Skincare rituals are vastly different from culture to culture, but the women in France seem to be doing something particularly right. Of course, us Brits have always had an infatuation with the French, but their objectively more effortless, less neurotic approach to beauty makes us wonder: What can we do to make our skincare products and habits a little more… Français?
According to Sophie Strobel, a French skincare guru from Talika's research and development department, "In France, we're very 'Latin.' We're hedonistic, and we don't like obligations."
The French skincare regimen is "less controlled, more natural, and instinctive." As Strobel says, "We like to take pleasure in every task we do (like eating!), we don't like pressure, and we tend to criticise the rules." The French embrace imperfection and consider spending more than a few minutes on their daily routine a waste.
Here's the other fascinating thing about French skincare: You'll rarely catch a French girl at the dermatologist's office unless she has some sort of medical issue, like psoriasis or allergies. Generally, the French like to avoid prescription products whenever possible in favour of natural, plant-based formulas. That's not to say they don't seek professional skincare advice. "As a preventative measure, French women begin getting facials young," says Regine Berthelot, a French esthetician and Caudalie's director of spa education. In between facials, they keep their routines down to a few core products: cleanser or micellar water, moisturiser, perhaps a gentle exfoliator, and a weekly mask. All others are considered extraneous. The French way is "less is more."
To learn how to make our skincare routines a little chicer, we asked three French skincare gurus to give it to us straight: Keep scrolling to discover the six American products a French skincare expert would never recommend (plus, what to use instead)!
A French Skincare Expert Would Never Recommend…
When British women get a pimple, generally our first instinct is to do whatever it takes to kill it as quickly as possible: We'll lance it, squeeze it, laser it, dry it out with spot treatments. But the French are way more relaxed about blemishes. According to Berthelot, drying lotions have no place in the French skincare routine. If pimples happen, they let them run their course, using a tinted moisturiser or BB cream in the meantime "to treat the skin while covering any blemishes."
Daily exfoliation, especially with sonic cleansing brushes and intense face scrubs, is so not the French way. "Over-exfoliating can lead to irritation and broken capillaries," says Erin Gilbert, MD, Vichy consulting dermatologist.
Instead, to make your skin French-girl glowy (but never irritated), Berthelot recommends using a glycolic acid serum (try Pixi by Petra Overnight Glow Serum, £26) or an all-natural brightening serum formulated with purifying essential oils (try Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum, £175), no more than a few times a week. Caudalie Gentle Buffing Cream (£20) and Glycolic Peel (£22)—used just once a week—are also French facialist–approved.
Because we Brits have been brainwashed to value "squeaky-clean skin," we often opt for soapy, foaming cleansers, products a French girl would never buy. "Stripping the skin by using a harsh soap-based cleanser may make your skin feel cleaner initially, but ultimately it leads to dryness, an imbalanced pH, and removes some of the healthy bacteria you need to keep your skin healthy," she says.
Micellar waters and gentle cleansers formulated with natural, hydrating ingredients are the way to go. The Talika pick above is loaded with brown algae, cotton, shea, and avocado oils to leave your skin feeling moisturised, never tight.
"No layering," Strobel advises. "Less is more. The less you overwhelm your skin, the better it will be."
So why do one step in three when you can do three steps in one, like with Vichy 3-in-1 Micellar water? "It removes makeup and dirt like a charm, is non-irritating, and restores your skin's pH," Berthelot says.
"I'll be the first to admit that makeup wipes make your nighttime beauty routine a breeze," says Gilbert. But the preservatives in many makeup wipes can be "irritating or too industrial strength to keep on your skin overnight." If you're addicted to your makeup wipes, at least make sure to wash off the residue afterward with a super gentle cleanser, like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser (£10).
And always follow up with moisturizer, arguably the most important step in the French-girl skincare routine. Makeup artists and dermatologists are all obsessed with Embryolisee face cream (£13), which Gilbert says "provides a ton of moisture, has a wonderfully rich texture, and is an affordable option for those who don't want to blow half of their pay on Crème de La Mer (£120)."
Strobel says that French girls never use chemical sunscreen because they're filled with endocrine disruptors, but most mineral sunscreens are "too heavy" for everyday use. Thus, in the winter, French girls rarely wear any sunscreen at all. "Under the French climate, they're useless when it's not spring or summer, especially if you put on foundation [which naturally offers some physical sun protection]," Strobel says.
But French dermatologists insist on applying sunscreen in the summer. "French formulas almost always have antioxidants, vitamins, or plant extracts," Strobel says. Try La Roche-Posay's tried-and-true SPF 50.
Want more French beauty tips? Don't miss the seven things French women never do to their hair.