Test Drive: I Tried a French Beauty Editor’s Routine

When we think of French beauty icons—Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve—the same things come to mind: elegantly tousled bedhead, barely-there makeup, and flawless, sparkling skin. With their absence of showy lip color and sleek blowouts, it may seem as though French-lady beauty routines are as barebones as they come. Curious whether appearances match reality, I consulted our Birchbox France Editorial Director, Mathilde Lacombe. It turns out that day in the life of a typical French woman is filled with several (yet invisible) products, all of which make the case for “skincare as makeup.” Here’s what I learned:

Mornings Are Low Maintenance

Mathilde’s first instructions were rather unorthodox: “Don’t wash your face.” Instead, she advised me to splash it with some water in the shower. Before hopping in, I treated my hair to Phyto Subtil Elixir Intense Nutrition Shine Oil, a healing hair oil, then washed it out with Klorane’s Shampoo with Desert Date. (Mathilde says that French women wash once every two to three days, and usually skip conditioner.) After showering I applied Embryolisse and—though Mathilde said that SPF hasn’t taken off in France—I couldn’t help but follow with Supergoop! City Serum.

Makeup-wise, Mathilde and I have something in common—we keep it light: some tinted moisturizer (Erborian is the local best-seller), cheek stain, mascara (no curling allowed!), followed by transparent lip balm. For body, she recommended NUXE Huile Prodigieuse, a dry blend of sweet almond, macadamia, hazelnut, and camellia oils that can be used anywhere—arms, legs, face, even hair and nails—and smells alluring enough to make me skip my go-to Le Labo Rose 31 perfume.

Spritz It Up in the Afternoon

Since midday makeup touch-ups aren’t typical in Paris, Mathilde recommended L’eau de Beaute de Caudalie to freshen up my face instead. I threw the travel-sized mist in my bag and, just when I was daydreaming of my next cup of coffee, gave my face a couple spritzes. Its refreshing, herbal scent is thanks to a dreamy blend of grape, orange blossom, rose, mint, and rosemary oils which also helps tighten pores and promote circulation to revive your complexion.

Go to Bed Bare Faced

Every night, French women remove their makeup with a liquid cleanser a la Caudalie’s Makeup Remover Cleansing Water, a close cousin to the ever-popular Bioderma. Extremely gentle, the solution didn’t even bother my sensitive, contact-corrected eyes. Since I had some extra time, I exfoliated with Caudalie’s Gentle Buffing Cream, a thick, creamy formula with tiny beads of jojoba to scrub off dead skin. Then I put on a bit of the Nuxe oil and went to bed, though Mathilde said that many of her pals sleep with nothing on their faces—“it’s good to let the skin breathe.” As a self-professed lazy girl, this was quite all right by me.

Make Time for Trés Special Treatments

Once or twice a week, French women make time for some extra beauty TLC. After exfoliating, Mathilde likes to use a soothing mask like Avène Masque Hydratant, which I slathered on during a particularly lazy evening in. Over the course of 10 to 15 minutes, the mask absorbs into skin to leave your face smooth and supple. (It’s since become my favorite French indulgence.) To save time, Mathilde recommended applying a hair mask at the same time, so I used Klorane’s Mask with Magnolia, which gave my dried-out ends some much-needed hydration.

The Verdict

After a few days of living la vie Française beauty-wise—where skincare takes precedence over makeup, and blowouts and manicures are reserved for special occasions—I can happily say I’m a convert. Now if only I could bottle some of that je ne sais quoi.

Photo: Eléfilm, Ulysse Productions

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