There's no way you've walked through a bookstore or flipped through a magazine seeing story after story devoted to the alluring and unique way French women approach beauty, food, and life in general. That said, there's so much more to pulling off a quintessentially French vibe than just drinking a mug of hot water and lemon, tousling your shiny hair into a chic chignon, and throwing on a striped tee. Here, we let you into real French women's secrets to beautiful skin through food.
In The French Beauty Solution, author and founder of beauty brand Caudalie (centered around vinothérapie and the extraordinary benefits of grapeseed polyphenols) Mathilde Thomas notes that the French typically follow a Mediterranean-style diet, which consists of "fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive, oil, and fish." Thomas says that water from natural springs (every French brand seems to own one) is packed with skin-loving minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. "French girls drink magnesium-rich mineral water like Contrex to flush out toxins and spend more time hydrating and nourishing skin than putting on makeup," says Parisian journalist Delphine Lamandé-Frearson. "I love the plant-based, natural raw ingredients of the Odaïtès skin care range. French girls grow up looking at ingredients lists and origins versus brand names, which is why most of us shop for skin care at our local 'pharmacie' versus beauty counters," she says. "We are probably the toughest beauty customers in the world as we are very demanding in terms of efficiency of a product."
What's a diet?
While French women are renowned gourmands at heart, they practice excess and moderation in equal measure. "We see our diet as a part of our beauty routine," says Lamandé-Frearson. "Eating well is cultural (think quality versus quantity) and we tend to respect the palm-sized portion rule when eating, don't skip meals, and don't snack much." Their first line of defense against snacking? "Hot herbal tea! It gives a minute to think before snacking mindlessly," she says. French women are honest about what they eat and what they crave, and that's why they seem to stay in balance. "We also cook with a lot of garlic and olive oil, not just butter as people tend to think, so we have an omega- and antoxidant-rich diet naturally."
Zucchini for the win!
Ratatouille, that classic French dish, is a staple of a French woman's diet, and the humble zucchini is the star! Because it is rich in manganese and vitamin C, French women know it's the best source of dietary fiber and skin-beautifying vitamin A, folate, potassium, copper, and phosphorus. The French woman will also always look for a new way to cook a veggie like zucchini or find something new to pair it with. "Creativity goes a long way in elevating dishes and hence the experience," says Lamandé-Frearson.
Pamper body and mind.
"We don't disconnect the body and mind and looking good is very much a part of feeling good for the French," says Lamandé-Frearson. "Hence we love spas and hammams and go to the 'Insitut de beauté' early on in life." Weekly sweat sessions at the hammam (Turkish bath) is something we can totally get behind. "When we steam, we always scrub our bodies with a mineral black soap to get rid of dead skin cells and boost circulation. It sounds simple but nothing cleanses your skin more thoroughly and prepares it for further pampering. The new Nolinski Spa in Paris has a great mind and body philosophy and couples hammam visits along with nurturing treatments aiming at boosting your cell metabolism." Sounds like the ultimate digital detox!
While here in the United States we tend to follow fads on Instagram, the French rely more on their grandmother's beauty advice. "We have a no-nonsense approach to beauty that's been instilled in us from the matriarchs in the family, but we are inquisitive when a new trend appears. Understanding the why and how is important to us."
Your One-Day French-Girl Glowing-Skin Plan
Wake up, and check in with your hunger. Drink a big glass of water with a pinch of sea salt to mimic the French girl mineral water. Make a simple, satisfying breakfast that's rich in good fats and omega-3s: We love either a bowl of yogurt (coconut, if you're dairy-free), drizzled with some flax oil and topped with crunchy granola or cacao nibs, or a pastured egg, poached, on top of some avocado toast. The No. 1 most important rule: Sit down to eat your breakfast. The French don't do grab-and-go, and for good reason—eating on the go can impair digestion and increase stress (which leads to belly fat and unhappy skin). Enjoy your food! Have a great conversation while you're eating it. You'll be surprised how much nicer the rest of your day feels.
Make a salad using as many local, fresh vegetables as you can find. Throw in as many fresh herbs as you can (basil, cilantro, fennel fronds, parsley)—a French cuisine staple, these herbs have potent phytochemicals that cleanse and detoxify your skin from the inside out. They also have powerful flavors that will satisfy your palate and keep you from mindlessly overeating. Dress it all simply with some high-quality olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt.
Throughout the day
Make sure you're staying hydrated by sipping on loads of water (always with the pinch of sea salt) and herbal teas (one of our 2017 food trends!). There are tons of amazing ones out there these days, so experiment and find the ones that work for you.
You can go the meat-with-a-side-of-veg route so often favored in French homes (we recommend pastured chicken with organic, seasonal vegetables, roasted simply with a drizzle of oil and sprinkle of salt in a 375-degree oven), or you can make your own ratatouille. Whatever you do, enjoy your dinner. Invite friends over, or sit down and really spend time with your partner or children. Pour a glass of red wine and linger, taking small bites and letting the meal stretch late into the evening. Et voilà! You've enjoyed a perfect French day.
This piece was co-written by mbg's senior food editor, Liz Moody.