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The secrets of Parisian beauty


The French beauty industry is one of the world’s most innovative, from its premium designer brands to pharmacy favourites. Katy Young highlights the names to know

Katy Young portrait
Katy Young ,

French women are synonymous with polished beauty and, just as they never seem to have a hair out of place, they also never seem to age quite as quickly as their international counterparts – a 2013 study revealed that French women tended to look up to seven years younger than their British contemporaries by the time they reached 40.

Many beauty experts believe that this appearance of eternal youth is due to the French obsession with good skincare, which begins at the tender age of 15, unlike women in countries such as the UK who wait until the age of 25 before they embrace eye creams. In fact, the French enjoy good skincare so much that they spend around €2.4bn a year on it, more than anywhere else in the world.

Leading the charge

It’s little wonder that France’s homegrown beauty industry yields some of the best brands in the world, from luxury labels such as Lancôme, Dior and Guerlain to wonderful pharmacy brands including Embryolisse, Bioderma and La Roche-Posay. In fact, it would be difficult to find a beauty regime anywhere in Europe that doesn’t include a few French products. Save for competition from some US dermatology brands, the French have always been at the forefront of skincare technology.

Internationally recognised company L’Oréal, founded in 1909, is at the heart of French luxury beauty. This big player doesn’t just control its own brand, but also Lancôme and YSL Beauté, plus aromatherapy labels Carita and Decléor, and, from its laboratories just outside Paris, has become a driving force behind the French skincare industry. Although all L’Oréal’s brands share many of the same ingredients, individual ones will often offer a new technology first depending on its typical customer. For instance, only YSL Beauté is using saffron – the latest development in anti-ageing beauty – in its skincare, while Lancôme’s Génifique super serum still has seven patents which are not about to be shared.

'Cosmetic Valley'
In Saint-Jean-de-Braye, known as ‘Cosmetic Valley’, you will find Hélios, LVMH’s new state-of-the-art research facility for its beauty division. Here, its power brands, including Parfums Christian Dior, Givenchy Parfums and Guerlain, go under the microscope of 250 researchers all dedicated to development, research and expertise in beauty, working on processes to secure new patents in science. The centre is active in more than 20 fields of beauty research, including molecular and cell biology, physical chemistry, ethnobotany, formulation and toxicology.

Dior’s latest development has been devised to boost the skin’s own overnight regeneration system with the help of buds taken from the Rose de Granville tree, featured in its new Le Nectar de Nuit. Meanwhile, Givenchy is promoting Le Soir Noir, a black algae-rich cream, which was 10 years in development and promises to improve skin-cell longevity. Guerlain has a committed following thanks to its rich perfume collection – it has produced some of the world’s most beautiful fragrances, including Jicky, Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit – but its wonderful skincare collection is well worth discovering. The brand’s rose-scented Midnight Secret is a beauty editor’s essential, hiding any evidence of a late night by cleaning, brightening and plumping facial skin overnight.

Do-it-yourself dermatologist

When in France, make it your first priority to head to the nearest pharmacy, the best place to emulate effortless French beauty. It’s here that you’ll find the brands that international beauty editors, models and make-up artists swear by for better skin on a budget, including Bioderma, La Roche-Posay, Embryolisse, Vichy and Nuxe. The wide choice available means French women can create an eclectic skincare collection filled with targeted products – becoming their own do-it-yourself dermatologist.

Bioderma water cleanser, found in every make-up artist’s arsenal, is a classic cleanser and toner in one and is so good that it has launched a whole skincare category in itself. Embryolisse’s Lait-Crème Concentré is another make-up artist favourite, instantly quenching the skin thanks to its plumping hyaluronic acid. Francophiles should also invest in La Roche-Posay, a troubleshooting range which is particularly beneficial for oily, stressed-out skin. Finally, if there’s still room in your luggage, pick up a Nuxe Rêve de Miel lip balm; wonderfully comfortable to wear, it has a matte finish that won’t disturb your lipstick.

With a winning-combination of high-street and luxury designer labels offering the most innovative products on the market, it is easy to understand why French women spend so much on their skincare – and why the results are so impressive.

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