What You Need to Know to Reëmerge from a French Pharmacy (Not Looking Like a Ruffled Snuffalupypus)

Walking into a grande pharmacie is like walking into a dermatological dream of pretty bottles in clear ocean, grassy green, and snowy blue; writing in sparkly silver, iridescent white, and spring peach; and little boxes with magic inside.

Any pharmacie looks like this, really, but as grande pharmacies are larger, there are even more options of skincare products, too many options. Studies have definitively proven that when presented with too many choices, people find it harder to make a decision, but if more proof were needed, all one would need to do is go to a pharmacie. Trying to figure out what you need (and how much you can afford) is practically impossible if you’re not French!


French girls say they couldn’t live without Bioderma micellar water.

The first thing you should know is that the French have elaborate skincare routines, which may be why micellar water, the easiest thing to find in a pharmacie, is trendy right now: it simplifies them! A cross between a cleanser and toner, micellar water both removes makeup and cleans, lifting impurities without drawing water from the skin. Whether you’ve sensitive skin, dehydrated sensitive skin, or very dry skin, there’s an eau micellaire for your skin type.

If it’s stronger cleansing you want, there are lotions (toners); if it’s lighter, cleansing milks and foaming cleansing gels. If your skin is blemished, there are types of all of the above that contain trace amounts of various acids to tighten the pores and to eliminate “imperfections”.

Moisturizers, as in America, are a necessity, and you can find them in varying intensities—for example, légère, riche, and extra riche. It’s possible to find essences too, products that prime the skin for moisturizing by freshening and restoring natural moisture to the skin after it’s exposed to astringents.

Another readily found product is creams to help “intolerant” or “reactive” (hypersensitive) skin manage stress, fight toxins, and be more resistant to irritation. In addition to these are creams to achieve soothing, hydrating, mattifying, nourishing, and lightening effects; anti-aging creams and serums; creams to conceal redness, even skin tone, and brighten the complexion; cicalfate creams that help wounded skin to recover; BB and CC creams; exfoliating scrubs and masks; spot treatments to fade brown spots and dark spots; and “global” all-in-one treatments to limit blemishes, even skin tone, and refine skin texture.


Of Bioderma, Avène, La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Uriage, and SVF—all dermatological laboratories—Avène seems to offer the most products.

Many of these products, and all of Avène’s, contain eau thermale, thermal spring water, which also comes as a spray. This is essentially mineral water from deep under the earth that decreases inflammation and so has soothing and healing properties for the skin.

It’s not until I walked into a pharmacie that I realized how intimate a thing skincare is: with as many  types and brands of products available as there are, a girl can purchase as many or as few as she likes in pursuit of skin in which she feels comfortable. As I vacillated between eau micellaires, lotions, and eau thermales for over an hour, assessing my desire for a smooth skin against the euros in my bank account, a British girl asked her friend, who was walking towards the checkout with a handful of products, how she planned to apply at the same time all of the products she had picked out. It was an entirely appropriate question, if you ask me. I didn’t catch her response, but in a way, I’m glad I didn’t; like a French girl’s skincare routine, the pharmacie will remain a little mystery.


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