Here at Who What Wear, we have zero chill when it comes to French-girl style and beauty. We openly aspire to the effortless IDGAF attitudes of our chic sisters across the pond who manage to have effortless confidence and imperfectly perfect glowy skin to match. It’s our daily mission to re-create what women in France seem to do naturally. In an effort to make our skincare routines just a little bit more French, we reached out to Sophie Strobel, a higher-up in the R&D department at French skincare brand Talika, and asked her what we Americans seem to be doing wrong.
“Wrong,” of course, is not quite the right word. It’s simply that the American approach to skincare is motivated by rules and perfection while the French come at it another way. “We don't like pressure, and we tend to criticize the rules,” Strobel told me. “French women, as usual, don't always listen to professional advice. They only take what they want from dermatologists and prefer keeping work to a minimum and fun for the rest!”
French women also value a little dash of imperfection, and they prefer to be out in the world drinking wine and kissing beautiful people rather than wasting away in the bathroom. This lifestyle is obviously not conducive to many common American skincare habits. Which products typical of most skincare routines in the USA would you never find in France? Below, Strobel listed six American products that she (and most other typical French girls) would never use—plus, a few French-inspired swaps.
1. Prescription Products
Unless you have a serious clinical problem, if you’re French, you’re not getting your skincare products from a dermatologist. “In France we go to a dermatologist only of we have a skin issue like acne, psoriasis, or allergies,” says Strobel. Prescription-strength retinol, peels, and other potent deem-formulated products are simply not part of the average French-girl routine. This is especially true because the products you find at the dermatologist’s office often contain synthetic formulas, have rather plain packaging, and no fragrance. But according to Strobel, French women tend to prefer more natural, plant-based formulas with pleasant scents and pretty packaging, bien sûr.
2. Aggressive cleansers
Puritanical Americans are obsessed with hygiene and “squeaky-clean” skin—but not the French. The typical French girl’s daily cleanser contains no harsh detergents or exfoliating ingredients. She is more concerned with keeping the skin’s microbiome balanced and not stripping it of its healthy bacteria than removing every last spec of debris, Strobel says. That’s why micellar waters and cleansing milks are so big in France—they’re simple and light, able to remove your makeup and gently cleanse your skin without overdoing it.
3. Teeth whiteners
Again with the hygiene thing. In America, “Everything has to be perfect, controlled, from the complexion to teeth whiteness,” Strobel says. But the French are much more concerned with pleasure and an au naturel vibe than looking FaceTuned IRL. Who could maintain perfectly white teeth with so much good red wine happening anyway?
4. Acne-fighting “systems”
The second an American gets a breakout, even a small one, she lunges for a prescription medication or an over-the-counter three-step skin-clearing system, like the ones from Proactiv and Clinique. Even though the French skincare market is starting to “Americanize” by putting out products like these, it violates the French skincare philosophy, which says that less is more, and it’s better to let the skin heal on its own rather than exfoliate it to death.
5. Chemical sunscreens
French women are extremely wary of the hormone disrupters found in chemical sunscreens, so Strobel says they only opt for mineral formulas, and the ingredient lists almost always contain other skincare benefits, like antioxidants and vitamins. And, despite dermatologists’ advice, French women normally don’t wear sunscreen every day in the winter, as they consider it an unnecessary and cumbersome precaution.
6. Multiple serums and moisturizers at once
Let me repeat: Less is more. The average French routine (for a 20- or 30-something, at least) contains four steps at most: a gentle cleanser, *maybe* a serum, a day or night cream, and sunscreen if it feels necessary. Strobel says if a French woman is going to over-use any product, it’s going to be face mist. “Use and abuse of thermal water sprays” is very French, Strobel tells me. “They're rich in minerals, they’re only natural water with no added ingredients, they’re cheap, and they’re available in all pharmacies and supermarkets!”