It’s no secret that French women have the secret to being the most beautiful people in the world. You come to Paris for a lot things- the museums, the food, the ambiance and of course, to immediately feel bad about yourself. Paris is kind of like Miami in that respect, except with less sparkle and more brooding.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not, in fact, the consumption of copious amounts of baguette or decadent chocolate displays in store front windows- trust me, I’ve done the research and nothing happened except I was very full and very happy. Instead it seems what they say is true: there is just something about French people. They possess a certain je ne sais quoi that allows them to role out of bed with hair you still can’t copy even with all the product in the Western Hemisphere, and trot out the door like a runway model- gracefully gliding over cobblestone streets like little Tinker Bells in 5 inch heels. This is simply not in my wheelhouse.
So, while I can’t equal them in stiletto skills, I can at least benefit from equality in the beauty aisle. Welcome to the world of the French pharmacy. Unlike in America where you’ll find everything from DVDs to candy and eventually the prescriptions and makeup counter, the pharmacies in Paris deal primarily with the latter two. You’ll see them every block or so, their neon green crosses shining bright over the sidewalks beckoning you in.
But there is one in particular, the Holy Grail of pharmacies, located steps away from Café de Flore that’s a bit like falling down the rabbit hole of French beautydom. The place I speak of is none other than CityPharma (cue angelic choir). But get your elbows ready because this place is worse than the Louvre on free museum Sunday. Every. Single. Day. Starting at 8am.
Sigh. It’s worth it though. CityPharma has the best prices and friendly, English speaking staff willing to help lost looking tourists pointing to products on their iPhones. Plus there are two floors (two!) full to the brim of exotic sounding lotions and potions. The lines are often long but move quickly, so don’t be deterred.
Couple of things to keep in mind whilst you read:
1. Misters are really popular here, so be prepared to hear a lot about them below.
2. Just about everything on this list is multi-purpose, so while you may be buying a mister (see above) it will list its other uses as a toner, make up remover, pillow fluffer, head massager, tiny kitten dispenser, etc.
3. I’ll use the word refreshing a lot. It’s not my fault, most of these products are made from natural ingredients so their scent/feeling is legit refreshing. Let’s play a game and count how many times it happens.
4. As a general rule I don’t want my face to smell like a fruit or a flower throughout the day, so I use most of these products at night. That way they can do their work and I can wash them off in the morning.
5. As previsouly stated in the title, there will be no chocolate, but these are the next best things:
1. Avène Eau Thermale.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about French beauty it’s that Parisian women love a good facial mist. It’s almost like I can hear them shouting, “Mist! Mist! Mist my dear French flowers! Your face is but a garden- you must water it!” There are many reasons for this but suffice to say thermal water is a big deal here. I know, I know- it’s water. But it’s also French water. And thermal water. Which makes it French thermal water. Dare I say, magic water? It does feel nice, especially in the super cold winter months and during those two sticky, sweaty summer weeks. It can also set your make up, moisturize your skin, replace that harsh French tap water when it’s time to wash your face and just generally give you that all around clean feel. I like it and quite frankly if there’s any chance I’ll wake up looking like the women at the corner café, I’m in- now that, would be some magic water.
2. Bioderma Hydrating Toner.
I’ve never been a toner person. I know it’s good for you and all but I just really want to get the whole process over with as quickly as possible- when you start adding in fancy products like this, you open the flood gates to other things like elixirs of youth (up next) and water picks (works like a dream) and then it’s taking you as long to get ready for bed as it does to get out the door in the morning. With that said, I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s made such a difference in my skin that I use it religiously. Two thumbs way, way up for this bad boy.
3. Caudalíe Beauty Elixir.
This product, inspired by Queen Isabelle of Hungary’s “elixir of youth,” is beloved by movie stars (Liv Tyler), models (Karlie Kloss) and me (an American). If the first two beautiful people aren’t enough to get you to that glowing green cross let me tell you this- the grape seed extract used to make this cult following Caudalíe is intended to minimize pores, smooth fine lines and add instant radiance to a dull complexion. I use it right before bed, but you can use it as a toner, to set make up, or as a general all-day spray (there’s that French mister again!). It might feel a little harsh on sensitive skin but it’s refreshing and has natural, non-perfumy scent.
P.S. I have since bought the moisturizer and official toner because I’ve drunk the koolaid and love this spray so much.
4. La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP.
I can’t quite remember how I found about this uber-moisturizer/what they’re calling body balm now, but I can tell you one thing, I’m glad I did. It’s fragrance-free, paraben-free and full of all that thermal water you’ve been hearing so much about in this post. The best part is, it works. It’s intended for dry – super dry skin, so I use it once every couple of days to keep everything in check.
5. Klorane Dry Shampoo.
No shower, no problem. I’m down for anything that gets me out of washing my hair and I’ve tried the lot of them without much luck. This oat-milk based Godsend of a hair product is equal parts convenient and amazing. It cleanses and absorbs oil, all while adding volume for an I-might-actually-be-French look (as long as you don’t open your mouth). It’s another natural product so stock up- you won’t be sorry.
6. Nuxe Rêve de Miel.
I cannot say enough good things about this pot ‘o’ goodness. This ultra-nourishing lip balm (their words, not mine) is just that- the most moisturizing lip stuff (to be technical) I’ve ever come across- like Vaseline on steroids. It’s made from honey, plant oils, sweet almond oil, shea butter and grape fruit essence, giving it a light, refreshing scent. Tested in the extreme cold that is a Canadian winter (or as fate would have it, my apartment last holiday season), it’s heavy duty and a little will go a long way. I use mine right before bed and it’s still there in the morning, working its magic.
7. Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrate.
For such a tiny tube, this stuff packs a punch. It’s a natural power moisturizer, packed full of vitamins and fatty acids to sooth skin, that literally translates to “milk cream” (and when has milk cream ever not lead to good things?). What I love most though is that it’s super lightweight formula makes you feel like you’re wearing absolutely nothing while little French miracle workers are daintily adding droplets of moisture to each and every pore. Love it.
8. La Roche-Posay Serzonic.
Another spray, but this time for overall oily skin or problem areas only. Red, blotchy or break out prone areas will cower to this stuff, but it’s incredibly drying, so better to use with a cotton ball, and sparingly at that. I use it as spot treatment only and as such, it works great. Fun Fact: it can also be used as an aid to razor burn.
9. Bioderma Créaline H2O.
I had heard about this cleanser before- another fabulous product with a cult following among models, makeup artists and the general population of Paris, but as a serial face washer, I was hesitant – no water, no rinse, no soap? But after standing in line at CityPharma and watching both French women in front of me purchase value-size quantities, I decided to give it a shot. It’s fragrance-free, which I love and it removes even waterproof makeup without drying out delicate skin. It won’t replace my regular face wash, but the small bottles are completely ideal for overnight flights as a facial cleanser and makeup remover in one.
10. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse.
The best selling dry oil in all of France, this stuff is so popular you’ll see tourists shoving 10 bottles into their baskets at CityPharma. It’s 98.8% natural and preservative-free so it’s a good product for all skin types, and smells like a dream. I use it at night on my face and body as a moisturizer (others recommend using it during the day for an ever so subtle glow) and on my hair for extra nourishment and shine. And I’m sure that if you drink it, you’ll poop rainbows (but this has yet to be confirmed). Bottom line: it’s famous for a reason.
The pharmacies in France have a lot to offer on the general hygiene front- everything from shampoo to floss to sponges and lip balm can all be found within their walls. Add in the fact that France has much stricter rules pertaining to ingredients included in common skincare and beauty products, (meaning the majority of the popular items are more natural than not) and you’ve got yourself a veritable beauty mecca.
If you can handle the crowds, take yourself to CityPharma for discount prices on all of the above and then some. Just remember: bring an extra suitcase for the plane ride home (you’ll need it) and treat yourself to cafe and croissant once you’ve done your damage down the street (you’ve earned it).
CityPharma is located at 28 Rue de Four in the heart of St. Germain, not far from this guy.