A Tourist's Guide To French Pharmacy Skincare

They're known for having excellent products for low prices. Here's what you need to look for if you find yourself inside one.
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They're known for having excellent products for low prices. Here's what you need to look for if you find yourself inside one.

French pharmacies are weird and delightful places. You can fill a prescription there, but you usually cannot buy tampons, nor can you serve yourself to Tylenol; it must be fetched for you by an Official Pharmacist in a lab coat.

But the walls are covered with shelves and shelves of skincare products. The idea is that the pharmacists make the cosmetics seem more medicinal by proximity.

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And there are some seriously good cosmetics! Quite a few of the brands come out of European medical laboratories, others belong to big global cosmetics groups with first-rate R&D. You can get excellent quality for a lower price than at Sephora or a department store.

Because pharmacies are everywhere in France, many of these products end up being fashion and beauty industry favorites because it is just so easy to run out to the corner to buy some more makeup remover for a shoot.

So if you take a trip to France at some point in the future, I recommend that you browse your local corner pharmacy and get your friends some souvenirs that they will actually like. Stock up for yourself, too, and enjoy the silly translations and pseudo-medical packaging.

Here are some of the major brands and their star products.

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BIODERMA

Bioderma is a small, Lyon-based laboratory brand with product ranges for many different skin types, but it is particularly good at gentle, fast-absorbing hydration with no residue.

The star product is Créaline TS H2O. This is the number-one makeup remover in France and popular with makeup artists because of its gentleness and efficacy. I also use the Atoderm PP Baume, which is an ultra-hydrating fluid that absorbs completely without any residue.

Bioderma is a godsend for eczema sufferers and a personal favorite.

LA ROCHE-POSAY

La Roche-Posay is a L’Oréal brand with slicker marketing, a larger product line, and excellent R&D.

I use the famous Antihelios XL sunscreen line. Right now I have the new products for summer 2013: the Gel-Crème Toucher Sec and the Huile Nutritive Invisible. The Antihelios XL line contains an active ingredient that provides remarkable UVA broad-spectrum protection but is stupidly forbidden by the FDA.

For the other products, sniff before buying; not all of the perfumes are particularly palatable.

VICHY

Vichy is another famous brand developed with mineral water from a spring in central France. It has famous skin makeup, such as a super-coverage concealer, but I can’t use it because they only make it in golden beige-y colors. I am not golden beige. If you are golden beige, please check it out.

I use their deodorant, the Traitement Anti-Transpirant 48H, which really and truly does work for 48 hours.

CAUDALIE

Caudalie is a brand based on active ingredients derived from vineyards in the Bordeaux area. It is less medicinal and has more of a natural vibe.

The dark-spot-correcting Vinoperfect line uses a grape-based active ingredient that they call viniférine, which they claim is 62 times more effective that vitamin C. I use the Sérum Eclat Anti-Taches and the Masque Peeling Enzymatique from this line for acne scars. I love the herbal, grape-y fragrances; they are peaceful and relaxing.

AVENE

Avène is another spring-water brand, this time from southern France.

If you get a pimple in France, someone will recommend the Clearance acne-fighting line. It is a nice and gentle salicylic acid-based line.

They also have a pretty famous water-based makeup remover like the Bioderma one, which finds its way into certain Paris makeup studios.

Have you ever been to a French pharmacy? What are your favorite pseudo-medical skin care brands?