Going to a French pharmacy is the best and worst of both worlds: you’re being greeted by shelves and shelves of (affordable) beauty products, yet the vast amount of different brands, product types and quality is rather overwhelming. Trust me, I’ve been there. So to save you breaking into a cold sweat in-store or spending hours skimming through dozens of articles claiming they’ve got the shortlist for ‘cult French products you need to try’, I’ve narrowed down a list with some of my personal faves for the ultimate starter guide. Get a cuppa and a biscuit, because it’s loooooong.
A quick disclaimer: I’ve tried all products mentioned and the vast majority of these still remain in my current beauty stash after years and years. You may notice that not all products that have been mentioned are in the pictures, because I either 1) finished & binned it or 2) left it in London. Some products I’ve recently repurchased when I went to France just before the end of 2016 – hence them looking new – and some are insanely well-loved, which is reflected by its battered state. Sorry, not sorry.
Cleaning your face is by-far the most important step in a skincare routine and the French know how. As a daily makeup wearer – and city dweller – removing my makeup and the tube grime off my face is the most satisfying thing after a long day. I’m sure I don’t have to introduce you to Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, it’s something I make sure I always am stocked up on. If your skin is particularly congested, La Roche Posay’s Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel or Avène’s Cleanance Cleansing Gel have got your back. A fairly recent discovery is Uriage’s Bariéderm Cleansing Cica-Gel with CU-ZN+, which contains zinc and copper and is great for irritated and sensitive skin.
- Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water – from £5 via Escentual – A must-have for days when you cba to remove your makeup after a long day at work or a night out.
- La Roche Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel – £11.50 via Escentual – The Citric Acid gently exfoliates, purifies and heals your skin and breakout.
- Avène Cleanance Soapless Gel Cleanser – £10.50 via Escentual – As it’s SLS free, it’s perfect for those with drier and ultra-sensitive skin suffering from breakouts.
- Uriage Bariéderm Cleansing Cica-Gel with CU-ZN+ – £7.19 via Cocoon Center – Purifies and soothes the sensitive and irritated skins. Soap and fragr
TONERS & LOTIONS
Whilst I try to keep my cleansers non-stripping, toner is the step where I pre-treat my skin before the next step. Depending on how my skin feels, it could be either soothing, moisturising or exfoliating. La Roche Posay do a great range, where Serozinc is a great soother or mist to apply post-pimple popping and the Effaclar Micro Exfolient Toner comes out when I want to gently exfoliate my skin. Caudalie is my go-to for moisture and their Moisturising Toner has been my choice of armour this winter. When I feel that my skin is getting irritated, either Sanoflore Organic Ancient Rose Floral Water or Melvita Damask Rose Floral Water rock out, as my skin reacts best to rose-based products.
- La Roche Posay Serozinc – from £4.50 via Escentual – The finest and best mist-nozzle you’ll find on the market.
- La Roche Posay Effaclar Micro Exfolient Toner – £12 via Escentual – A great affordable & gentle daily exfoliating toner. Think Pixi Glow Tonic meets its French pharmacy sister.
- Caudalie Moisturising Toner – £15 via HQ Hair – Your de-hydrated skin’s wet dream. Your skin will gulp this up and you’ll thank me later.
- Melvita Damask Rose Floral Water – £15 via Feel Unique – Smells great, works a treat and the Damask Rose is organically farmed. Ideal for delicate and sensitive skins.
- Sanoflore Organic Ancient Rose Floral Water – £7.28 via Cocoon Centre – To be really honest, I can’t describe the difference between this and the Melvita number. It does the same job for nearly half the price, but it’s slightly harder to get hold of. Also, it’s Emily Weiss approved.
Serums & treatments
Now this is when the real fun starts. French pharmacy do serums and treatments so well without breaking the bank. My main concerns are hydration, clarifying and fading [hyper pigmentation] scars, and as you guessed, I found – at least – one for each concern. Institut Esthederm is probably amongst the highest-tier pharmacy brands you’ll find and their Cellular Concentrate Fundamental Serum is worth all the £££. Repairing and renewing, I found my skin to appear and feel softer, smoother and brighter, whilst slowly fading my scars. If you’ve got any active breakouts however, Bioderma Sébium Global is the one. Whilst it may tingle slightly when applied on open wounds, it’s worth waking up with less red & inflamed skin.
As anti-acne products tend to be slightly drying on the skin, I balance this with hydrating serums in the morning. For a budget option, La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense Serum is great as it packs a punch of Hyaluronic Acid. If you’ve got access to a physical French pharmacy, head to the counter and ask for Ialuset, which is 100% Hyaluronic Acid. Whilst the cream looks opaque and white, your skin will absorb it in seconds. If you’re looking for something slightly more ‘premium’, go for Caudalie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst-Quenching Serum. It’s very fluid and restores the moisture balance of your skin.
Another French pharmacy exclusive find is A313 Pommade, which is the infamous Avibon’s alternative. It’s a Vitamin A cream, which you can either apply directly or mix with your current moisturiser to dilute the product.
- Institut Esthederm Cellular Concentrate Fundamental Serum – £70 via Beauty Bay – If you’ve got a treat yo’ self-urge, this is the moment to flash that cash.
- Bioderma Sébium Global – £14 via Escentual – Apply on areas that are currently breaking out and supplement the non-acne areas with a hydrating serum, as you don’t want to aggravate good skin for no reason. (Or ever really).
- La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense Serum – £19.90 via Escentual – Hyaluronic Acid without the heavy price tag. Super fast absorbing and suitable for sensitive skins.
- Ialuset – from €6 via French pharmacy – Best applied on damp skin —just apply immediately after you’ve patted on your (hydrating) toner.
- Caudalie Vinosource S.O.S. Thirst-Quenching Serum – £29 via Escentual – Contains 97% natural ingredients, including antioxidants, Hyaluronic Acid and skin soothers.
- A313 Pommade – from € via French pharmacy – Use in the evenings as it’s very heavy and shiny. Either apply a thin layer all over your face or dab on spots.
moisturisers & oils
Whilst I don’t exclusively just use French Pharmacy moisturisers and facial oils, they are the ones I always fall back to if my skin is really inflamed and I know I need to scale back on products. When it comes to dehydrated skin, Caudalie’s Vinosource range is bomb. Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré is a classic that I’ve been using for over 5 years now and it’s a very fuss-free, straight to the point, nourishing Shea Butter based moisturiser. Super nourishing, but not heavy at all.
Extremely oily skins may want to opt for Biafine Emulsion. Technically not a moisturiser, but more like a thin, cures all balm. My skin’s only looked better after using this and not worse, so go figure. Uriage Bariéderm Insulating Repairing Cream sounds more scary than it is. It’s got a much thicker consistency than Embryolisse, but also packs a heavier punch. If you’re extremely blemish-prone or are battling active acne, La Roche Posay’ Effaclar range is your go-to. Effaclar H is moisturising yet purifying, whilst Effaclar Mat keeps the shine at bay without drying out your skin.
Also, if you need the nourishment and moisture, but you’re very prone to breakouts and afraid of blocking your pores, worry not. The majority of French pharmacy products are non-comedogenic, meaning they don’t have pore blocking ingredients. Gotta love those pharmacists.
- Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré – £20 via Cult Beauty – Great as makeup base too. Massage this into your skin to substitute your primer.
- Effaclar H – £9.50 via Escentual – Especially designed for those taking skin drying acne meds, e.g. Accutane.
- Effaclar Mat – £14.50 via Escentual – A very fluid and light moisturiser. Aside from hiding the shine, it also blurs out the pores slightly.
- Caudalie Vinosource Moisturising Sorbet – £23 via Escentual – Genuinely my favourite range for dehydrated skin. Smells lovely, works a treat and you’ll notice a difference instantly.
- Caudalie Vinosource Night Oil – £26 via Escentual – The benefits of the moisturiser, but then in a souped up oil version. Treat yo’ self and layer this over the/a moisturiser.
- Biafine – €6.90 via French pharmacy – Great for burns, scabs, scarring or any other reason why your skin would need healing.
- Uriage Bariéderm Insulating Repairing Cream – £5.75 via Cocoon Center – Saved my face when the flakiness around my mouth-area started to resemble a beard. Apply a thin layer on the area that needs a boost, or apply all over your face.
masks & other ‘Tlc’ products
Masks are amongst my favourite skincare products to buy, as it’s the ultimate pamper product. And if you find the right product for the job, they tend to pack a punch too. If I’ve got all the time in the world, I’ll do my 3-step masking routine, which is 1) exfoliating, 2) clarifying and 3) hydrating.
SAMPAR Equalising Foaming Peel takes just 5 minutes to slough off dead skin cells and washes off like a foam cleanser. Despite that, it’s not drying whatsoever. In terms of clarifying masks, I’ve got a few favourites. Cattier is great: it’s very cheap and very effective. My favourite is the Yellow Clay Mask, as it’s the most gentle and least drying. When I really need the big guns out Cattier’s Green Clay Mask is the one. For those with ultra-sensitive skin, try Avène Cleanance Mask-Scrub, which clarifies, purifies, unclogs pores and regulates sebum production.
Seeing that clay masks are drying, I follow with either La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense Mask for a gentle boost of moisture. Or if I’m really lazy and don’t want to wash my face gain, I opt for Erborian Sleeping BB Mask, which is an overnight mask. Don’t let the ‘BB’ part fool you, it’s not tinted and is 100% a skincare item.
- SAMPAR Equalising Foaming Peel – £33.60 via Feel Unique – one liner
- Cattier Yellow Clay Mask – £6.49 via Ecco Verde – Unscrew the cap ever so slightly and give it a good shake before your first squeeze. Contains Jojoba oil and Hamamelis water. Perfect for dry skin.
- Cattier Green Clay Mask – £6.49 via Ecco Verde – Contains Jojoba Oil to nourish and Peppermint to clarify. Perfect for oily and combination skin.
- Avène Cleanance Mask-Scrub – £15 via Escentual – The Kaolin White Clay draws out all impurities and gunk from your skin. Skip the exfoliating mask step when using this, as it’s a 2-in-1 (scrub and mask).
- La Roche Posay Hydraphase Intense Mask – £16 via Escentual – The consistency is a runny, light blue gel and aside from adding moisture, the Thermal Water calms and soothes the skin at the same time.
- Erborian Sleeping BB Mask – £36 via Space NK – When your skin needs all the moisture it can get, but you cba to do a full skincare routine: slap this overnight mask on and you’re good to go to bed.
lip care & multi-purpose balms
Whilst lip care isn’t the most exciting beauty category, it’s one that I hold very dearly, as no one has time for dry, flaky or sore lips. NUXE is infamous for their Rêve du Miel lip range for a reason. Not only is it a great base for any lipstick you’re planning to wear since it dries matte, but it’s also nourishing af. Bioderma Atoderm Moisturising Stick is hydrating and great when you’re out and about. The scent is rather fruity and slightly overpowering, so if you’re funny about fragrances, maybe give this a miss.
If you really need some help in the lip department, go for La Roche Posay Cicaplast Lips. And saving my fave for last, Boiron Homeoplasmine is referred to as the French pharmacy’s reply to Elizabeth Arden’s 8 Hour Cream, minus the funny smell. It looks like a matte Vaseline and is not heavy or greasy at all.
- Boiron Homeoplasmine – £9 via Amazon – Great for on the lips, awesome for loads more. Try it as a brow gel, cuticle balm or any rough patch that could use some insulation.
- La Roche Posay Cicaplast Lips – £6 via Escentual – The one if your lips need some help with their repairing process.
- NUXE Rêve du Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm – £9.50 via Feel Unique – Use pre-lipstick or apply generously pre-bed time.
- NUXE Rêve du Miel Ultra-Nourishing Chapstick – €5 via French pharmacy – Just as nourishing, but slightly lighter than the Balm. Great for when you’re on-the-go and don’t want to dip tube-bacteria in your pot.
- Bioderma Atoderm Moisturising Stick – £5.10 via Escentual – Hydrating with a fruity twang.
Everyone and their grandmother have been shouting about how important SPF is. Even when you don’t see the sun, the harmful rays are still there, so please please please do protect your skin. La Roche Posay Anthelios is a great range that would have something that would fit any skin type. RoC is perhaps an underdog in this list of big names, but I fell in love with their Invisible Touch Mist SPF50.
One that’s perhaps more well known is Institut Esthederm Bronz Repair. Yes it may cost an arm, but it’s great if you’ve got the luxury to fork out the £££, which is due to the science and research that backs the brand. The good thing is that Bioderma comes from the same lab as IE, so I’d highly recommend trying their offerings if you’re looking for a budget alternative.
- La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid SPF50+ – £16.50 from Escentual – Suitable for normal, dry & combination skin, leaves a soft velvety finish, doesn’t feel thick or heavy and is a great makeup base.
- La Roche Posay Anthelios AC Matte Fluid SPF30 – £16 from Escentual – Especially designed for those with oily and blemish-prone skin.
- RoC Soleil Protexion Invisible Touch Mist SPF50 – £9.99 from Amazon – A soft body mist that distributes just the right amount of product per spritz.
- Institut Esthederm Bronz Repair Moderate Sun – £ from Cult Beauty – Also available in ‘Strong Sun’.
- Bioderma Photoderm MAX Cream SPF50 – £14 from Feel Unique – This whole range is like a love-child of La Roche Posay Anthelios and Institut Esthederm Bronz Repair.
- Bioderma Hydrabio Eau de Soin Anti-UV Mist SPF30 – £9 from Escentual – An essential for the lazy bones amongst us. Perfect for on-the-go reapplications or when you’re about to dash out.
fragrances & body care
The French know their way around fragrances, just look at Grasse and the numbers of immaculate Noses they produce. For affordable fragrances, soaps and anything with a lovely scent, Roger & Gallet is my go-to. NUXE and Caudalie are great for body oils and Cattier for no-nonsense body care that works, suits sensitive skin and doesn’t break the bank.
- Roger & Gallet Thé Vert Soap – from £6.50 via Escentual – Their green tea range is amongst my faves —and the first I’ve ever tried. I’m not a soap bar kinda girl, but I love stuffing these in my wardrobe.
- Roger & Gallet Fragrances – from £17 via Escentual – Thé Vert, Bois d’Orange, Gingembre Rouge and Fleur de Figuier are my faves.
- NUXE Huile Prodigieuse – from £17 via Escentual – Would naming this a cult dry-oil be an understatement? Marketed as an all-purpose oil, I’d recommend using this on your body only. The French pharmacist shuddered at the thought of putting this anywhere near your face. True story.
- NUXE Huile Prodigieuse OR – from £20 via Escentual – All of the above, but better. Get this if you want to glisten and glow.
- Caudalie Divine Oil – £28 via Feel Unique – Really similar to NUXE’s offering, but I find it slightly nicer in scent and slightly more moisturising. It’s blended using 4 vegetable oils, which make up 60% of the formula.
- Caudalie Divine Legs – £26 via Feel Unique – Think the Divine Oil meets streak-less instant tanner, minus the biscuit/rotten strawberry scent. It nourishes, illuminates and is very easy to blend in, so it would suit lighter skin tones too, as it’s not very opaque.
When I think French pharmacy hair care, there’s only 3 brands that matter [to me]. 1) Klorane for their shampoos and dry shampoo, 2) Rene Furterer for its Complete 5 Essential Treatment and PHYTO for any hair treatment that renews, revitalises and nourishes your hair so it just looks healthy and just better.
- Rene Furterer Complexe 5 Essential Treatment – £29 via Escentual – If you’ve got sensitive or irritated scalp, this is for you. Abort if you hate citrus or lemongrass-scented products.
- Klorane Dry Shampoo Natural Tint with Oat Milk or Nettle Sebo-Regulating – £8 via Escentual – I dislike the original (despite that winning many awards), but rate either of these. Works a treat and doesn’t leave (dark) hair white and chalky.
- Klorane Shampoos – from £8 via Escentual – They’ve got a range to match every hair type and concern. I love Flax Fibre for once a week, Oat Milk for when my hair is really dry and currently trying out their Peony range for sensitive scalp.
- PHYTO 7 Hydrating Cream – £15.50 via Cult Beauty – Non-greasy, not heavy and silicone free. Protects and repairs the hair, great to use during the day. Also suitable as a hair primer.
- PHYTO Secret de Nuit – £28 via Feel Unique – If your hair is seriously damaged and is in dire need of some nourishment, apply a walnut size in your ends and leave it in overnight.
We all know them… Products that add that extra bit of luxury and pleasure to your (pamper) routine, but you don’t necessarily need vs. a moisturiser. But if you do have some extra £££ lying around, here you go:
- Klorane Smoothing & Relaxing Eye Patches – £10.98 via Cocoon Center – Pop ‘em in the fridge and apply it first thing in the morning. I suffer from ridiculous puffy eye-bags and these are a god send.
- Caudalie Beauty Elixir – from £11 via Cult Beauty – Whilst I know a lot of people like this as a toner, I much prefer this as a ‘pick-me-up’ when I fall into an afternoon-slump or use it to revive my makeup after a long day. It smells great, so it really lifts up my senses as well.
- Mavala Eye-Lite Double Lash Serum – £14.50 via Feel Unique – I picked this up 5 years ago on a whim as I was whizzing through Citypharma (the one on Rue Du Four, obvs) and I’ve never been so pleasantly surprised by an impulse buy. Unlike most lash treatments, this has a mascara brush, is easy to use and I noticed my lashes looking more fluttery after 1.5+ weeks.
- Mavala Nail Polish Thinner – £6 via Look Fantastic – The best if you need to revive your favourite nail polish that’s gotten clumpy and unusable.
The guide has been put together in the order I would use the products in. The masks section is something I’d use right after the cleansing step and then follow with toner, serum/treatment, etc. I hope this helps prioritising certain products over others and if you’d like to know my thoughts on a particular French pharmacy brand or product —please do shout or give me a nudge. Chances are that I’ve tried it before.
Also, Escentual are having their infamous promotion where they offer UP TO 1/3 off french pharmacy products FROM 1ST JAN 2017 until TBC. And Feel Unique’s sale covers a number of French pharmacy brands. I’m not affiliated with either brand in anyway and am just here to give you an honest low down of products & where to get the best bang for your buck.
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