The changing season is a good time to organize your bathroom and update your skincare essentials for your climate. It drives me crazy to buy a product only to hate it later. What a waste. Online shopping sites, reviews, and articles like this one let you get a good feel for products before you buy them, which means less clutter and waste in your home.
Last year, I made a pilgrimage to a well-known Paris pharmacy, Citypharma, on the advice of my friend Robyn Webb. Being me, there might have been days of research involved. I only wanted to buy swoon-worthy products, and I didn’t want to buy things available for less in the US.
In Paris, like in the US, you go to your corner drugstore for skincare. Unlike in the US, you can expect to ask the shopkeeper and pharmacienne about their skincare products and you’ll get a real, thoughtful answer. They take skincare very seriously there, and they are and always have been much more into bio (organic) and healthy products than we are. In the US, we tend to focus on makeup and color. French women are much more concerned about keeping their skin healthy, and their makeup is of the barely-there variety.
Citypharma, on the left bank, is larger than the average pharmacy, and they staff the aisles with vendeuses to answer your product questions. I have no idea if those gals work on commission, but my experiences with them were very positive. If you go, be prepared to be elbow to elbow. At the times I visited, it was not a great place for kids or for leisurely browsing. Yes, you can get help if you only speak English, although you will definitely win points if you try to use at least a little French. Yes, you can also get over the counter and prescription medicines there, although I hope you won’t need that on your trip.
In the end, I came home with some really wonderful products that have completely changed my routine. It’s mostly simplified to a few really great products. All but one are available here in the US for just a little more than you’ll pay in France. The rest of this post is chock full of affiliate links for my new favorite products so you can bring France home with you. If you can’t see the links highlighted in the text, could you please do me a favor and comment below?? I’d appreciate it.
Starting at the left of this photo, the spray bottle is the least expensive and my most favorite of the whole group. This travel-sized bottle of mineral water is called un bromatiseur. We travel to France in August, and only large stores and public venues have air conditioning, but you can carry these small bottles and spritz yourself (or your daughter) throughout a hot day for instant A/C. It’s refreshing and fun. But more importantly, I started using this in place of my chemical toner. It’s just water, but it carries minerals from the volcanic mountains of France. It shouldn’t be impressive, but this spray of mineral water right after I wash my face removes that feeling of tightness and appears to help moisturizers to absorb better. The French are all about their mineral water and their mineral candies to aid in digestion. Who am I to argue? It may just be “water with a pedigree,” but I’d rather use this than a chemical toner, and have been for two years. I’m also giving it credit for clearing up my adult acne over the last two years. I usually have the full-sized bottle in my cabinet at home. Any French brand will do, including Avene, LaRoche-Posay, Evian and of course, Vichy.
Speaking of moisturizing, I’m pretty happy with the Bioderma Hydrobio serum. It has a little more scent than I’d like, but it is light and affordable. I’m kind of on the fence about serums in general. My understanding is that they are a very light moisturizer that preps your skin to absorb the moisturizers that come next, and they sometimes carry additional vitamins and benefits. This one works to re-hydrate your skin. Bioderma is a respected brand in France. I follow this with my trusty Mary Kay moisturizer (not shown). I’m not sure when I started using multiple moisturizers all in one day, but that’s my reality as I am nearing 50.
The green tube in the lineup is Weleda Skin Food. When I was brave enough to ask random French shoppers which healthy brands they recommended, they always pointed me to Weleda. When I saw that it has calendula as an ingredient, I gave it a go, and am so glad I did. I think the little bit of calendula every night has kept my face clear from adult acne since I started using it. It’s packaged like a hand cream, but the plant-extract formula intensively nourishes facial skin. I use it as my last step of my night routine, and it doesn’t have much of a smell. It feels thick and protective, and in the morning, my skin is so, so soft. With the harsh winters we have here, I absolutely love how it restores and keeps my face soft. A little goes a long way. I have noticed that it’s best to put it over your regular moisturizer. If you apply to dry skin, it drags a bit.
Embroylisse is another cream, but it’s actually this tried-and-true wonder product that can act as a cleanser, a hydrating mask, a makeup primer, and a protective cream. There is no smell at all. I respect very much that the package states it’s a good moisturizer only for the top layers of the skin, meaning that it doesn’t penetrate into the deeper levels of the skin, so it’s not the solution for wrinkles or spots. It’s benefits come from beeswax and other natural surface moisturizers. It’s also a great eye shadow primer. I don’t use it every day and could probably go without it. But if all you need is a makeup primer, this is so very cost effective compared to some specialty products.
Boiron Calendula Cream is a true wonder product as far as I’m concerned. A friend in the US actually gave me my first tube, but when I saw it on French shelves I started using it again. It’s essentially a homeopathic version of Neosporin. I was amazed after using it on scrapes and scratches, and started seeing complete healing in 2-3 days instead of 5-6 days. I used it on active acne sores, and they cleared up within a day or two. I got sunburned, and it gave me relief overnight. I now carry a tiny little bit in my purse everywhere. Boiron is a French company, and I have tried other products of theirs that I wasn’t crazy about, but this one rocks. What is the deal with calendula? It’s a flower in the daisy/marigold family, and I don’t know why it works so well, but everything I’ve tried with it is working for me these days.
The small clear jar on the right was my proof that the vendeuses at Citypharma really know their stuff. When I was in France with an active acne breakout, one of the shopkeepers told me apply the Hormeta sulfur mask for 20 minutes at night, wash, then dab with a small spot of sulfur to eliminate the offending button. (Even an acne breakout sounds more fashionable in France!) Darned if she wasn’t spot on. Within a day, I was feeling myself. The jar costs about $30 and lasts me an entire year if I apply roughly one mask a week. Unfortunately, I can’t get my hands on it in the US for under $100, so it’s something that I buy when visiting Paris. Sulfur seems to be the magic ingredient that I had never tried for adult acne. Remarkably, this doesn’t smell or feel foul, so whatever they’ve done to tame the smelly sulfur is working for me. Luckily, I’ve found two other readily available alternatives if you want to check them out. Kiehl’s has a great Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. If you love Amazon shopping, this sulfur mask from Raya is a good alternative, although this is very yellow and a bit heavy on the menthol smell, I’ve been using it for months, and have not had a breakout in a very long time.
Sitting atop my miracle jar of Hormeta is a bar of lavender savon de Marseille. Like I said, the French are very serious about their health, and they even have laws about what can be stamped Savon de Marseille, which is a very specific soap manufacturing process using only vegetable oils (no animal products). It’s a particularly gentle soap that come in many different scents. I never trust that products in the US with the savon de Marseille label are genuine since there’s nothing stopping a US company from using just the title for marketing, but in France it’s a different story, where it’s regulated. I only bought a few soaps this time. The added benefit of buying soaps for yourself or gifts is that they transport through airport security easily. But do yourself a favor and only buy what you can use in about the next year or so. I have too many clients with drawers and drawers full of natural soaps that don’t smell or feel fresh anymore. They don’t store forever, folks. They are meant to be used!
My last product in this lineup is eau micellaire, or micellar water, from La Roche-Posay, another well-known French brand, although you can find micellar water from many different brands. I’ll admit that I buy this from my local CVS due to difficulty getting liquids home from overseas. It’s nearly twice as expensive here, but it lasts about six months, so it’s my little splurge. I tried micellar water once before and couldn’t get the hang of it. Basically, it’s cleansers (micells) that are suspended in water (the French do love their water). It removes makeup in one gentle step, and doesn’t require rinsing with water, although I usually do. I use a small dab on a washcloth, so I’m not using makeup wipes. Shake before using. Be gentle as you wipe across your skin and delicate eye area.
Anyone can show you their picture of the Eiffel Tower. You can scroll through my Instagram account for my travel pictures. But if you want to think of France every day, besides getting baguettes from your local French bakery, French skincare is probably the next best thing.