Forget climbing the Eiffel Tower, strolling along the Seine or visiting the Louvre. When a skincare junkie goes to Paris, the highlight is the French pharmacy—where you can stock up on an enormous array of cult-favourite products that are hard to find anywhere else.
Or at least they used to be hard to find. Now, you don’t actually need a plane ticket to discover the best of French pharmacy skincare. You just need to know where to look online—and that’s where I can help!
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In this guide, you will learn which French pharmacy products are the most coveted, what makes them so special, and where you can buy them (from the comfort of your own couch). Read on to discover the best of French skincare.
The Best French Pharmacy Skincare of 2022
As an editor, I’ve tested and evaluated French pharmacy skincare products from a range of brands. These are my top picks for a French girl skincare routine:
Bioderma Sensibio H2O
Bioderma Sensibio H2O is an ultra-gentle, no-rinse micellar cleansing water that easily removes makeup and debris without irritating sensitive skin. This famous, fragrance-free formula has long been a favourite of makeup artists working backstage at fashion shows because it gets off even waterproof makeup with no need for rubbing. No wonder the brand sells one bottle every three seconds worldwide!
Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel
Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel is a soap-free gel cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin. It’s loved by French women and dermatologists alike because it deep-cleans without stripping and causing dryness. It’s also infused with milk thistle and zinc, which help to control excess oil and prevent blemishes. This makes a great product for travelling, since it doubles as a body wash, too.
Best Serums, Mists & Treatments
Vichy Minéral 89
Vichy Minéral 89 is a hyaluronic acid-based hydrating serum that hydrates and plumps your skin while helping to strengthen its barrier. The minimalist formula has just 11 ingredients in total—including hyaluronic acid and 89% mineral-rich volcanic water—and it’s free of fragrance, oils, alcohol and silicone. This may be one of the newer additions to the French pharmacy lineup (it launched in 2017), but it has quickly become a staple.
Avène Eau Thermale Thermal Spring Water
Avène Eau Thermale Thermal Spring Water is a mineral-rich face mist that softens, soothes and lightly hydrates your skin. Thermal water mists are ubiquitous in France, and since they’re sourced from hot thermal springs, they’re much higher in trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium and silica compared to regular water. These have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to reduce redness and restore a healthy skin barrier. To get the full benefit, the brand recommends leaving it on your skin for two to three minutes, and then gently patting dry.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum is a creamy brightening serum that targets dark spots, evens out skin tone and boosts overall glow. According to the brand, this is the number one bestselling serum at French pharmacies—and for good reason. Powered grapevine extract, it’s a non-irritating alternative to vitamin C and works over time on everything from sun spots to post-acne marks to melasma. It was recently reformulated and is now 98% natural and non-photosensitizing, with less than 1% synthetic fragrance.
A313 Cosmetic Cream with Retinyl Palmitate
A313 Cosmetic Cream with Retinyl Palmitate (known in France as A313 Vitamin A Pommade) is a potent retinoid treatment that helps with acne, hyperpigmentation and the signs of aging. It’s the next best thing to a prescription vitamin A cream—in fact, I haven’t found anything else over-the-counter that is as strong. For that reason, it will probably cause some dryness for the first few weeks, until your skin adjusts. But it’s well worth it for the smoother, plumper and clearer complexion that awaits! For more on this product (and my answers to all your questions about it), see my in-depth review here.
La Roche-Posay Serozinc Zinc Sulfate Solution
La Roche-Posay Serozinc Zinc Sulfate Solution is a mattifying face mist that helps to reduce the look of shine, with no powdery residue. Its three simple ingredients (water, salt and zinc) work in tandem to absorb excess oil, calm irritation and take down redness, while also refreshing your skin and setting your makeup. Some users have even noticed that it helps to prevent breakouts. You can either spritz it on bare skin after cleansing, or over makeup.
Payot Pâte Grise L’Originale
Payot Pâte Grise L’Originale is an acne spot treatment that helps to bring minor blemishes to maturation overnight. This French beauty secret dates all the way back to 1920, when it was developed by Dr. Nadia Payot, one of the first female doctors of her generation. Unlike most spot treatments, which simply dry pimples out, this one is unique because it speeds up their maturation process using zinc and shale, while ichthammol kills germs and reduces inflammation. To maximize the effects (and to protect your sheets!), apply a small amount of tape or a hydrocolloid patch on top.
Caudalie Beauty Elixir
Caudalie Beauty Elixir is an all-natural face mist that tones and refreshes your skin, boosts radiance, and sets makeup. Believe it or not, it’s been around for 25 years, and is still the brand’s bestselling product to this day. It was inspired by a 17th-century “elixir of youth” recipe used by the Queen of Hungary, whose glowing complexion attracted a much-younger suitor. Although it may not erase wrinkles, it can definitely perk up your complexion while the essential oils deliver calming aromatherapy.
Best Moisturizers, Ointments & Sunscreens
Embryolisse Hydra-Crème Légère
Embryolisse Hydra-Crème Légère is a lightweight moisturizer for normal to combination skin. Think of it as a less rich, and more skin-friendly version of the cult classic Lait-Crème Concentré (which makeup artists love because it creates a smooth canvas for foundation). This one gives you the same priming and moisture-locking benefits, but without the occlusive ingredients like mineral oil. It’s also 95% natural and silicone-free. If you have dry skin, you’ll probably still prefer the original, but for everyone else? I’d get this formula!
Ialuset Crème is a dermatological cream to support the healing of minor skin lesions. But French women love it for its plumping effect—it’s been called an alternative to injectable fillers!—as well as its ability to rescue dehydrated skin. It has a thick, milky texture and packs a 0.2% dose of hyaluronic acid. French women often use it as a face mask, overnight mask, lip balm, or even daily moisturizer.
Biafine Emulsion Pour Application Cutanée
Biafine Emulsion Pour Application Cutanée is an oil-in-water cream that helps to speed the healing of sunburns, minor superficial skin wounds (like cuts, scrapes and burns) and skin after laser treatments or tattoos. According to brand legend, it was created in 1971 by a French chemist whose daughter burned herself with an iron and needed an emergency emulsion. It proved so effective that it soon became a staple in every French household—and some people even use it as a face moisturizer. Research has found that the active ingredient, trolamine, recruits white blood cells (macrophages), which play an important role in the skin’s wound-healing process.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF 50+
La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF 50+ is a lightweight, broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion for your face. This is French women’s go-to SPF because it’s highly protective, yet still cosmetically elegant. What’s different compared to North American sunscreens are the active ingredients—Tinosorb, Uvinul and a new form of Mexoryl (400)—which offer better efficacy and photostability than most of the UV filters available here. While it contains the less desirable avobenzone, it’s certainly a better choice than most chemical sunscreens. (For a 100% mineral option, I recommend Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen Gentle Lotion SPF 50.)
Boiron Homéoplasmine is a soothing homeopathic ointment that helps to relieve dry and irritated skin and facilitate healing. It was initially created as a nipple cream for nursing mothers, but later garnered a cult following for its ability to quickly heal chapped lips, ragged cuticles and rough patches of skin. It’s long-lasting, and unlike most products of its kind, goes on matte—so you can layer it under lipstick without changing the finish.
Best Eye & Lip Care
Filorga Time-Filler Eyes Absolute Eye Correction Cream
Filorga Time-Filler Eyes Absolute Eye Correction Cream is an anti-aging eye cream that reduces wrinkles, dark circles and upper eyelid sagging while also enhancing lash volume. It’s from the number one anti-aging brand at French pharmacies, and was reportedly the most-Googled beauty product of 2018. That’s because it was compared to “Botox in a jar,” thanks to its long list of active ingredients (like peptides, hyaluronic acid and amino acids). However, what really makes it unique is how it supports the growth of healthy eyelashes. To get the most out of it, be sure to apply it not only around your eyes but also to the roots of your lashes.
Nuxe Rêve de Miel Honey Lip Balm
Nuxe Rêve de Miel Honey Lip Balm is a nourishing lip balm that soothes, hydrates, and repairs dry lips. If you hate goopy, shiny lip balms, then you need to try this one (a French favourite since 1994!). Not only is it composed of mostly natural ingredients, including beeswax and honey, it has a soft matte finish that never feels sticky. It’s also thicker and longer-lasting than most balms, making it an excellent choice for protecting your lips in cold weather.
Best Face Masks
Cattier Ready for Use Green Clay
Cattier Ready for Use Green Clay is a creamy clay mask for all skin types, especially oily and acne-prone skin. Most face masks have long lists of questionable (and potentially irritating) ingredients, but not this one. It’s a simple blend of three types of clay, all sourced from France, that work to absorb excess oil, remove impurities and soften your skin. The only thing to keep in mind, since it doesn’t come with instructions, is that you shouldn’t let the mask dry out; mist your skin with a thermal water (like Avène) to keep it moist. You can also use this as a body mask or scalp mask.
Best Body Care
Nuxe Huile Prodiguieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil
Nuxe Huile Prodiguieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil is a multi-purpose dry oil for your face and body. Ever since it launched in 1991, it has been beloved by French women for its fast-absorbing texture and subtly summery scent. It contains 98.1% natural ingredients, including seven different plant oils, but leaves no greasy residue on your skin. Most people apply it as a body oil, you can also use it as a facial oil, in your hair to tame frizz and add shine, or up to twice per week as a 10-minute pre-shampoo treatment.
Hei Poa Pure Tahiti Monoï Oil
Hei Poa Pure Tahiti Monoï Oil is a moisturizing body oil with a light tropical scent. When the brand’s founders travelled to French Polynesia in the 1970s, they discovered monoï oil, which is created by infusing gardenia petals into pure coconut oil. Back in France, they launched their own version, and it soon became a hit thanks to its moisturizing properties and exotic scent. (I often wear monoï oil instead of perfume!) For best results and maximum penetration, massage it in while your skin is still damp. You can also use this oil on dry and damaged hair.
- Del Rosso, James Q. & Bikowski, Joseph. Trolamine-containing topical emulsion: clinical applications in dermatology. Cutis. 2008 Mar; 81(3): 209-14.
- Bovingdon, Maisie. (2018, December 19). Is this the world’s best eye cream? £47 formula claims to mimic the effect of Botox in a jar – and it’s the most Googled beauty product of 2018. Daily Mail.
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