Are French women perfect? It would seem so judging by the number of books attempting to nail the allure of the femme française. From their lived-in hair to fire-engine-red-stained lips, these women paint a picture of an insouciance that begs to be re-created.
The mythical French woman in my head is definitely not slaving over a hot stove in the evening or mixing up apple cider vinegar and mud masks come morning—she just wakes up like that.
We look to Paris for next season's wardrobe, baguettes, cheese, indifference, croissants—not to mention for its ridiculously clever pharmacies that house the best products French skin care has to offer. Maybe you've heard the legendary tales of supermodels bringing empty suitcases to the City of Light so they could bulk-buy all of the cultish and (relatively) cheap lip creams and micellar waters (more on that later) that cram the fragrant drugstore aisles. If you haven't, Amazon will make all your dreams come true in a blaze of kaleidoscopic glory. But why?
It seems that the country's national motto "less is more," extends into health and beauty, with women stubbornly staying away from trends that have swept us up one kale chip and gluten-free cereal bar at a time. Perhaps that's why we love the French woman as much as we do. A certain je ne sais quoi is needed to make smoking and scowling simultaneously an art form.
The French pharmacy is the national bastion where a girl's formative beauty training begins, and Gallic lotions and potions appeal to our sensibilities as many of the most-loved brands have a clean and almost clinical aesthetic that feels authentic. Think thermal water (every French skin care brand seems to have its own spring) infused in makeup removers, toners and creams, highly effective formulas, and very reasonable prices.
Here's a cheat sheet of eight products I couldn't live without and would cross wild oceans for:
You'd be hard pushed to find us a makeup artist who doesn't use this makeup removing, skin-brightening, toning water. Why? Because it takes makeup off the gentle way, so it's ideal for sensitive skin, and in particular those models whose skin is made-up, and then undone, numerous times during the shows.
Because Biafine developed as a burns cream, it is heaven-sent for sunburn, hydration and wound healing. As it's an emollient, it will lubricate the skin, providing moisture and anti-inflammatory properties.
This famed dry body oil is a true multipurpose gem for face, body and hair, plus it leaves a scent so good, the company made a perfume out of it last year. One of France's best-selling pharmacy brands, Nuxe was developed by a research pharmacist keen to utilize the natural skin benefits of plants and plant extracts.
THE dry shampoo of dry shampoo's and even more relevant with the advent of The NoPoo Method. A celebrity favorite—Karl Lagerfeld uses it—Klorane's famous Dry Shampoo is the brand's most well-known product. However the range of problem-solving shampoos and conditioners—all geared around pharmaceutical ethics, botanical expertise and product authenticity—are equally worthy of praise.
In the summer, no self-respecting French woman leaves home without her Eau Thermale Avène spray to refresh herself during the day. A true pharmacy brand with skin care aimed at treating atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and burns—eau thermale products are all centered around the brand's own thermal spring, where the water is tested daily to maintain the highest of standards.
La Roche Posay is known as the brand for sensitive skin, and The Cicaplast Baume B5 is an all-in-one wonder cream gentle enough to use on babies yet effective enough to soothe rashes caused by eczema and other skin complaints.
Embryolisse, a 63-year-old brand, was born when one clever dermatologist at a hospital in Paris developed the legendary all-purpose moisturizer that's as iconic as a bottle of Chanel No. 5.
France's best-selling brand and possibly another reason French women look so damn good, this botanical beauty range also does a healthy line in skin-smoothing, shaping gels and toners for the body. Worth investigating!