As former Vogue Paris beauty editor Lili Barbery-Coulon told the Cut, French women take a less-is-more approach to many things, including makeup. “If you see a woman wearing foundation, this is wrong to us,” Barbery-Coulon says. Rather than covering up one’s true features, “the main beauty philosophy in France is to accept who you are,” makeup artist Violette says. This helps to explain why French beauty as a whole focuses on refinement rather than opulence and showing off, model and Parisian Caroline de Maigret says. But that’s not to say there aren’t (quite a few) products involved in appearing effortless, as evidenced by the list below and the face mists and micellar water that have long fascinated Stateside consumers, says Julie Levoyer, beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar France.
In an effort to identify which of the country’s staples are worth the hype, we’ve spoken to dermatologists, pop stars, and makeup artists to find both lesser-known skin-care standouts and some widely extolled pharmacy items. Below, we’ve compiled an extensive roster of French beauty products — in categories such as cleansers, concealers, moisturizers, and mascaras — that have appeared on the Strategist from top-selling brands, including Avène, Dior, La Roche-Posay, and more.
Best French cleanser for dry skin
When we asked experts about the best face washes, Ami Dalal, a certified physician assistant with Schweiger Dermatology Group, recommended this La Roche-Posay cleanser for drier skin types because it contains glycerin, which “helps hydrate your skin without the overproduction of oil,” she says. The formula also boasts other active ingredients, such as moisturizing ceramides to repair the skin barrier and soothing niacinamide to treat irritated skin, dermatologist Dr. Yunyoung Claire Chang says. Chang says she also likes that the creamy texture gently removes makeup as you cleanse.
Best French cleanser for oily skin
As seen in our guide to the best face washes for acne, this foamy formula was crowned the best for oily skin because it contains exfoliating salicylic and alpha-hydroxy acids. These ingredients work to reduce excess oil and unclog pores, and in turn, increase cellular turnover, says Dr. Sonia Batra, dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors. And because oily complexions can also be acne-prone, Batra says the acids also work to rid skin of concerns such as pimples and blackheads; meanwhile, Tess Adams, a facialist and co-founder of New York’s Take Care Spa, says they “can be imperative for healing cystic or severe acne.”
Best French moisturizer
The Cut’s former beauty director Kathleen Hou says this Embryolisse cream is often the only moisturizer makeup artists carry backstage because it won’t irritate models’ skin. It doesn’t contain much fragrance, and the milky consistency makes it soothing for all skin types, Hou says. The formula also contains soy proteins, which firm and tone, leaving a soft finish that primes the skin for makeup. Makeup artist Helene Vasnier even says it’s her favorite for prepping men’s skin (which is thicker than women’s) because of its creamy texture. French British actress Charlotte Gainsbourg also told the Cut it was the single beauty product her late mother Jane Birkin used.
Best French moisturizer for mature skin
Designed specifically for aging skin, this cream is a favorite of dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal, who likes that it’s deeply hydrating while targeting fine lines and wrinkles. It contains a blend of water-attracting glycerin and shea butter, plus dimethicone, which creates a barrier to stop moisture from leaving the skin, Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst says. But the main ingredient is Pro-Xylane, a sugar-protein molecule, which prevents future visible signs of aging while boosting elasticity and fortifying the skin’s matrix, dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum says. This is key for mature skin that produces less collagen over time, Denton-Hurst says.
Best French moisturizer with SPF
“This is basically an upgraded version of the already beloved Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, boosted with SPF protection,” says Dr. Tiffany Libby, director of Mohs micrographic and dermatologic surgery at Brown Dermatology. Beyond blocking harmful UVA and UVB rays, this cream doesn’t contain fragrance but has a host of skin-barrier-supporting ingredients, such as ceramides, glycerin, and niacinamide, Dr. Marisa Garshick, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, says. This makes it a great option if you’re dry or sensitive, because the formula soothes, repairs, and rebalances parched skin, Strategist contributor Baze Mpinja says. And according to the product description, it’s also noncomedogenic, so it’s a safe bet for acne-prone skin.
Best French makeup remover
Bioderma’s micellar water — a cleansing liquid infused with “micelles,” or small balls of oil — is our top-rated makeup remover because it works on all skin types by drawing out imperfections without stripping skin, NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King says. On top of being “lightweight and nongreasy,” the formula is alcohol-, fragrance-, and paraben-free, dermatologist Dr. Y. Claire Chang says. Dr. Lily Talakoub, founder of Derm to Door, uses it and says it won’t leave skin feeling tight post-wash. It’s also the only product that can take off her hard-to-remove mascara “without losing any precious eyelash hairs,” Talakoub says.
Best French face mist
This “beauty elixir” comes recommended by Nicole Scherzinger, along with two dermatologists — Dr. Stacy Chimento and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank — who both like the face mist because it can perform double duty as a primer for makeup or as a setting spray. Frank says it gives a healthy-looking glow because it contains essential oils, including moisturizing grape extract, toning rosemary, soothing rose, and antiseptic peppermint, which “helps to tighten pores and reduce inflammation and breakouts.” Scherzinger describes the formula as “illuminating” and says it has a tingling sensation to “wake up” the skin. “I use it when I’m tired, especially when I’m done flying and need to freshen up,” she says.
Best (less expensive) French face mist
Dr. Michelle Park, a dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology, prefers this single-ingredient mist because it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin and can be used on rosacea or eczema, thanks to its thermal mineral water that “calms inflammation and restores the skin barrier,” she says. Although the formula lacks nutrient additives (unlike the mist above), its neutral pH gently hydrates skin, Park says, but she recommends “using a facial moisturizer after spraying this to lock in the moisture.”
Best French night cream
In our guide to the best night creams, the Vichy LiftActiv Supreme is our favorite affordable firming option. Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, owner of the Dallas-based practice Houshmand Dermatology, says it’s great for those “with sensitive skin who are looking for effective anti-aging solutions at a reasonable price point.” The moisturizer contains vitamin C and glycerin for hydrated, brighter-looking skin, Denton-Hurst says, while Houshmand points to rhamnose, a naturally derived plant sugar, as the crucial ingredient because it effectively plumps and firms. “With continued use, the cream visibly reduces wrinkles” and produces a more even texture, Houshmand says.
Best French concealer
Celebrity makeup artist Daniel Martin likes the versatility of this blendable Dior concealer, which has full coverage and can be worn in place of foundation. The formula, which is infused with iris extract for hydration, is thick and creamy, so a little goes a long way, Strategist contributor Garrett Munce says. But Munce’s favorite part is that it truly lasts: “I applied this stuff first thing in the morning, and it was still in place when I got home 14 hours later,” he says. It can also be used to even skin tone under the eyes or in the T-zone, says makeup artist Lucy Halperin, who’s a fan of the product’s wand for mess-free applications. Halperin also appreciates the brand’s extensive color range, which includes 30 shades.
Best French lip stain
While passing through a European airport, Strategist contributor Sadie Stein uncovered this Clarins lip stain and was informed by a duty-free employee that the nondrying, water-based formula “would last for 300 kisses,” Stein says. Now, it’s become a step in her daily beauty routine as a quick way to appear more polished, Stein says. Like Stein, I’m also a fan of lip stains, but this is my favorite because it’s ultrapigmented yet transferproof. I also like blotting it on my cheeks for a flushed look, but when applied to my lips, it lasts all day, and, as Stein puts it, “When it does fade, there’s no ring around your mouth: It fades all at once.”
Best French mascara
Since she was a teenager, Strategist contributor Susannah Edelbaum has used this Bourjois mascara, which her mom says is made in the same factory as Chanel. Edelbaum says it only takes two swipes to create a “dramatically better version” of her own eyelashes that never smudge, flake, harden, or clump. And when it’s time for removal, Edelbaum says the formula easily washes off. She also says it’s proven to be a great gift because it’s “high-quality, European, and unfamiliar.”
Best French waterproof mascara
Makeup artist Amanda Shackleton says this L’Oréal mascara is the most dependable waterproof option in her kit, which is why she uses it on clients “when there’s even a remote possibility of tears,” like at weddings. Makeup artist Jen Myles and actress Sanaa Lathan both praise the budgeproof formula for building volume and thickness that “almost makes you look like you have false eyelashes on,” Lathan says.
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