I love France. I love shopping. And I love beauty products. Put these together and you know any trip to Paris won’t be complete without visiting all the outposts of French skincare in the city. Till now, this has translated into hours-long expeditions to the city’s cult pharmacies because in Paris, skincare means French pharmacy.
But somehow, after every visit I come back less than satisfied. Tubes of Vitamin A and bottles of thermal water are all well and fine but where are those gorgeous rose balms, those soaps redolent with the very air of Provence, those powdery fragrances that literally define French 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 French beauty products that the Parisians 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. Want to know the real art of French beauty? Here it is.
Le Couvent des Minimes 3-in-1 Micellar Water, $17
Say hello to the beauty world’s latest obsession: micellar water. Why all the fuss? Micellar water is made up of microscopic oil molecules that cut through the heaviest of makeup without irritating the skin. Le Couvent’s version takes things three steps further with its mix of rose water, centifolia rose absolute essence and wild rose hip polyphenols to refresh, soften and tone the skin while protecting if from ageing free radicals.
This retro-inspired silky body dusting powder calls upon sensual jasmine and ylang-ylang to take you back in time. 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.
Inspired by the luxurious world of Edith Wharton, this gorgeously fragranced bottle looks like it came straight from the shelves of an ancient apothecary. Made with salts from the Guérande marshes on the western coast of France and floral honey, Le Bain de Wharton is the perfect way to unwind after a long day.
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.
T. LeClerc Loose Powder is a French pharmacy 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.
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.
This one’s as natural and organic as it gets: no artificial colours or fragrances, no parabens or petrochemical derivatives, no testing on animals. Instead, you have an aromatic complex of ylang-ylang, lavender and rosemary essential oils saturated in a base of organic sesame oil to regulate sebum production, prevent hair loss, stimulate re-growth and restore your hair’s natural shine. Added benefit: its gorgeous fragrance. No wonder this oil is a hot favourite with some of the top Parisian hair stylists.
These über-cute lip balms are both paraben and phenoxyethanol free. Plus, they are packed with softening and regenerating agents like calendula extract to take care of damaged and dry lips year-round. They also contain UV filters and delish aromas to round up the benefits.
These all-vegetable soaps are triple milled from pure organic Shea butter according to a time-honored French tradition. My favourite is Fruit de la Passion, a sweet and tart blend of passion fruit, ripe strawberries, peony, pear, lychee and pomegranate.
Scented with authentic fragrances, Mistral’s triple milled Shea butter Sur la Route soaps are perfect for bringing home a bit of rural France. I am currently stocking up on Lavande de Senanque, whose lavender, rose, pine, musk, cedar wood, sandalwood and vanilla notes evoke a July picnic while the lavender is in full summer bloom.
These all-natural 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. sun-dried flower petals for gentle exfoliation and you can see why Marseille soap is a perpetual classic. 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.
Molinard is one of the oldest French perfume houses in continuous existence, and remains an entirely family-run business even today. The label was founded in 1849 in Grasse – the birthplace and anchor of modern perfumery. Over the last two centuries, it has produced some of the world’s most iconic boutique fragrances (including Les Fleurs De Provence Mimosa and Habanita, both of which are still available today). And this perfume house is a firm believer in form as well as function, calling upon cult bottle designers like René Lalique and Baccarat. The aesthetic continues today, with Molinard’s range of perfumes, soaps, body care, candles and aromatherapy products that come packaged in spotlight-worthy bottles that you will hold on to long after the contents are gone. My favourite buy here: the Concréta, the world’s first solid perfume compacts, which incorporate natural flower wax as a fragrance component.