French skincare is my love language. And French soaps. And French makeup. And French perfumes.
You get the idea… in fact, I even wrote a book on French beauty secrets!
Till now, this has translated into hours-long expeditions to the city’s cult pharmacies because in Paris, it’s globally believed, skincare means French pharmacies.
But somehow, after every visit I come back less than satisfied.
Tubes of Vitamin A (the legendary A313) and bottles of thermal water are all well and fine but where are those gorgeous rose balms, those French soaps redolent with the very air of Provence, those powdery fragrances that literally define Parisian glamour?
Surely, there has to be something more than these clinical, sterile looking bottles that speak of efficiency but are short on any of the femininity that so defines the French?
And what’s the point of stocking up on brands like Biotherm and Avene in Paris, when these are easily available all over the world? Surely, there has to be something more?
Seems, there is a lot more. A lot more about beauty products that the French don’t want us to know.
Because these are their secret pleasures, their own private indulgences. Both pretty and potent, these are the beauty products French women are really stocking up on at home.
Not only do French women love and use them, makeup artists and beauty editors obsess over them as well.
And thankfully, with the advent of internet shopping, these little marvels can be shipped to wherever you reside — even if a trip isn’t in your near future. Want to know the real art of French beauty? Here it is.
Pre de Provence Rose de Mai Body Cream
While it’s also brimming over with shea butter, sesame seed oil and vitamin E, Rose de Mai Balm’s star ingredient remains the botanical rose blend.
And with good reason: It’s anchored by Rose de Mai blossoms, which bloom for only 5 weeks in the year and are fabulous at softening, hydrating and protecting the complexion. Apply it anywhere skin needs a little TLC.
La Societe Parisienne de Savons L’Eau de Cologne Soap
Looking for some beyond-the-ordinary French soaps?
These retro-inspired bars call upon the sunny fields of Provence, where the aroma of rosemary, mint and eucalyptus perfume the hills — both refreshing and uplifting!
Don’t miss the vintage-style label, which required some intensive research, legal meanderings and other technical obstacles in designer Daniel Pelavin’s quest for visual authenticity in French beauty products.
T. LeClerc Loose Powder
T. LeClerc Loose Powder is a French makeup staple, which makes sense given that it was created by an actual pharmacist.
Formulated using rice starch, its extremely light texture helps set makeup, mattify shiny spots and thanks to the zinc, protect from the sun.
The pressed versions are equally iconic and both ranges now come in 30 shades.
Bastide Huile Seche Epatante Dry Oil Mist
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.
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.
Doux Me Soupçon d’Insouciance
Doux Me products are so natural, French mamas often use this brand on their bébés.
This daily moisturiser is brimming with beta-carotene for energising the complexion, antioxidant-rich poppy extract to help preserve the skin’s freshness and lemon extract to tone and reduce hyper-pigmentation.
My favourite bit: When skin is looking lacklustre (say after a long night or ultra-stressful days) apply Soupçon d’insouciance in a thick layer, leave on for 15 minutes and then wipe away the excess product with a cotton pad soaked in rose water.
Mistral Sur La Route Luxury Bar Soap
These cult French soaps are triple milled from pure organic shea butter according to a time-honored French tradition — making them perfect for bringing home a bit of the French countryside.
I am currently stocking up on Lavande de Senanque, whose lavender, rose, pine, musk, cedar wood, sandalwood and vanilla notes evoke a summer picnic, when the lavender is in full bloom.
Savon de Marseille Pure Olive Oil Soap
More authentic French beauty products? These all-natural French olive oil soaps are still handcrafted in Marseille in antique cauldrons from pure olive oil, the alkaline ash from Mediterranean sea plants and sea-salted water — just as they were made in the Middle Ages.
In fact, a 1688 French law declared that only soaps made according to certain ancient methods could bear the mark ‘Savon de Marseille‘.
Cut and dried without any machines, they are sold piled high on open-air market tables like fruits or vegetable, wrapped in paper.
There is no plastic packaging and the soaps are totally biodegradable… combine this with the environment friendly manufacturing process and you have a product that’s super-high on eco cred.
And your skin will thank you as well: Marseille soap is recommended by dermatologists for dry or sensitive skin, eczema and other ailments.
PS: Authentic Marseille Soap is stamped with its weight in grams — a practice left over from years ago which allowed households to compare prices and plan their inventories.
Huygens Massage Oil
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 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 French cosmetics brand, 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!
Patyka Huile Absolue Organic Skin Booster Seem
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 Organic Skin Booster Serum remains iconic among 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 products: Fresh, organic, gentle and often 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.
Monique Haircare by David Lucas
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.