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6 Things We Can Learn from French Pharmacies (and the Women Who Frequent Them)

Most of us would approach a friend, dermatologist, or (ahem) the Birchbox Twitter channel with a specific skincare question before we’d call on drugstore pharmacists. But that isn’t true overseas, where French pharmacies operate by a radically different philosophy. They focus on “dermal-cosmetics,” products they combine medicine, wellness, and skincare, and pharmacists take pride in consulting with their customers in order to recommend the safest, most effective ingredients for their particular issues. (No wonder French women have such enviable complexions!) Here’s what we learned by chatting up the marquee brands carried in these chic sanctuaries.

1. Rely on Science

“We've been known to do 200 tests for a formula,” Caudalie founder Bertrand Thomas confessed to us earlier this year. Turns out Caudalie, which got its first big break when it was picked up by French pharmacies, isn’t the only brand that holds its products to such a high standard—there have been over 300 clinical studies on Avène’s thermal spring water (sourced from the south of France) to prove its soothing and softening abilities. “Nothing comes to market that’s not rigorously clinically tested,” says Jacqueline Flam, VP of Sales and Marketing for Klorane, a brand founded by pharmacist Pierre Fabre.

2. Be a Snob About Ingredients

What do some of the most beloved French beauty brands have in common? An insistence on natural, top-notch ingredients. Just as Avène has its aforementioned thermal spring water, Caudalie has its antioxidant-rich grapes, and Klorane has its organically-farmed flax fiber (among other plant-derived ingredients), which can be found in its volumizing shampoo.

3. Treat—Don’t Cover

Instead of slathering your next pimple with a layer of concealer and calling it a day, do what a French woman would do and apply a product like Caudalie’s Polyphenol C15 Overnight Detox Oil. Unlike a topical treatment, the formula works to eliminate toxins, reverse damage, and encourage skin cell turnover so that blemishes disappear (and don’t come back).

4. Have Patience With Your Products

When it comes to skincare, play the long game. “In the US, you’ll find that customers are looking for instantaneous results, something that’s going to have a cosmetic effect,” says Flam. Instead of searching for a temporary fix, opt for products that will have qualitative, long-term results like Avene’s Skin Recovery Cream with D.E.F.I., which uses soothing ingredients to heal and rebalance skin tone over time.

5. Keep it Simple, Stupide

“In addition to quality and efficacy, the French customer is always looking for simplicity; it’s always about skincare before color cosmetics,” says Flam. While we’d never discourage you from playing with makeup—hello, silver eyeliner!—consider putting your complexion first with products like Caudalie’s Gentle Cleansing Milk and Vinexpert Radiance Day Cream SPF 15. When you optimize your skincare, makeup becomes that much more fun.

6. Embrace Your Age

We get it, the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines can be trés frustrating. Before you even consider Botox or fillers, take a page from the French philosophy on aging: “In Europe, the 40-year-old woman embraces her aging with a grace,” says Flam. Instead of searching for cosmetics to mask the signs of growing older, Flam suggests looking for products that keep aging skin healthy. When in doubt, a retinoid like Avène’s Rétrinal+ 0.1 Cream is the gold standard in terms of what a French dermatologist would recommend.

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