French pharmacies are the undisputed pantheons of the beauty world. It is easy to wander in looking for paracetamol or bandaids and leave with a jumble of products you never knew you needed, feeling Augustus Gloop levels of kid-in-a-candy shop.
In 2021 though, the rest of the world is up to speed on the efficacy and ingenuity of French products. Many of their most famous brands are readily available at pharmacies like Priceline (at similar costs!) So when you go to France don’t waste your time buying Bioderma or La Roche Posay.
Instead, these are the unexpected treats (and need to knows) to keep your eyes peeled, and wallet ready, for.
In French pharmacies, prestige (read, expensive) brands mingle with freely with utilitarian pharmacy products. Luxury brands like Caudalie and Darphin are available in most pharmacies. Don’t go crazy though! They are only fractionally less expensive than they are in Australia. What you will benefit from though is an extensive range and multiple sizes that you won’t find in Mecca or Sephora. The Caudalie Beauty Elixir is incredible for hot Paris days. Store in the fridge if you can and spritz intermittently to refresh your makeup or cool yourself down. When I ran out of my serum I picked up their SOS Vinoperfect Serum which, while nothing astoundingly active, was hydrating and fast-absorbing enough to keep my dry, sensitive skin happy.
Pharmacy, or “Drugstore” Brands:
The Biafine brand was made famous by Gwenyth Paltrow for it’s all purpose salve. The thick lotion has a similar consistency to Embryolisse Lait. While I find Biafine richer than need be for most purposes their “chap stick” style lip balms are phenomenal. The lightweight, matte texture makes them perfect for layering under bright or deep lipsticks for when you’re rocking the ubiquitous French-girl pout and want to add hydration without gloss. A fantastic dupe for my erstwhile favourite matte lip balm from La Mer.
And what of Embryolisse? Their face lotion has been a cult classic for years and, for that reason is readily available online (or at Scotty’s Makeup in Sydney). It makes a great base for makeup in extreme weather conditions. However, it’s barrier cream texture can make it problematic for oily, combination or sensitive skins (I am very dry but it brings me out in milia if I use it daily!) Exploring the rest of the Embryolisse range has its rewards. I was sampled the 365 Smoothing Body Lotion. Gliding on weightlessly the lotion left gloriously smoothed, sculpted skin behind and provided all-day hydration. The moment I emptied the sachet I headed straight back to the pharmacy to stock up.
Saniflore’s Aciania Botanical Gelee also became a firm favorite. The vegan, organic French brand is best known for its purifying toners. However, their Gelee cleanser is definitely worth a look. The gel-oil hybrid removes makeup while soothing the skin with cornflower extract and sunflower oil. Don’t like using more than one cleanser? Simply wash again – the gelee contains salicylic acid to purify pores on contact with bare skin.
One of the unexpected products I came across everywhere in France? Probiotic Tampons. French bran Saforelle has an extensive probiotic-based range of feminine hygiene products that can be found in almost every pharmacy. These include mild bar and foam cleansers, wipes and an extensive range of products for infants. I was surprised by the popularity of these intimate hygiene products as the French have a reputation for embracing au naturale, however, the French have been championing probiotics as an answer to many medical concerns for some time. Just last year the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety supported the use of probiotics as alternatives to antibiotics in farming and have championed research into probiotics treatments for cancer. Saforelle suggests their tampons will regulate vaginal flora during menstruation reducing discomfort, thrush and UTI’s. And their jumbo sized hot pink tampon tins make great gifts for friends.
Avibon which has been retitled A313 is a pharmaceutical-grade Vitamin A that is widely available at the French pharmacy. In Australia Vitamin A products are strictly regulated due to the increased risk of light sensitivity. So, a major perk of overseas travel when it returns is access to products you would need a script for at home. A313 has a vaseline like texture that makes it tricky for layering with water or oil based serums and lotions. However, it is heavy and hydrating enough to use on its own – great for those looking to streamline at night. Use with your best judgment as Australian regulations are strict for a reason! We are exposed to far more direct UV than other nations so sun avoidance is advised when using any type of Vitamin A. No hat, no play, no fun today!
My final piece of French pharmacy advice? No matter where I travel I always use sunscreens!
While La Roche Posay’s Antheolis is popular and widely available in Australia there are many other French sunscreens not available on the Australian market. Brands like Bioderma and Caudalie boast lightweight, water-based or spray sunscreen lotions with remarkably high SPF’s. Similar to the popularity of sunscreens in Asia these lotions are generally far more viscous and absorbent than those found in Australia.
But these featherweight textures shouldn’t always be taken at face value. SPF regulations for testing vary from country to country. Given the high UV in Australia, Australian SPF’s are heavily regulated and are the most vigorously tested of any on the retail market today. This means that often international SPF products either test far lower for SPF in Australia or sometimes don’t meet our standards at all. An excellent example of this is Chantecaille’s glorious Anti-Glycation sunscreen/primer. In the European and American markets, this product is rated as an SPF 45-50, in Australia, it scrapes a mere 15. It still makes a great primer, but don’t rely on it for a day at the beach.
Fortunately, tough conditions haven’t stopped Australian companies formulating phenomenal and high performing products. Try Australian brand “Ultra Violette’s” Queen Screen sunscreen that has been making waves in Sydney. I picked it up at Kristin Fischer brows in Double Bay after a lash lift and brow shaping. The formula is hydrating but lightweight with SPF50 and sits perfectly under makeup. After using it for just over a month I escaped my European vacation with no sunburn or skin reactions. A homegrown beauty gamechanger.