The Insider Guide To French Pharmacy Skincare And Hair Care
From that French girl je ne sais quoi to the intricacies of the multi-step Korean skincare routine, the international cosmetic and aesthetic industries are as vast as they are unique. But, thanks to globalization, niche trends now have universal appeal. In this series, The AEDITION explores geographical markers of beauty and how they influence today's global patient and consumer.
Often seen as a source of cult beauty products, French pharmacies are skincare meccas and home to some of the foremost skin experts. French pharmacists are fonts of knowledge when it comes to building a minimalist skincare regimen that is simple yet effective. Favoring fragrance-free formulas that utilize soothing thermal water and other natural ingredients, the French prioritize a pared down, ingredient-focused routine that is based on the skin’s needs. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the secret behind that enviable French-girl hair, it comes from the pharmacy, too.
Since you might not get a chance to jet to France anytime soon, we’re bringing the pharmacy to you. We spoke to a French pharmacist (and skincare aficionado) to get the lowdown on which products work best for which skin and hair types and learn what makes pharmacie skincare and hair care so good. The best part? All her recommendations are available in the U.S.
The French Approach to Skincare
We spoke to Sandrine, a pharmacist working in a small village near Bordeaux in southwest France, who regularly helps customers diagnose and treat their skin concerns. When she meets with a new client, she first wants to know what is bothering them about their skin and what’s in their current regimen. From there, she can offer guidance. “First off, I will establish what they are already using,” she explains. “If any of it is good, I’ll advise they keep that up. And then we’ll work to add in other steps to their routine.” Here she shares her go-to products for specific skin types and concerns (think: dry, oil, aging).
For Dry Skin
Sandrine recommends a pared down, three-step skincare routine for people who come to her complaining of dry skin. “I think it’s important for people to start simple when they’re tackling very dry skin,” she says. “People often consult me for ‘dry’ skin, when they’re struggling with stress-induced skin trouble or when winter comes around and they are dealing with the effects of the cold.” To calm and rehydrate the complexion, Sandrine suggests finding the right cleanser, toner, and moisturizer:
- Cleanser: As Sandrine explains, the soap-free La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Hydrating Cleansing Cream is a clinically-tested gentle cleanser that is meant to treat skin that has been overly sensitized or dehydrated by drying acne treatments. As such, it’s the perfect moisturizing cleanser for dry skin. If you need to remove makeup, consider pairing it with a makeup remover like Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water.
- Toner: “Avène Gentle Toning Lotion is designed specifically for dry and very dry sensitive skin,” Sandrine says. “It’s a great product for increasing hydration without causing breakouts.”
- Moisturizer: She likes the Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream for dry skin because it has a “rich texture that works well to boost hydration quickly.” While the rich cream is great for night, it might be too heavy for daytime wear. The gel-cream version works well under makeup.
For Oily & Acne-Prone Skin
Oil-absorbing and acne-fighting products can be irritating, so Sandrine advises clients to treat the issue gently to start before building up to more potent active ingredients over time. “Here in France, those struggling with acne often consult their pharmacist before trying any products to help the issue, let alone speaking to a doctor or dermatologist,” she shares. “In mild cases, we are happy to advise, but, for more severe cases, we will advise customers to seek more specialized advice.” She recommends a cleanse, tone, and moisturize routine to start, with the addition of a targeted retinoid treatment:
- Cleanser: Rather than strip the skin with harsh ingredients, Sandrine recommends the soap-free La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel for those dealing with acne, oily skin, and other breakouts. The gentle formula contains zinc that she says “can help with limiting excess sebum, which, in turn, should aid in preventing breakouts.”
- Toner: The Bioderma Sebium Hydrating and Mattifying Toner regulates excess oil production, while also hydrating the skin.
- Moisturizer: “I advise the use of La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Sebo-Regulating Moisturiser to my clients who have trouble with acne,” Sandrine shares, adding that brand is her go-to for treating breakouts. The lightweight moisturizer mattifies and hydrates skin without clogging pores. “It’s almost more of a primer than a pure skincare product,” she says.
- Treatment: There’s a reason A313 Vitamin A Pommade is a cult favorite — it can treat everything from acne to wrinkles. “Anecdotally, we hear of people using it to prevent hormonal breakouts by applying it for two weeks per month on the affected area, usually the chin, in the run-up to and during your period,” Sandrine notes.
For Combination Skin
Combination skin can be tricky to treat because products that treat oily areas of the face may be too strong for the drier patches. Sandrine recommends the La Roche-Posay Toleriane three-step routine to balance the complexion. “It includes a dermo-cleanser, prebiotic moisturizer, and thermal spring water spray,” she explains. “It is usually sold as a set, which also makes it cost-effective.” For those who want to add a serum to the mix, the Effaclar Serum offers smoothing and brightening benefits without adding shine.
For Aging Skin
In France, anti-aging skincare begins early, with people preventatively treating their ridules (i.e. little wrinkles) with products before seeking more permanent solutions later in life. “The basic three steps remain the same,” Sandrine explains. “But, with customers looking for anti-aging products, I always add in a moisturiser or serum that is specific to their stage of aging.”
- Cleanser: The gentle, multitasking Avène Micellar Lotion is good for people who are looking to combat signs of aging. “It helps create a healthy glow without being harsh or abrasive,” she says.
- Toner: Sandrine likes the Caudalie Vinopure Clear Skin Purifying Toner because it treats blemishes and is made from 99 percent natural ingredients. Her tip? Use it during the warm weather months or after a workout for an antibacterial refresh.
- Moisturizer: For younger clients, Sandrine suggests a “brightening” moisturizer, like La Roche-Posay Hydraphase. The Avène Hydrance Aqua-Gel, meanwhile, is good for dull, stressed skin. For those with more advanced signs of aging (think: loss of skin volume), her go-to is the Vichy Mineral 89 Booster. It contains hyaluronic acid that keeps skin “looking youthful and well looked after,” she says. It should be noted that all these moisturizers layer well under makeup.
- Treatment: The Avène Physiolift range includes an eye serum, day serum, and nighttime formula that Sandrine says have short- and long-term benefits. “They have a specific combination of ingredients to combat signs of aging in the long run but also take care of making skin look more youthful directly after they are applied,” she shares.
The French Approach to Hair Care
When you think of that French je ne sais quoi, you likely imagine an impossibly chic Parisian woman with her hair tousled just so. While Americans are just waking up to the importance of scalp care and gentler hair products, the French have long considered scalp care an extension of their skincare routine. Here, Sandrine shares her go-to hair care picks:
Generally speaking, Sandrine recommends Klorane shampoos because they are mostly natural, gentle on the scalp, and safe for color-treated and processed hair. “Most of their products only require one wash, as opposed to two with other brands,” she says.
The Vichy Dercos hair care range treats the scalp and hair with a similar approach to skincare for the face. Sandrine particularly likes the “versatile” Vitamin A.C.E. Conditioner because it’s specifically formulated for “tired hair” but gives a “boost” to all hair types.
Your hair and body will thank you for adding Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse to your routine. “I couldn’t not recommend it,” Sandrine says. “It’s a nourishing oil, which can be used on wet or dry hair. It adds shine and generally makes hair appear healthy and full of vitality.”
Another vote for Klorane here — its Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk is second to none. “It’s very effective, doesn’t have any artificial scent, and blends well into the hair no matter its natural color,” Sandrine explains. “It is absorbent enough to only require one application throughout the day and also doesn’t cause any nasty build up.” Consider that a win-win-win.
In a perfect world, we’d all fly to the south of France for a rendezvous with Sandrine. But, with COVID-19 keeping us closer to home these days, this virtual consultation will have to do. The French approach to skin and hair care is preventative rather than reactive and involves a curated routine of gentle yet effective products that rely largely on natural ingredients. The brands that used to require a passport stamp to purchase are now largely available online and, in some cases, U.S. drugstores, too. So, it’s never been easier to update your routine.