Whenever I am in France, multiple trips to the pharmacy are a prerequisite of my trip. Why? Because their beauty offering is like no other; the French know how to give good skincare.
Dr Marine Vincent appreciates us Brits’ fascination with these pharmacy brands, heralded as top-notch, yet suprisingly affordable. With trips to France currently curtailed, we are beyond thrilled we have a new way to shop like a French girl on home turf, thanks her beauty concept store, The French Pharmacy.
Having studied Pharmacy in Lyon, Vincent wanted to work in a community pharmacy to help people. When she relocated to London in 2006 with her partner, she discovered the way of working was a lot different. “I quickly discovered that the pharmacist is almost always working at the back, and not in close contact with their patients,” she says.
The way the French address skincare concerns is different. According to Vincent: “Most people will go to their pharmacist before they go to the doctor. That includes any skin problems. We believe in prévenir vaut mieux que guérir, which means ‘prevention is better than cure’, and actively promote this with all our clients.”
This is where The French Pharmacy comes in. Against all odds, the store opened in Marylebone in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, and has now (finally) flung open its doors to visitors. In Dr Vincent’s words, “its a destination for those seeking the best of French skincare and beauty, with the Paris experience, including the one-to-one pharmacist contact that France is typically known for.”
I spoke to Vincent to learn more about mastering skincare like a French girl…
Why is there such an appetite for French beauty brands in the UK, and what sets these products apart?
French pharmacy products are usually science-backed, exclusively offered in pharmacies, with very well-trained assistants with an attractive price point, and that is really what make them so special. What else could you wish for?
What brands can visitors expect at The French Pharmacy, which they won’t find readily elsewhere?
We can get pretty much anything you want or need from France, but we do have some cult French pharmacy products in stock like Cattier Clay Masks, Biafine Act, Collosol, or even Botot mouthwash. We are the only one in the UK to stock Rogé Cavaillès, Somatoline, or Le Rouge Français. I love being able to propose indie or niche brands in the UK market.
Why are French women famed for their beauty regimes, and why is it so different?
We have a preventive approach which means we will start having a rigorous skincare routine from teenage years. The skincare routine and skincare secrets are usually passed from mothers to daughters, like a rite of passage. Our routines are also simple and straightforward, but based on knowledge. It is quite normal to visit your dermatologist and your facialist on a regular basis. Skincare is part of health care and we are quite serious about it.
How do French women choose which products to use?
We usually go to the pharmacy first, to be honest, to choose our skincare products and get tailored advice. We also all have our favourite products that have been passed from one generation to another. For example, I have always seen my mother use La Roche Posay Respectissime eye make-up remover. I now swear by it, so I imagine my daughter will follow too!
What is the French beauty aesthetic in terms of skincare and make-up?
Usually, French girls prefer a natural look. We love adopting a strong skincare routine, as we believe a good “canvas” is essential before make-up. We absolutely do make up, but in a subtle way. We love une bouche rouge for the evening, but in that case, eyes would be very discretely made up.
Here are Dr Vincent’s top seven products to master French girl skincare.
"Green clay is widely used in skincare for oily skin in France. It is the very first mask I remember putting on my face. A tip is to keep it moist with thermal water while it's on the face."
"Filorga is the number one anti-ageing range in pharmacies in France. With their experience in aesthetics, their products are some of the most effective to fight ageing signs."
"Bioderma was the first laboratory to introduce micellar water to the market. Sensibio is now the world number one micellar water."
"Still the best dry shampoo on the market. It's effective without drying or leaving any residue, I have never found anything better."
"I could have chosen the whole range of La Roche Posay as French pharmacy cult products. However, Cicaplast was one of the first repairing multi-usage balms on the market, and I don’t know any French person without it in their bathroom."
"Caudalie is one of my favourite skincare ranges. Effective, patented formulations backed by Harvard University, natural, and with amazing fragrances and textures. This is still one of the most effective serums for dark spots on the market and forever a French cult product."
"Uriage – a thermal water-based brand – isn’t as well known in the UK as La Roche Posay or Avène, but the thermal water at the base of all Uriage formulations is 33% more hydrating than any other thermal water brand. An icon in every bathroom."