We promise this isn’t yet another blindly adoring ‘ah, the effortless je ne sais quoi beauty of the French’ article. One of the perks of a French skincare routine is appearing effortless, sure, but it is grounded in serious dedication – finding what works for you, minimising time and expenditure, and focusing on your health rather than the fairly hideous phrase ‘anti-ageing’. Over the years here at Beauticate we have talked to French women, as well as plenty of glamorous, in-the-know Aussie expert (and expat) Francophiles, and have not only gleaned the secrets to a French skincare routine but learned how to adapt it for our very-much-not-French selves. The key? Think of your approach to your skincare as being like, well, a duck; forget the à l’orange and bear with us.
See, you paddle hard underwater – religiously sticking to an at-home regime, ignoring the latest unfounded trends, keeping a standing appointment with your expert facialist – so that, above water, your rested, perfected glow game is strong. It isn’t about hiding the work you put in, or the age that you are, but putting the effort in so that your skin, rather than your makeup skills (or surgeon’s skills) shines. After all, it’s not the short term payoffs a French skincare routine is focused on, but rather, the long game. As French beauty maven and skincare line founder Terry de Gunzburg told us, “my mother taught me the importance of looking after my skin, and that healthy skin is the secret to eternal beauty”. So let’s get started.
This may seem simple in theory, but in our current world of twenty step skin routines and constant product launches, it’s one of the hardest steps of all and so has to be undertaken first, like a trial before some mythical quest. Yes, you need to experiment to find what works for you, but once you’ve found it, stop. Don’t be swayed by trends, but rather trust time-honoured ingredients and rituals. For example, Terry de Gunzburg shared with us that she was influenced by the generations before her when it came to highlighting the powerful properties of roses in her own skincare line, By Terry: “One of the very first products I used was rosewater. My grandmother and mother used to bathe me in it when I was a baby.” She also recommended that a skincare routine include simple, defined steps, using only a small number of products.
This approach doesn’t mean you ignore well-founded research, but rather that you stay strong in the face of passing fads. Melanie Grant, who, after years of being lauded for her celeb-loved treatments in Double Bay, now offers exclusive appointments in Paris, told us she relies on reputable ingredients like vitamin A and cosmeceutical ranges to achieve her preferred “fresh-faced, dewy skin”. The lesson, then, is to focus on key ingredients – say, vitamin C for brightening, and Melanie’s favourite, vitamin A, for renewal – and trusted, efficacious brands. And no, they don’t have to be French, but as our Editor Sigourney found on a trip to the motherland with Bioderma, “French brands lack marketing hype and instead show a real dedication to dermatology”.
Opinions may vary as to the need to wash your face in the morning, but removing your makeup and the grime from the city at the end of the day? According to model and France’s Miss Universe, Iris Mittenaere, this step is simply non-negotiable. The French famously love their micellar waters, and by all means go in with a soaked cotton pad, but for a deep clean, they are not afraid of a proper cleansing balm. Try fashion darling Julia Restoin Roitfeld’s favourite, by Eve Lom. Remove with a warm face cloth, then go in with a gentle milk or cream cleanser to soften your now makeup-free visage.
The literal translation of gommage written on your tub of face scrub may be “erasure”, but the French don’t mind a line or three on their faces – it shows that they’ve lived. We’re certainly not in the land of major needle intervention, here. Instead, it’s time to get comfortable with at-home exfoliation to up the all-important glow factor, wrinkles be damned. The cult classic Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 turns, appropriately enough, 50 next year, but often feels like it is only just being discovered outside of France. An acidic exfoliant not for the faint of heart, you can expect it to produce anything from a tingle to a flush to a fairly serious sting – and to reveal gorgeous, fresh new skin. (Plus, the immaculately-complexioned Melanie Grant and Julia Restoin Roitfeld both love it. Enough said.)
This may seem out of step with the current trendy approach of using many light, hydrating layers, but we promise, not every product you use has to be a gel texture at the heaviest. (And a more intense cream doesn’t mean it’s necessarily occlusive – if you’re breakout-prone, just avoid potentially acnegenic ingredients like mineral oil and shea butter.) If you’re following the French routine of using as few products as possible that each do seriously hard work, the easiest way to lock in the good groundwork you’ve already laid is with a cream that does it all. As Melanie Grant says, “optimal skin health is achieved through good oil and water content in the skin.” Find it in just one grown up cream.
The French may not be as filler-ready as some, but it doesn’t mean they eschew professional treatments. In fact, quite the opposite. Designer Lucy Folk, who splits her time between Sydney and Paris, swears by a personal regime of facial acupuncture and bespoke creams her Parisian facialist creates just for her, while Melanie Grant enjoys employing her own professional treatments on herself, including “a weekly Omnilux, microdermabrasion and peels monthly, and a laser treatment here and there.” The traditional French way, though, doesn’t necessarily include needles or machines, but rather excellent, personalised application of products, and a very clever pair of hands. And should you not have your own Gallic expert at the ready to sure up your French skincare routine, we have good news – treatments by one of the most well-respected of French brands, Biologique Recherche, are finally available on our shores. At Kailo Wellness Medispa in Brisbane I looked on with interest (bordering on Narcissus-level obsession) as my expert therapist Isobella showed me the lifting, depuffing and chiselling effects she had achieved on one side of my face, using nothing more high-tech than the physiotherapist-derived, firm, pinch-rolling techniques the brand is famous for. Just imagine the cumulative effects that would be created if you were introduced to such treatments as a teen, as is customary in France. (And in case you were wondering, yes, desperate to be more Brigitte Bardot than Quasimodo, I eventually managed to tear myself away from the mirror long enough to allow Izzie to treat the other side of my face, too.)
Here’s a shocking idea – why don’t you take a few minutes to enjoy this French skincare routine of yours? Novel, isn’t it? Nationally-mandated work day lengths (shorter than ours) and vacations (longer) aside, it’s not that the average French woman is less busy than the rest of us, per se, but that she knows where to assign her beauty minutes to get the most bang for her euro. The idea being if you relax, have a good time and take care of yourself, it shows in your face. Author Katrina Lawrence makes sure “to always give myself a good twenty minutes in the bathroom each morning (I have two young boys so I also see this as my girlie-slash-sanity-slash-me-time!).” She also shared that something she particularly enjoys about the French approach to beauty is that applying your skincare “should be seen as an opportunity for pampering.” How to bring this element to your own routine? Barring any true allergies, don’t be afraid of oils and fragrance, which make the physical act of using your skincare more pleasurable. Take your time when you can. Include your body in your skincare routine – bathe in rosewater à la Terry de Gunzburg, or apply oils in the shower before patting dry, like Julia Restoin Roitfield. Exercise, eat well, sleep. And wash all this advice down with a glass of red wine, mais bien sûr.
Terry de Gunzburg told us that she feels “ageing is just part of the process of enjoying life. Every small line I have indicates a certain moment. Of course, I do try to keep my skin as healthy as possible but I also accept what I cannot help.” The French approach to beauty is widely adored, although also misunderstood. It’s not only about pharmacy creams and red lipstick; it’s about common sense, and ultimately about feeling your best to look your best, and, even more importantly, vice versa. And should you decide a French skincare routine doesn’t quite get you to where you think you’d like to be, all is not lost. Of course, have the filler if you’d like, but there is another option. Why not follow Lucy Folk’s recommendation to “wear fabulous clothes, jewels and sunglasses to distract from tired eyes or wrinkles”? Just don’t forget a good dose of French insouciance.
Story by Zoe Briggs. Images from Instagram.