Favorite French Pharmacy Beauty Products

Favorite French Pharmacy Products

I love French pharmacies. There is a pharmacy on virtually every street in Paris, identifiable by the ubiquitous neon green crosses that flash the temperature and time. The pharmacists are not just high school kids working a register; French pharmacists are trained and knowledgable, and you can find beauty brands like Darphin, Nuxe, Caudalie, L’Occitane, Roger & Gallet, Bioderma, and all the other French names you’ve heard celebrities and bloggers rave about for years.

I went to pharmacies frequently in Paris. Some days, my main activity was walking down to Saint-Germain to City Pharma, the discount, two-story pharmacy on Rue de Four. Bury my ashes at City Pharma, oui? There may be a pharmacy on every corner in Paris, but if you’re looking to pay €3, €5, or even €10 less per item, it’s worth the trek to this particular store. Don’t be alarmed if you can barely fit in the aisles and don’t be put off by the insane line. There’s also a pharmacy on Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, right next to Galeries Lafayette, where the prices were equally as competitive.

I want to preface this by saying all of these products are grossly more expensive in the states than they are in France. By almost double, in some cases. Cheaper than a flight to Paris, but less fun. Süsk, I might be taking you up on your offer for a refill shipment at some point!

Herewith, my five favorite picks…

Favorite French Pharmacy Products

Vichy Pureté Thermale Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover / I arrived in Paris without my luggage, which wasn’t a problem as I’d prepared for that scenario and packed a ton of essentials in my carry-on, like clean underwear and my favorite stuffed animal(s). My Clinique waterproof eye makeup remover? In my checked luggage. I had been using the much raved-about Bioderma Sensibio solution since our March 2013 trip to Paris, until I switched to waterproof mascara earlier this year, and the Bioderma –despite endless claims otherwise– was ineffective at taking it off. After scrubbing furiously with bar soap in the shower and removing half of my eyelashes but none of the mascara, I went to the first pharmacy I found and bought whatever makeup remover said “waterproof” on it. By a stroke of luck, it happened to be Vichy Pureté Thermale, and it is amazing. You’ve seen the results! Doesn’t burn, smell, or leave a filmy residue. €9 in Paris, $20 here.

Avene Skin Recovery Cream / After an overzealous application of brand benzoyl peroxide cream one night early in the trip (I blame the airplane/jetlag/croissants for that breakout), I woke up with a flaming red patch of burned skin on my chin. I slunk around the corner to the pharmacy and cobbled together enough French to tell the pharmacist that “J’ai utilisé beaucoup de…uh, comment-dit-on, “benzoyl peroxide”? Et maintenant, mon peau est rouge et irritée.” Translation: I should have trusted the package when it said “use in moderation.” He led me to the Avene section and handed me Skin Recovery Cream, explaining it was made for sensitive, irritated skin. When I got home and opened it, I was dismayed to find that it was a thin, light moisturizer. Surely I needed something heavier? Non! This stuff is gentle, beautiful magic, and it healed my skin within two applications. I haven’t learned my lesson with the benzoyl peroxide, so this stuff will remain in my arsenal. €15 in Paris, $32 here.

Caudalie Vinoperfect Serum / Despite my efforts to avoid the sun, and diligent use of spf 20 moisturizer and spf 25 sunscreen every single day, I somehow have a few sunspots on my cheekbones. My dermatologist (whom I have on speed dial) prescribed me a 4% Hydroquinone cream, but the potential side-effects (it’s illegal in most of the EU) deterred me from even filling the prescription. After some research, I landed on Caudalie’s Vinoperfect line. Made from Viniferine, an active ingredient made from grapevine sap, Vinoperfect Radiance Serum is natural, milky, light, and won’t give me ochronosis (don’t google that). I’ve been using it for a little over two months and have barely made a dent in the bottle. I can definitely see some spots lightening and fading. €34 in Paris, $79 here.

Avene Thermal Spring Water / The first time I used this in front of Jamal, you would have thought I’d sprayed Agent Orange on my face for the way he reacted. It’s basically an aerosol can of water, and I’m not sure it does much for my skin besides make it feel refreshed and dewey. But in this heat, that’s enough. €2 in Paris, $9 here.

Roger & Gallet Rose Body Lotion / My favorite, favorite lotion. I went to probably fifty pharmacies this trip trying to track it down, and finally found, and purchased, the last two bottles at a pharmacy near Ternes. I can’t even find it online –it’s sold out or missing from every Roger & Gallet stockist!– so I’ve linked to the tub rather than the bottle I have. The scent is divine. Rose-scented things can go ‘perfumed grandma’ easily, but this stuff doesn’t. You only need the smallest dollop for both legs, which is good, because I am rationing my last bottle in the likely event I can’t ever find it again. €12 in Paris, $24 here.

28 thoughts on “Favorite French Pharmacy Beauty Products

  1. The Vichy makeup remover will be mine! I love Bioderma, but it’s utter lies that it removes anything termed waterproof. The Avene Skin Recovery Cream is a dream. Benzoyl peroxide is the devil (at least for my skin)!

    1. BP is unfortunately a necessary evil for me, especially in the summer. I generally don’t have such a heavy hand with it, and it does really clear my skin up overnight when used correctly…but then sometimes it burns me, haha. And I’m glad to hear it’s not just me with the Bioderma! I kept googling and finding things from people saying if you just let it soak long enough it works on waterproof mascara. Lies! Get yourself some Vichy! xo

  2. My cousin and her husband were just in Paris and she picked up a TON of French beauty products. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to book a flight there in the next few months but I’m totally raiding Sephora this weekend. This face ::gestures here:: needs all the help it can get

    1. Sephora carries Caudalie! And CVS of all places carries Vichy, but I don’t think it’s the same waterproof makeup remover as they sell in France. It appears to be more for sensitive eyes than waterproof mascara, the bottle I found at a CVS here. Good luck! xo

  3. Hahaha I could totally see John having the same reaction to the spring water spray! That lotion sounds amazing – glad you were able to snag a bottle!

  4. so i am going to assume that pharmacists in france v america have two different meanings . . . i am pretty sure you can’t be a pharmacist here if you are just a high school kid – unless you are a doogie howser of course. and obviously our pharmacists do not carry that great of beauty products – unless you love st. ives.

    i really want that eye make-up remover. 20 dollars is a little steep but maybe i could make a collage to hang in my bathroom after a few nights to make up for it. i still can’t get over how pretty that takes off your make-up! like a picture.

    1. Yes, and from another comment below yours I realize I should have clarified more. Obviously, the person dispensing medicine in the back needs a degree and a license. But there is usually only one pharmacist on duty, and a million other “pharmacy employees” who work the register, stock shelves, and generally have no idea what Avene is or what it could do for my face. That was the distinction I was trying to make.

      I wish I had had enough room in my suitcase to bring back a case of all these products, because I would have sent you a bottle of the Vichy! It is really steep, but if it sways you at all I promise promise promise it works!! xo

  5. from my all-about-french-women-reading, i have seen that they seek out or have a cream or lotion, for every possible need!!! :-)

    but being in a family, which has run an old corner drug store, for years and years and years… my husband bought it a half century ago, and our son runs it now… the establishment itself, was begun at the time of the civil war… so it’s oooolllldddd…. ,-)

    anyway, all american pharmacists are trained with years and years of schooling, and then interships, before taking their “board exams” and becoming a pharmacist. the kid behind the register, is not a pharmacist. :-) nor are others… but the full pharmacist has to be on duty, or the door can not open for business. and he/she is the one, to address questions to.

    i didn’t want this to be a rant… and i do hope it does not come across as one… but your “The pharmacists are not just high school kids working a register; French pharmacists are trained and knowledgable…” caught my eye. and i just had to say something. i hope, hope, hope, you are not upset with me.


    1. Hey Tessa, thanks! I should have clarified. I in no way meant to insinuate that the actual pharmacist, the one who fills prescriptions and handles the medicine in back, is a high school kid. Clearly that’s not legal and not how things work. I should have written “pharmacy employees.” Because while in Paris I can go in to a pharmacy and of the two or three people working, all of them will be trained and licensed, it doesn’t work that way in the states. As Lila commented below, if I were to have gone to my local Walgreens and said, “Help, I need a good skin lotion for this chemical burn!” I would have been met with blank stares from the teenager stocking shelves. I might have been able to cadge an answer from the pharmacist in the back, if they were able to talk to me (that isn’t to say the pharmacists you employee aren’t more helpful!) And then they would have just recommended Aquaphor or Neosporin or something. Obviously the difference in stock plays a role! But I have the utmost respect for real pharmacists! Just limited patience for the minimum-wage kids that work in pharmacies :)

      In my neighborhood growing up there was a small corner pharmacy, not one of the big chains, and the pharmacist there was helpful and knowledgeable as could be. Of course, he retired and closed up shop, so now we’re left with the big, unhelpful chain drugstores. And drugstores in the states are a place you can buy groceries and bulk candy, whereas in Paris it’s all medicinal and skin care related. I wish they employed more trained and licensed pharmacists here! xo

  6. oh, don’t tell me about all these beauties. all I get here are whitening products. even my deodorant has whitening qualities. who needs white armpits!!!!???

    1. Haha white underarms. I think there is a Dove line here that is supposed to do the same thing, honestly! xo

  7. Moi aussi J’aime beaucoup les produits de pharmacie! Mon produit fétiche c’est le nettoyant de Bioderma, l’eau micellaire, il ne me quitte jamais ! La marque Caudalie, je connais assez bien, ils ont commencé à Bordeaux. D’ailleurs, le château ou tout a commence est devenue un spa hôtel très prisé.
    La différence des prix c’est énorme, j’espère que tu amené une valise plein des produits pour faire un petit stock chez toi! Have a nice weekend ;)

    1. J’ai acheté deux ou trois bouteilles de chaque produit avant je suis revenu, haha. Je veux visiter Bordeaux maintenant, et le spa hôtel Caudalie! C’est comme une reve! xo

  8. In Erin’s defense, I’m pretty sure she meant the checkout kid at the average CVS, not the degree-bearing pharmacists. Drugstores in France are different than those in the US in that *every single person* working there is trained and knowledgeable, and they can answer health- and beauty-related questions that go beyond headaches and stomachaches—my French friends rely on their pharmacists the way I do my dermatologist. Unlike the average Walgreens, where if I asked the checkout girl a question about skincare she’d probably stare blankly, snap her gum, and tell me to Google it…

    1. Thanks, Lila!! You said it better than I did –I really should have clarified more in my post! You’re right, when I have a skin problem, I go to my dermatologist. When I was in Paris, I went to the pharmacy and the man behind the register gave me exceptional advice and service, because he is trained. When J had an eye problem, we would have gone to an eye doctor or an Urgent Care center here. Instead we were able to go to a Parisian pharmacy and have a consultation with someone who was trained and knowledgable and who could dispense useful medication without the runaround of making a dr’s appt.
      And I think we go to the same Walgreens, you and I ;) xo

  9. When I first made the decision to move to Australia, okay so don’t judge, but I actually cried when I heard they didn’t have H&M, Amazon or Marks and Spencers (it was an emotional time) but Australia has redeemed themselves. Why? Because their pharmacies stock these very same French products. At reasonable prices!! I have bookmarked your suggestions above but I am already an Avene addict. Their small spring water aerosol basically saved my life on my flight back home to South Africa. It’s so refreshing and keeps your sinuses moist in the dry plane aircon. Jordan scoffed at me until I sprayed it at him. Let’s just say that I woke up several times in that flight to the sound of spritzing next to me.

    1. Girl, I would never judge someone for fearing the loss of such staple stores! Seriously though, the Amazon thing blows my mind. Where do people buy anything?? Though, like you, I think I could make my peace if the pharmacies were equal to the French ones. That is all I want in the world! Well, and some other things.

      I laughed so hard at the image of you rousing from sleep to Jordan misting his face sneakily. Love it!! Now that you mention it, I can’t remember where I put my bottle of it…I wonder if J has it! xo

  10. Ok, total creep alert. I *saw* the Caudalie stuff in your pile of luggage and was totally going to ask you if it was any good, but then I got all man-milky and was afraid it would seem like I was trying to cop a view of your unmentionables or something dodgy. I keep seeing les affiches for the stuff and was curious if it was good. Plus, also, MORE CREEP ALERT, you have the nicest skin, ever. I was going to tell you in person but again, it’s weird to be like YOUR SKIN IS SO DEWY YOU LUCKY BITCH to a gal you just met.


    Also, yes. Stocking up on stuff gives me a reason to go out and practice mah franch. Don’t be shy when you need some shit!

    1. Hahahaha you should have said something! I would have sung Caudalie’s virtues to you in an awkward falsetto. Not creepy at all! I would have man-milked if you’d complimented me though, it’s my natural deflection reflex to anything nice. You caught me at a good time, skin-wise. The temperate weather and 8 weeks of relaxation did wonders for mon visage. Also, French beauty products! And I was secretly slathering butter on my face to add some extra moisture. Der. xo

  11. My mom loves rose scented stuff (and she’s a very un-grandma kind of grandma) so I’m always on the look out for it. My current favorite is Mario Badesceu’s rose scented something-something face spritz (so sleepy, can’t google). Like your thermal spring water it’s light and refreshing and a perfect pick-me up. And only $7! And I just got some Caudalie shower gel and lotion and I LOVE it. It’s so hard to find a scent that’s pretty but not too floral, and they really get it right. I’m scared to look further into their skincare for fear I’d like it too much.

    Oh, and my girlfriend and I were gifted with tons of Kate Sommerville samples at Nordstroms the other day and I keep meaning to ask people if they have any experience with them… I think I like it so far. Hope you had a good weekend, duckie!

    1. I had a brief love affair with Mario Badescu! I loved their face scrubs that were made with strawberry and kiwi, they smelled like desserts. I’ve heard good things about Kate Sommerville, too! My base skincare routine hasn’t really changed too much (Cetaphile gentle, Clinique Clinique Clinique) but these are all fun additions. xo

  12. Ms Bird and I are fans of Caudalie as I’m sure you know. Premier Cru – because I got it free at the event we both went to, ha! The last lot I received was a Christmas present from Mr.L. It’s really expensive here in the UK too, so I’m so happy a bottle lasts a long time.

    1. Yes, I do remember! You two had quite the silly photoshoot that evening, if I recall ;) I’m happy I stocked up while I was there, the prices here are just inconceivable! xo

  13. Funny, my parents live in Switzerland and when my mom comes back to the states to visit, she buys an arsenal of beauty products to bring back with her. Maybe we’ve been in the US for too long! I’m not a stranger to buying European soaps and shampoos, but I’ve never ventured further than that… perhaps I should have her take a look at the pharmacies when she and my dad take trips into France. I definitely need to get myself some of that eye makeup remover!

    1. That’s so funny! I wouldn’t have thought there would be any appeal to American beauty products for someone who lives in Europe. You learn something new every day :) xo

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