice the clean. Also, watch out for brands that add perfumes or other irritants! Here are the links to three brands that pose no issues.
#3 Trust brands like Caudalie, La Roche-Posay, Nuxe, and Avène, but don't be afraid to try things you may not have heard of
When I asked the pharmacists their most popular brands their answers contained a lot of France's most popular beauty brands including Caudalie, La Roche-Posay, Nuxe, BioDerma, Vichy and Avène.
But there are other brands like Dauphin, Delarom and Klorane that are popular in France, but less known internationally. Also don't forget organic brands like Melvita, Weleda and Sanoflore. So while cult-favorites are usually signs of high quality don't get distracted by all of the hype without looking at some of these other great brands.
#4 Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
If you walk down the aisles of Parapharmacie, a popular beauty shop in France, you'll see many products marked with a "best-seller" ticket. Almost all of these products are designed to hydrate the skin. You have the cult-classic Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré (along with her big sister the Lait-Crème Fluide), Jonzac's Body Milk, Bio Beauté by Nuxe's Smoothing and 24hr Moisturizing Cream and Caudalie's Makeup-Removing Milk.
The French also love their oils. Whether it's Nuxe's Huile Prodiguese, a multi-purpose dry oil, or the huge variety of natural oils from jojoba to rosehip to almond.
And there is no forgetting thermal water. Whether you're spritzing your face with it throughout the day or using it to wash your face these waters are proven to soothe, moisturize and calm the skin. Avene and Vichy are both great brands. I think every French woman's bathroom I've ever been in has about 5 bottles of the stuff in her bathroom.
#5 Steps to Success
The French are beauty minimalists at heart. Look up French hairstyles and makeup and it's carefree and stress-free. Their morning routines are no different. The simplest routine would be micellar water and moisturizer. But, you can add other elements too.
1. Clean your face with micellar water and a cotton round.
2. If necessary, add a clean, no-fuss face wash for a double-cleanse routine (find one with salicylic acid if you have acne-prone skin)
3. If you wash your face with soap you can also use toner afterwards.
4. Use a serum to target whatever issues you're dealing with (redness, discoloration, fine lines, etc.)
5. Finish off with a SPF-enforced moisturizer
#6 Work with what you got
The reason why French women are so beautiful is because they know how to love and work with what they already have. Have perfect cupid's bow lips? Exfoliate and moisturize your lips as part of your morning routine (even rock the red lip if you'd like!). Have curly or wavy hair? Find a product that keeps your lovely locks smooth and hydrated. So even though these are general guidelines make sure to add steps into your routine that show off your strong suits.
So stay fresh, hydrated and simple with your new French beauty routine!