Embryolisse and La Roche-Posay sit at every pharmacy around the corner. Avène and Bioderma are possibly even more easily available Stateside than in France. Le Petit Marseillais and Lierac are present at Walgreens.
French beauty, in short, is under threat of becoming almost generic.
Surely, there has to be something more?
Thankfully for those of us who worship at the very altar of this nation’s utter gorgeousness, there is a whole old-but-new-again generation of French beauty products re-shaping our vanities.
A generation spearheaded by beauty maestros who are returning to the homeland after super-successful stints across the globe, to revive traditional brands like Buly 1803 or launch new ones like Retrouvé.
A generation that combines French finesse with generations of know-how to redefine the industry. And in doing so, raises the beauty bar a zillion notches higher.
Both pretty and potent, these are the beauty products French women, makeup artists and beauty editors are really obsessing over. And thankfully, with the advent of internet shopping, these little marvels can be shipped to wherever you reside.
Want to know the real art of French beauty? Here it is.
It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite region in France, given its beauty and complexity. But if pushed, I would definitely settle on Provence, the land of olives, almonds, cherry blossoms, bee hives, flowers, herbs, organic bakeries, quixotic stone cottages, painted vistas, artisans, sculptors, painters and musicians. And Bastide bottles all of these in delicate glass vials, under the calming hand of Aix-en-Provence native Frédéric Fekkaï (yes, of the hair fame!) and his wife Shirin.
Ingredients are sourced from this extraordinary landscape, then blended with generations of French beauty savoir-faire and packaged in environmentally conscious bottles. No toxic chemicals allowed.
And like France, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. But if I had to choose just one Bastide formulation, it would be the Huile Seche Epatante Dry Oil Mist. Replete with lush oils and the smells of orange blossom, a spritz is just what you need for the glow of sun kissed skin. Sans the greasiness.
After Jami and Klaus Heidegger resurrected and sold Kiehl’s – a legacy brand inherited from Jami’s father, Aaron Morse – to L’Oréal, they launched Retrouvé, which combined the best of French finesse with their own cosmetic expertise.
Here the focus is on combining high concentrations of active ingredients with a unique delivery system that penetrates the epidermis to nourish skin from the inside out. And all sans any nasty artificial fragrances, parabens or petrochemicals. The downside? They’re super-expensive but if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks, the Intensive Replenishing Facial Moisturizer is like a vitamin-powered cocktail for the complexion, complete with stem cells and humectants for a one-stop approach to all your skincare needs.
A French perfumery from Grasse, the citadel of flowers and fragrance, Fragonard has been creating exceptional scents since 1926. The factory itself is today nothing less than a museum, with its fascinating intro to the fragrance maker’s art and various perfume paraphernalia.
While the perfumery crafts new scents every year, along with other beauty products, its Billet Doux remains the most exquisite souvenir to bring home from France. The gilded bottle holds a trio of the most beautiful flowers of the French Riviera – Sweet William carnation, peony and frangipani – blended with bergamot, lemon and mandarin on a background of cedar and vanilla. Beauty in a bottle!
Based in a 17th century alchemist’s house in the heart of the Paris’ Marais district, Huygens calls upon aromatherapy, with natural and organic ingredients anchoring the core. You can choose from readymade products (but what’s the fun in that?) or opt for a customised blend, which is made on-site with a laboratory-style magnetic stirrer. Bespoke and swift… who could ask for more?
My personal favorite is the Massage Oil customised with the Songe d’été essential oil, which is perfect for boosting circulation, toning the complexion and creating a deep sense of relaxation.
Buly 1803, or rather L’Officine Universelle Buly, combines natural ingredients and vintage beauty recipes with modern techniques. When Ramdane Touhami (former co-owner of Cire Trudon) and Victoire de Taillac acquired the 200-plus-years-old marque, they took great care to preserve the original cabinet of curiosities ambience, complete with golden marble countertops, beautifully worn tile floor, painted Elizabethan ceiling and goose-shaped brass faucets. The only change? All Buly products are now silicone, paraben and phenoxyethanol free.
And what a breadth of products… combs made from centuries-old trees, wafer-like sheet soap, scented rocks, orange-flavored toothpaste, scented matches, vetiver root brushes, vegetable oils and dried ingredients to make your own concoctions (think prickly pear oil, rose petals and all kinds of clay), totally decadent hand creams and water-based perfumes (Touhami believes alcohol is harsh on the skin and actually degrades the scent).
All wrapped up in the most covetable 17th century prints that would make your vanity sparkle. As a final touch, the in-house calligrapher will monogram every product for you personally!
You need this Provençal brand in your life, if only for the exquisite labels that adorn their potions. Potions that were originally conceived by botanist monks in Provence as far back as 1613. They were further developed by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in the late 1800s, who dedicated themselves to the care of the sick and elderly. Today, the brand is owned by L’Occitane, which donates part of Le Couvent des Minimes to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary charity.
Top pick has to be the Gardener’s Hand Healer. This is an exfoliating hand wash (and exfoliating hand wash is one of those things I never knew I needed and now simply can’t live without!) that combines the power of natural grains with plant extracts to slough of all dirt, grime and dead cells from your hands, leaving them soft and smooth like no hand cream can achieve on its own. Perfect prep for that French manicure!
A blend of 12 essential oils that have been infused with the potency of precious stones from cult jeweler Marie-Hélène de Taillac? Sounds just like the kind of thing Marie Antoinette would covet. Based on lithotherapy, which works with the vibrations of stones and minerals, the Elixir Oil Serum boosts collagen and reverses the effects of free radical damage. Luckily, you don’t need to have a queen’s coffers to lay your hands on this one, nor do you need to lose your head.
A throwback to the Roaring 20s in the City of Love, Patyka is the quintessential Parisian beauty maison: sensorial, seductive and sumptuous. Based on biotechnological actives, all Patyka products offer up a beautiful blend of botanicals, sans synthetic and toxic chemicals.
Their Huile Absolue Skin Booster Serum remains iconic amonst those the Parisian elite, almost a century after its creation by the young pharmacist who started it all in 1922. The dry and silky concoction is a powerful composite of 12 organic essential oils and plant extracts – including Saint John’s Wort, rose hip, red mandarin, geranium, sandalwood and neroli – which boost and strengthen the skin, step up cellular regeneration and make you glow from the inside out.
By now you must have detected a few themes running through the best of French beauty: fresh, organic, gentle and made to order. Maison Caulières brings all these together with a splash. Based in the Loire Valley, this 250-year-old family maison blends home-grown honey and oils according to the changing seasons to ensure perfectly synchronized cutaneous biorhythms: Cue A l’Aube des Sens that sparkles with the freshness of spring, Le Temps d’un Songe to harness the warmth of summer, Retour aux Sources to comfort from the changing nature of autumn and Ode au Repos to create a cocoon from the severity of winter.
From hand creams to shower gels and exfoliators, this is your chance to get back in the rhythm of nature that’s so often disrupted by our urbanity.
Romy Paris recognises that your skincare needs can change from one day to another, based on lifestyle and environmental factors. Enter the Figure Mini-Dose machine, a nifty little gadget that pairs with a handy app to custom-mix your skincare formulation. Got too much sun? Slept too little? Skin feeling extra parched? Enter the various factors into the app, load the active capsules into the machine and in just about seven seconds, you will have a new cream based entirely on yours skin’s needs for the day.
A major French beauty signature? Their effortlessly chic hair. One of the main purveyors of which is hairdresser extraordinaire David Lucas, whose 2nd arrondissement salon is perpetually overflowing with gorgeously groomed Frenchwomen. And now, you can take home some of the magic, with his new hair care range: Monique by David Lucas.
What you get: A super-hydrating hair mask and an innovative spray that protects and strengthens your hair while holding the style. Everything is packed with hydrolyzed keratin, a superhero ingredient that gives your hair loads of strength and shine. What you won’t find here? Any sulfates or parabens. Not even a hint.