Some of the biggest skincare fads in the United States include those from Asian countries. Think Kbeauty’s 10 step routine or Jbeauty’s natural ingredient influence. For the United States, the country whose beauty style we are most closely associated with is France. Since the days of Louis XIII (watch Versailles if you haven’t) French culture has shaped how Europeans look, smell, and surprisingly take care of our and skin.
The influence French skincare has on US skincare seriously surprised me. The reason the skincare thing surprises me is that the French court was renowned for not bathing at a time when French culture catapulted to the height of beauty and fashion. It was something I studied when I was still in the healthcare circle and the general health effects with not bathing. Not bathing regularly is something that’s fairly common throughout human history. It isn’t until we start seeing larger cities that we begin to see bathhouses. After the fall of the Roman Empire we see those bathhouses and bathing culture largely go away in Europe whereas in Asia bathhouses have been and remain a popular aspect of culture. In smaller cities bathhouses were not really present except for the wealthy who might install one in their personal houses. I personally can’t image the smells that must have been found in major metropolitan areas like Paris or London during the Middle Ages. Blend the natural body odor smells with rotting meat, open sewers, and animal waste and it must’ve been a very powerful odor. Versailles didn’t have many bathrooms and people would urinate in pots behind pillars or men would relieve themselves in corners. As stunning as Versailles was on the outside, it was as disgusting and filthy on the inside.
During this era of no bathing even though soap had been invented several hundred years ago, very heady and strong perfumes were developed. Today these would be classified as parfums. Ordering from strongest to least strong you have parfum –> eau de parfum –> eau de toilette. We don’t see too many parfums anymore although some smaller perfume houses are trying to bring them back. The most popular perfumes sold worldwide are eau de toilette.
You may think I’ve digressed completely….but I haven’t.
From the 1600s to the Reign of Terror there was a build up of bigger and bolder. That was somewhat true of the skincare regiments.
The basic premise of the French skincare routine has been cleanse, tone, moisturize. What the ingredients were in those products and the effort put into those individual products varied wildly. One used by Marie Antoinette included a fermented pigeon concoction. Cleansing the body included washing with a heavily perfumed lye soap and exfoliating with rice bran and herbs in the 1700s and today any number of scrubs are available but sugar scrubs are very popular. From Ancient Rome to the modern era, oils have been used to moisturize the skin and remain popular today. Popular oils have included olive oil, sweet almond oil, and grape seed oil. Hair oil is a must-have throughout much of France. Paris is known for having hard water, which will zap moisture from the hair and skin. Where I live we have fairly hard water and keeping my mid-back length ends well moisturized or my legs moisturized requires oils for the hair and body butters for the legs.
For hair oil I have several:
Gisou Honey Infused Hair Oil is one of my favorites. The smell is amazing. The shine is beautiful. It’s heavy enough to keep my hair static free but not so heavy my hair is weighed down.
Ouai’s Rose Hair and Body Oil is a great double dip. I travel with this hair oil since I can use it as a body oil as well. Hotels use so much bleach to clean their sheets that the residue can irritate my skin and this body oil really helps. One bottle and two tricks. I don’t smell anything with this oil. I was expecting a heavy rose smell, but I got none of that. Some reviews on Sephora list a wonderful smell but I just didn’t smell that. The pump is also nice. It doesn’t pump out a ton and droppers can get messy quickly with oils.
Argan Oil. For those with lightweight/fine hair, this is NOT for you. This will get greasy and be way too heavy for your hair type but for those with medium to coarse hair or curly hair, this is awesome. I am categorized as a 2A curl (so basically it’s annoying frizz instead of ‘curls’) my dad, on the other hand, is a solid 3C, I take after my mom a lot who has Cher straight hair. He’s been using Argan Oil since the 70s when he lived in Spain. He thinks it helps keep his curls in place without having to put a lot of product in his hair. That hair can slide a little bit and it fills the ends of your hair which tend to be more porous. Apply this on the ends only if you have medium length hair or for those with long hair apply below the ears or chin. I use a dime or nickel sized amount for my hair which is as long as Negin’s in the photo above.
Cleansing in France today includes the use of Micellular Water or very gentle cleansers. Women in France do not apply makeup as heavily as women in the US so using a harsher cleanser to breakthrough the 24hr full coverage matte foundation, heavy concealer, and baking just isn’t necessary. Bioderma carries several popular micellular water formulations and is one I really like. I have also used Garnier SkinActive Micellular water for ages now to remove my makeup; blue top for waterproof makeup and the pink top for a general face cleanser. For those looking for a bit more luxury, Dior also makes a really nice Hydra Life Micellular Water ($43). Neogen Dermatology also makes cleansing water that I didn’t personally care for. From appearance, it reminds me of Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol Free Toner ($35). Neogen’s cleansing water left my skin sticky and feels more soap like than water-like and I needed to rinse off the residue. Kiehl’s also makes an Herbal-Infused Micellular Cleaning Water that I’m curious about but haven’t had a chance to try out.
For toners, floral water toners remain popular especially rose water or grape toners. Fresh has a wonderful Rose Water Toner ($40 for 8.7 oz) as does Mamonde ($23 for 8.5 fl.oz.) for a less expensive alternative. I just started to use Caudalie’s Grape Water Toner and I love it. It’s also only $18 for a large canister and there is no alternative product available on the market. When using floral toner less is not more. Apply till a fine mist covers the face and let it absorb before applying serums or your moisturizer. If floral toners are not for you Avene Thermal Spring Water is also a popular toner.
Moisturizers have been thick and heavily perfumed. That’s not quite as true as it once was. Now that we know perfumes can act as an irritant for some they’re being phased out and are significantly minimized compared to 50 years ago. The Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentrate is an incredibly popular drugstore 3-in-1 moisturizer. It can act as a makeup remover, primer, and moisturizer. It does have a thicker consistency. On Beautylish is $10 for a 15 ml, $16 for 30 ml, or $28 for 75 ml of product. There’s similar pricing on Amazon. It has a 4.5-star rating on Beautylish which is very similar to what many French websites have it reviewed as well.
The secret to French beauty is simplicity. The simplicity of makeup (the exception being the old red lip) and simplicity in skincare. The basic philosophy is that your skin is a sensitive organ and should be treated as such at all times. It isn’t as elaborate as the K beauty system and it’s 10 steps, but 3 simple steps all of which focus on keeping moisture barrier as full and complete as possible. My mom would always tell me to keep the palette as flawless as possible, the rest is just window dressing.