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For far too long, French skincare brands remained an insider secret. While beauty editors returned from Paris Fashion Week with suitcases full of multi-tasking creams from brands like La Roche-Posay and Embryolisse, and make-up artists made regular pilgrimages to Paris just to stock up on litres of Bioderma’s mascara-melting micellar water, the rest of us were pretty much left in the dark to the wonders of the French pharmacy.
Eventually, however, someone somewhere let this well-kept secret slip, and talk started to bubble up about all the incredible skin remedies found across the Channel. Thankfully supply soon caught up with demand, and these once elusive brands finally made their way onto UK soil and into British bathroom cabinets.
But what exactly is the hype all about? Importantly, the allure of French drugstore skincare brands has more to do with their performance than their long-maintained mystique.
Famed for their functional, almost clinical approach to caring for the skin, French skincare brands tend to use only the most efficacious, gentle ingredients and often come backed by top dermatologists and skin laboratories, too. The formulas (and their utilitarian packaging) may be pretty fuss-free, yet somehow they always feel ridiculously decadent to use. Put it this way: they just have a certain je ne sais quoi.
Created by certified skin health experts, the (virtual) shelves of Living Beauty wouldn’t be complete without a curated edit of incredible French skincare solutions. But if you want help figuring out which ones are worthy of room in your routine, read on to discover the 10 best French skincare brands – and their most raved-about products.
Bioderma was one of the first French skincare brands to really reach global acclaim. Why? Well, it’s all down to one product: Sensibio H2O (£7.20).
The OG micellar water cleanser, it may look and feel like standard water, but this mild formula surprisingly packs an impressive make-up-melting punch. Using innovative micelle technology, it can dissolve even heavy-duty eye make-up or longwear foundation, all while peeling back a day’s worth of dirt and grime. Or, use it in the morning for an instant skin refresh. Take a peek in any make-up artist’s kit and you’re bound to find this iconic cleanser.
Klorane may be most well-known for its haircare, but it also makes some pretty impressive skincare formulas. Just look at Soothing Eye Make-up Remover (£7) for proof.
With a subtle floral scent (that’ll be the cornflower), it gently yet effectively melts away eye make-up, making light work of removing smoky eyes and mascara-lacquered lashes. There’s no need for rigorous rubbing which is good news for the fragile skin around the eye. Plus, it boasts that signature gentleness French skincare brands have become known for, formulated to have the same pH as tears meaning it doesn’t sting the eyes as you use it.
At the heart of each and every Avéne formula lies its eponymous Thermal Spring Water. Trickling through the French Cévennes Mountains, this natural water collects precious minerals and trace elements on its journey towards the Saint-Odile spring: the homestead of this iconic brand.
When it comes to skin benefits, this thermal water is naturally soothing, making Avene products ideal for sensitive skin. There’s a range to suit every concern, from dryness to oiliness, dullness to redness. Avéne Skin Recovery Cream (£17.50) tops the list of its most famous products; a rich and cosseting moisturiser that battles extreme dryness.
If your skin needs a supercharged hit of hydration, try Avène Tolérance Extrême Mask (£16), a calming face mask packed with shea butter and glycerin.
La Roche-Posay is one of the most famous French drugstore skincare brands, and for good reason too. This dermatologist-backed brand formulates efficacious-yet-gentle solutions for pretty much every skin concern. And you can rest assured that you won’t experience an adverse reaction: every single formula is non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores) and has been tested on sensitive skin.
Ask any skincare expert for their top spot treatment, and it’s highly likely they’ll cite La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Duo+ (£16). This anti-blemish moisturiser uses vitamin B3 and salicylic acid to clear up clogged pores, while keeping skin properly hydrated.
But that isn’t the only product worth your attention. Its range of serums give you all the benefits of the most potent active ingredients without the risk of irritation. Case in point: Retinol B3 Serum (£38), a powerful rejuvenating serum that takes little to no getting used to.
Embryolisse’s Lait Créme Concentrate (£13) was first developed inside a Parisian hospital as a remedy to help accelerate skin healing. But even without a medical issue, this rich cream makes the ideal moisturiser for anyone looking for healthy, hydrated, glowing skin.
Buttery in texture and packed full of essential fatty acids, it plumps skin and accelerates cell renewal. So multi-functional, make-up artists use it as a primer, moisturiser and even a make-up remover.
But Lait Créme Concentrate isn’t the only Embryolisse product worth attention. Lesser-known but equally as effective, Radiant Eye (£21) is a clever, cool-to-the-touch skincare stick. Swipe it around the eye area and it won’t only reduce puffiness and dark circles, it’ll moisturise and smooth skin texture too.
We’ve never met a Vichy product we didn’t like. This French skincare brand is powered by volcanic mineralising water, which contains tonnes of skin-loving nutrients.
There are plenty of incredible products to discover, but make Mineral 89 (£25) your starting point. This serum uses hyaluronic acid and a whopping 89% concentration of its mineralising water to plump skin, as well as to strengthen its all-important barrier. A sturdy barrier function is vital for keeping the good stuff (moisture) in and the bad stuff (pollution and other environmental aggressors) out. So lightweight, you’ll barely notice it whether you layer it under other skin products or make-up.
Side note: when summer finally returns, Another cult-favorite is this Vichy’s super lightweight Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water SPF30 (£19). It’s sunscreen in body mist form, which makes it perfect for reapplying your SPF throughout the day.
Up-cycling food waste for use in skincare may be emerging as a ‘new’ trend, but Caudalie has been doing it for years. Founded in 1995 on a rather charming vineyard in Bordeaux, its formulas utilise the surprising skin benefits of a waste substance from the wine making process: grape seeds.
Containing powerful antioxidants celebrated for their ability to protect the skin from environmental aggressors, this French skincare brand has been funnelling the skin-loving extracts of grape seeds into their formulas ever since.
The most iconic product has to be Caudalie Beauty Elixir (£12). This facial mist gives skin an instant burst of radiance, but can also help tighten pores and smooth over fine lines. No wonder it's loved by celebrities and influencers the world over.
Gallinée is one of the newest additions to the French skincare hall of fame. This brand focuses on the skin microbiome (the thousands of bacteria currently living on its surface) and is based on the belief that a balanced microbiome is vital for optimum skin health.
Put it this way: if your microbiome becomes unbalanced or stripped, your skin will likely let you know about it by becoming inflamed and sensitive. But keep your microbiome in check, and you’ll reap the rewards of strong, glowing skin.
If you think your skin microbiome is off kilter, reach for Gallinée Hydrating Face Cream (£35). It contains prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics to support the good bacteria on the face, while gently soothing, protecting and brightening the skin.
Filorga is arguably the unsung hero when it comes to the best French skincare brands. It prides itself as hailing from France’s first ever laboratory dedicated to aesthetic medicine, which means it’s all about creating science-backed formulas that match up to the most powerful aesthetic treatments.
It’s the brand to turn to if you want a high-performance face mask. Sheet mask lovers will enjoy Hydra Filler Mask (£10), a serum-drenched but non-slimy mask that uses hyaluronic acid and NMF (natural moisturising factors) to ply skin with tonnes of moisture.
Meso-Mask (£42), on the other hand, mimics one of 2021’s most popular in-clinic treatments: mesotherapy. A cream formula, it is rich and collagen and elastin (the building blocks of great skin) to plump and smooth the complexion. Expect immediate radiance.
Institut Esthederm is at the luxury end of the French skincare brand spectrum. Inspired by the pro aesthetics industry, it was founded in the 70s with the promise of skincare products to protect skin from environmental aggressors.
It’ll be no surprise the brand is a leading name in the world of suncare (After Sun Tan Enhancing Lotion (£39.50) is like a refreshing splash of water on sun baked skin) but it has also made a name for itself in the world of performance skincare.
Intensif Vitamine A Cream (£68) uses every skin expert’s favourite ingredient, retinol, to speed up cell renewal, reinforce the epidermal structure of skin and diminish the look of fine lines, undoing much of the damage caused by outside skin aggressors.