Open the medicine cabinet of any beauty-obsessed friend or well-traveled aunt and we bet you’ll find some commonly-found-in-French pharmacy beauty products. The benefits of brands like Bioderma, Avène, and Embryolisse have been widely extolled: The ingredient lists tend to be short (just the necessities), the products nonirritating, and the packaging, of course, understatedly handsome. “All the runway models bring empty suitcases to Paris so they can hoard all of the cultish and (relatively) cheap lip ointments and lightweight moisturizers they find in the drugstore aisles,” says the Cut’s beauty director Kathleen Hou. If a trip to Paris’s famed City Pharma drugstore is not in your imminent future, fear not — lots of French pharmacy products are available on Amazon, including a sunburn salve beloved by Inès de la Fressange, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s favorite Retin-A cream. To compile a comprehensive list of all the best French pharmacy products you can order comfortably from your couch, we consulted with Hou and two other beauty experts regarding their go-to cleansers, ointments, dry shampoo, and more.
Best French pharmacy cleansers
French pharmacy products are often said to be particularly gentle (and effective) for people with sensitive skin, and this Avène cleansing lotion, which comes recommended by Into the Gloss brand strategist Emily Ferber is no exception. “I recommend Avène everything — they have products for almost every skin type, but particularly excel at making things for highly sensitive or sensitized skin,” Ferber says. “I’m on my umpteenth bottle of their Extremely Gentle Cleansing Lotion, which soothes my skin when I’m dry or breaking out.”
If you’re looking for something a bit stronger to combat breakouts, Ferber recommends the brand’s Cleanance Cleansing Gel. “I like to have the Cleanance Cleansing Gel on hand in the summer or any time I want to cleanse the hell out of my skin (after a flight or on nights when I wear a lot of makeup).” she says. “It’ll get you really clean — just make sure to moisturize well afterwards, as it’s slightly stripping.”
Best French pharmacy micellar waters
Micellar water — a kind of cleansing water infused with “micelles” (small balls of oil) — is a gentle product that can be used for everything from cleansing skin to removing eye makeup. “Hands down, this is one of the best makeup removers I have ever tried,” says the Cut’s beauty director Kathleen Hou. “It works the way you wish water would — it washes away even the thickest layers of makeup, making your skin feel refreshed and free of grime. It also cuts through waterproof makeup and the smokiest of smoky eye shadows.” And, she says, there’s a Bioderma for everyone — it comes in formulations for sensitive, normal, and oily skin. “The one with the pink cap is the regular version; you’ll often spot makeup artists buying it in bulk.”
If you want to take your micellar water on the go, beauty consultant Alexis Page recommends these travel-size capsules from La Roche-Posay, which she buys by the boxful when she’s in Paris. “The individual packages might not by the most sustainable, but they’re great for travel,” she says. “You don’t have to lug around a whole bottle of makeup remover — and they’re very cute.”
Best French pharmacy thermal water
As you’ve probably noticed, the French prefer products that do not treat the skin harshly. This mineral-infused thermal water is one such gentle product, and, according to Hou, the bottle “delivers a mist fine enough to water an orchid.” She suggests using it on planes or to calm down any dry or irritated patches of skin. It can also be used to refresh your makeup if your foundation or concealer starts to look dry during the day.
Best French pharmacy moisturizers
“This is often the only moisturizer makeup artists carry backstage because it won’t irritate models’ skin, no matter the weather conditions outside or the number of times they’ve had their makeup done and removed that day,” says Hou. It doesn’t contain much fragrance, and the milky texture makes it soothing to all skin types — making it a perfect, unfussy basic.
Page told us that she’s been a longtime Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré fan, but that lately she’s been particularly into La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Ultra moisturizer, which, unlike the (very lightly scented) Embryolisse is entirely fragrance-free. “It’s sort of a ‘nothing’ moisturizer,” she says. “I try so many products for work that at some point I burn out and want a ‘nothing moisturizer’ — a simple tried-and-true. Embryolisse used to be that for me, now it’s this La Roche-Posay.”
If you’re looking for something a little heavier duty (but still gentle), Ferber says Avène’s Cicalfate is “crucial in harsh weather — particularly if you do a lot of flying, winter sports, or anything else that’ll break down your moisture barrier.” The cream can be used on both your body and face, and is formulated with sucralfate and a copper-zinc sulfate complex, both ingredients that help repair damaged skin.
Best French drugstore sunscreen
Another La Roche-Posay recommendation comes to us from Hou, who calls this sunscreen one of the brand’s “powerhouse products.” According to Hou, the sunscreen has a creamy texture that blends into skin without pilling, and dries matte without a white cast, so that you can apply makeup over it easily. And, vitally, it comes in SPF 50, meaning that you can rest assured your skin looks good and is well protected against the sun.
Best French pharmacy balms and ointments
Several people we spoke to mentioned CicaBiafine, which a soothing, anti-itch and anti-irritation cream that repairs and intensively hydrates damaged skin. “You could treat your sunburn with watery American aloe vera — but using this rich, creamy French ointment just seems chicer,” says Hou. Page agrees: “I literally think it works for everything, including taking inflammation down and keeping mosquito bites from itching,” she says. “I bring it on vacations, and make people put it on sunburn or bug bites.” According to Hou, it’s a go-to product of Inès de la Fressange, too. “She uses this for burns, dry skin — pretty much everything.”
Perhaps the culty-ist of all cult-y French pharmacy ointments, Homeoplasmine was designed to soothe the chapped nipples of nursing mothers, but has become a go-to for chapped lips. “Makeup artists like Tom Pecheux keep this ointment on hand because it can be used to buff out dry, flaky skin,” says Hou. “It also doesn’t look glossy, so you can apply any lip color on top.” She says in the winter she’ll apply it to cracked lip corners before going to bed, and by the morning, “they’ve healed; it’s worked its magic.”
“This first caught my attention thanks to an old Goop newsletter,” says Hou. “And yes, Gwyneth Paltrow was right.” A313, formerly known a