I Tried £500 Worth Of French Pharmacy Products – Here’s What Worked

French pharmacies have long been a treasure trove of skincare gems. For beauty editors and skincare obsessives alike, a trip to Paris is not considered complete without a little explore among the aisles and a mighty restock of favourites: row upon row of Bioderma, nestled alongside Vichy, La Roche-Posay and, of course, stacks of Embryolisse’s Lait-Crème Concentré, a favourite among Fashion Week makeup artists.

But why is French beauty so popular? "Everyone talks about K-Beauty, J-Beauty and other letters of the alphabet, but F-Beauty has always led the way, especially in skincare," explains Anna-Marie Solowij, ex-Vogue beauty editor and cofounder of BeautyMART. "When we launched in 2012 we featured an edit of French pharmacy favourites which you couldn’t find in the UK. These makeup artist-approved skincare staples were products that we knew to be cult in the industry and wanted to share that with customers."


Cofounder and CEO at the British Beauty Council, Millie Kendall agrees. "These were still very much 'underground' at the time and were used primarily by makeup artists and hair stylists." She suggests the formulations, which have stood the test of time, plus the stamp of approval from beauty aficionados, has prompted a swell of interest over recent years. Not to mention the ardour of devoted fans on social media – the packaging does give a #shelfie an undeniable dose of French chic.

But with so many French brands and so many products on the shelf, which ones are worth your time, your money? You’d be hard-pressed to find an article about French beauty products without a mention of cult classics such as Bioderma’s Sensibio H20 Micelle Solution, Klorane’s Oatmilk Gentle Dry Shampoo and La Roche-Posay’s Cicaplast, but as much as these products have earned their stripes, there are many more under-the-radar buys that don’t get quite the same attention. In the name of research, I slathered, massaged and spritzed a multitude of French beauty products over the last two weeks. The best part? You don't have to book a Eurostar ticket to land your hands on them. Here are the products I’d suggest slipping into your shopping basket ASAP.

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Embryolisse’s Lait-Crème Concentré is so well loved that a tube of the cult product sells every 23 seconds. Adored by makeup artists, the rich cream is often used to prep models’ dehydrated skin backstage at Fashion Week and comes recommended by dermatologists. I decided to try the lighter and refreshing Artist Secret Smooth Radiant Complexion, though, and it was pretty much love at first use, although there is a retro scent there that takes me back to my grandmother’s dressing table. Light, refreshing and smoothing, a pump or two of the cooling gel sinks in speedily and leaves a luminous glow, thanks to the pearly, soft-focus pigments, making it a great makeup primer. It boasts alfalfa and lupin plant extract, which aims to firm up skin and reduce the appearance of puffiness, and was such an easy add into my skincare routine. I was especially grateful for it on days where my skin looked and felt tired.
Embryolisse Artist Secret Smooth Radiant Complexion, $24.99 Buy
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Sure, Leonor Greyl's cult-famous protective hair oil is brilliant (it protects against UV as well as chlorine, making it a great addition to your holiday haircare regime), but a new offering from the luxury French haircare brand caught my eye: a range of targeted colour-enhancing conditioners, promising to remove unwanted brassy tones from coloured hair and make it shine. It's like they read my mind. The five-minute post-shampoo treatment is pretty simple to apply and naturally fades after three washes. For a boost between colours, it’s worth giving a whirl and anything that can make colour last just that little bit longer is a winner in my book.
Leonor Greyl Soin Repigmentant Nourishing Conditioner, $39.00 Buy
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Avène's Gentle Milk Cleanser does exactly what it says on the tin and then some. Not only did it cleanse my skin without stripping, but it gave me the same comforting feeling as wrapping myself in a big, fluffy towel after a warm bath. If you’ve been a bit rough with your skin and need to give it some extra love, then this is a great back to basics staple to have in your bathroom cabinet.
Avène Gentle Milk Cleanser, $11.99 Buy
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There was a time when bottles of Bioderma’s micellar water were confined to backstage at Fashion Week, French girls’ bathroom cabinets and beauty editors' hand luggage. But the secret is well and truly out so if you’re after something new from the brand, take a look at its Photoderm sun care range instead.

For convenience (especially once you’ve got sand on your hands), Photoderm Max Sun Mist SPF 50+ is a pretty nifty option. Providing broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays), the transparent, lightweight spray is suitable for use on both face and body. While some people might not like that you can’t really see where the protection is being applied, it means white streaks aren’t an issue and it makes it easy to top up SPF without much fuss. At first, I was worried it might be too greasy (I’ve had a bad time with oily sunscreens before), but once the mist had absorbed, it gave a nice, moisturising result and smelled lovely. Plus, it didn’t make me break out.
Bioderma MAX Sun Mist SPF50+, $17.00 Buy
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Yes, Sisley products come with an eye-watering price tag. The most famous offering in the extensive collection, which also includes makeup, is the Black Rose Cream Mask. It has a following of passionate devotees who sing its praises from the rooftops, so I'd been eager to try it for a while, as had a friend of mine. We gave this a whirl together, inspecting our faces every minute to check for a transformation (spoiler: it doesn’t work like that).

The texture of the pale pink, luxuriously scented cream mask was totally unexpected. It's light but superbly hydrating and sat on the skin with a slight sheen before slowly absorbing. We were instructed to leave it on and remove any excess after 15 minutes, but let’s be honest, we weren’t about to scrape an inch of this pricey cream off, so both of us chose to leave it on overnight. Instant results are part of the praise this mask receives, but I’d argue that its hydrating, smoothing and brightening properties were quite subtle at first, and felt more noticeable and impressive over the coming days.

Honestly? Although the product does feel luxurious and I would happily use it again, the price is steep and the tube feels pretty small at 60ml. If you can afford it, great, but if you’re on a tighter budget, don’t stress – there is a plethora of other fab glow-giving masks and creams out there to get your hands on.
Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask, $99.00 Buy
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Biologique Recherche’s Exfoliating P50 Lotion has a long list of celebrity fans including Elizabeth Olsen and Victoria Beckham, whose skincare routine I recently trialled. It has even been called "Jesus in a bottle". I’m not sure I’d go that far myself, but Biologique Recherche does have some avid fans. It’s hard to find a review that doesn’t mention the unique scent of the brand’s products, which feature ingredients such as onion, horseradish and yeast. One of the facial creams I use makes my face smell like Marmite (luckily, I like it). For something a little gentler on the nose, however, I’d recommend the Lait VIP O2: a creamy cleanser with vitamin A, E and F to leave skin feeling smooth and soft. When massaged into the skin, it emulsifies into a milk-like texture which is easy to remove with damp cotton pads.
Biologique Recherche Lait VIP O2 Oxygenating Cleansing Milk, $52.00 Buy
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This is a much newer addition to Vichy’s much loved Normaderm range for blemish-prone skin, which is over a decade old. You know that satisfying feeling when you’re hot and thirsty, then take a gulp of delicious ice cold water? That’s how Vichy’s Minéral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Booster feels on the face. The product is 89% thermal mineralising water, so it’s no surprise that it feels so refreshing and hydrating. The gel-like consistency melts easily into the skin and I quite enjoy how you can boost hydration with a pump of this during the day without any mess. It's one to have at hand during the summer months.
Look Fantastic Minéral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Booster, $30.00 $22.50 Buy
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You might have seen Klorane's dry shampoo around. It gives you volume by the bucketload and the uber chic Jeanne Damas calls it a day and night lifesaver. But I would happily pop Klorane’s plant-inspired shampoo and conditioner offerings in my basket instead, especially the delicious-smelling anti-pollution shampoo and conditioner with aquatic mint. The lightly foaming shampoo was gentle on my scalp and left my hair feeling tingly, clean and soft, while the nourishing conditioner, which is formulated of 95% original ingredients, gave a silky sheen without weighing down my hair. And the smell – like a freshly brewed pot of mint tea – is just gorgeous.
Klorane Detox Shampoo with Aquatic Mint, $8.00 Buy
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This well known brand has a host of great offerings but the product that gets my vote is Caudalie’s simple yet effective lip conditioner, which I hear is also a firm French girl favourite. Don’t ask me why, but it can be a real task finding a lip balm that conditions, doesn’t need reapplying every five minutes and isn’t slippery or sticky. Enriched with nourishing grape seed oil and antioxidant grape polyphenols, this lip conditioner is an effortless moisturising hit for my lips and a new addition to my handbag.
Caudalie Caudalie Lip Conditioner Trio, $10.00 Buy
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Recently relaunched, Parisian brand Cosmydor was initially founded in 1877. Xavier Quattrocchi-Oubradous brought the heritage brand back to life with an eco-friendly ethos, and using mainly glass, aluminium and lids made partially from cellulose, minimal packaging is a focus for the brand. Its multipurpose Tonka Hand and Face Cream, with sesame oil, beeswax, coconut and olive oils, is a rich and ultra moisturising option for when skin is feeling extra dry. Personally, I prefer to use it just on my hands at night.
Cosmydor E/2 Essential Care Tonka Cream, $35.00 Buy
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High tech brand, Institut Esthederm is a French pharmacy regular and the sun care takes centre stage. My current favourite is its recently launched Bronz Repair Sunkissed Tinted face cream, which combines protective sun care with a subtle glow. A dab or two of this on the face gives UVA and UVB protection and an instant sun-kissed tan. I’m a convert and it’s an instant addition to the suitcase for when I next go on holiday.
Institut Esthederm Bronz Repair Sunkissed, $56.00 Buy
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