The Secrets To Youthful French Skin

youthful French skin

I’ve been a people watcher for a long time. I’ll happily sit for hours watching the passing traffic. Sometimes I just watch the show as it goes on around me. And other times I look for something specific.

Recently my eye was drawn to the specifics. I’ve had the unique opportunity to spend hours of quality time with a number of French women, as well as women who have moved their entire lives to France. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited into their homes and to wander the streets of French villages and towns with them. 

And I was struck by one singular thing. 

They all have amazing skin.

Like really, really sensational youthful French skin, that was both clear and glowing. And so smooth.

Yes, yes. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. There are approximately a gazillion articles on the internet about the importance French women place on skincare, and the youthful outcomes they receive as a result. I’ve even mentioned it once or twice myself here on Distant Francophile. But despite my love of people-watching I’ve never been as ‘close to the action’ as I have recently.

I honestly couldn’t tell you if any of these women – all of whom are around my age or a bit older – were wearing any sort of foundation or powder at all. I came to the conclusion that if they were, they certainly weren’t using a lot of it. 

In the end though, my natural curiosity got the better of me. I had to learn more.

I floated a few ideas. At lunch one day I suggested that perhaps there was something in the water that had a spectacular effect on skin. The answer I received – from the husband of the woman I was aiming my vague request at – was ‘Of course’. 

Which is probably true. But not an easy fix for me to take home and apply to everyday life. (That said, I did drink more than my fair share of water that particular day.)

The Secrets To Youthful French Skin

Finally, I decided that subtle tactics weren’t working for me. I needed a more direct approach. While I was worried I might seem rude, I knew I couldn’t return to Australia without the answer to the following question:

What, exactly, are the secrets to youthful French skin? 

So I summoned up my courage. And I directed my question to one of my French acquaintances who I knew wouldn’t be offended by my enquiring mind. Of course, when you actually ask questions, you get answers. Here’s what she so generously shared on the topic of youthful French skin.

Secret One. Wear Sunscreen. And A Hat

Ok. So here’s a piece of advice I can completely understand. I, like many Australian women, do not set foot outside without applying an SPF 50 sunscreen. So it makes perfect sense to me that the foundation of youthful French skin has its basis in sun protection.

The damage the sun can do to your skin is very well documented these days. And advances in sunscreen mean that there is something out there to suit all skin types. (I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the sunscreens in make-up don’t quite cut it. You need a specific sun protection product.) For the record, my favourite is La Roche-Posay’s tinted SPF 50 moisturiser.

Secret Two. Don’t Do Too Much To Your Skin

Go easy on it in terms of make-up. Don’t overdo the products you use. Try not to play with your skin. Basically, don’t stress it out. 

While this absolutely makes sense on the surface, I have to admit that this advice confused me for just a moment. After all, French women have a reputation for seeing aestheticians more often than not. But a little digging exposed the fact that this reputation doesn’t apply to women everywhere, and French women don’t head to their skincare professionals for really abrasive treatments. The treatments they undertake are gentle and effective and only used when needed. 

Secret Three. Choose Your Products Wisely

Make sure any products you do use help your skin rather than harm it. And here’s the reason the skincare products sold in French pharmacies have such a cult following. My source specifically mentioned Avène but my additional research has also suggested that many French brands do a gentle job of cleansing and nourishing skin. Many of these products have been around for a long time and have been used with great success for generations. 

One Final Thought On Youthful French Skin

Like so many things in life, I was struck by the simplicity of the advice I received. And the fact that it made sense. It feels right that simple and gentle routines would lead to the outcome of youthful skin.

Although one store I entered was advertising the benefits of vitamin C for skin, there seems to be less of an expectation in France that you need a separate or specialist product for every skin concern. This is very different to the approach we see at home. Which got me wondering about the potential damage we do to our skin and our bank balances when we buy into the idea that we need a multitude of products.

And as someone who is looking for more ways to simplify everyday life, this advice has certainly had me rethinking my own skincare routines.

Your turn now. Have you got any insights into the phenomenon of youthful French skin? Or perhaps there has been something you’ve noticed lately that captured your interest. I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.

Please note: This is an unsolicited post. No compensation of any kind has been received from the brands named above.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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20 thoughts on “The Secrets To Youthful French Skin

  • Kairosia

    Excellent topic. First of all my favorite soap is a 90% pure olive oil soap I used to be able to find at Monoprix but lately has gone missing. I substitute with likewise pure “bio” honey or olive oil soap from the market. Yes, light on make up! I blend spf moisturizer with tinted spf skin cream and use it liberally. Light applications of mascara, lipstick, and creamy blush about sums up my makeup regimen. And I find it de rigeur to attend to eyebrows and waxing routines! Looking forward to reading others’ tips!

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much for the tips Kairosia. I’ll keep an eye out for those soaps while I’m here. You also bring up a really good point about grooming – while the skincare regimes might be relatively simple, that doesn’t mean that grooming in general isn’t considered important.

  • Denise

    A really interesting read Janelle. We have just returned from 7 nights in Paris but had 4 weeks in the Greek islands beforehand where I was slathering my SPF 50 on maniacally & certainly never went anywhere without my hat. I think nowdays most Australian women understand the importance of these 2 rules .
    I loaded up on my French beauty products, l love Caudalie products & l love Nuxe oil & this time I bought Nuxe night cream & eye cream as well. I also was after a cleanser & the lovely assistant (yup great skin) recommended the brand Darphin, I’ll keep you posted!
    I think you’re right about keeping our routine simple and gentle, we use so many vitamin this & that products plus exfoliaters, we should be taking our lead from these savvy French women.
    Great read!!

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much Denise. It’s interesting that you mention Darphin – I had their products recommended to me by French pharmacy assistant years and years ago. I remember liking them, but finding them difficult to source in Australia…so I moved on. I’d be keen to know what you think. I’ll also be stocking up before we head home (I’ve already bought the Nuxe oil), although thanks to the advice from my helpful friend, I’ll be a little more discerning with my choices.

  • Virginia Koffke

    Not just the French but the Germans as well and some English have marvellous skin. My cousins in Germany kept saying ‘be gentle with your skin’ and they all drank a lot of water and herbal teas. I have always used sunscreen but only as I got older have I also worn a hat. A friend from school who has lived all her adult life in France said she has always shaded her face but exposed her legs! I think us Aussies need to remember to hydrate and use a good facial sunscreen Every day of the year.

    • Janelle Post author

      I agree entirely with your comment about Australians and sunscreen Virginia. I don’t think I was particularly diligent when I was younger, but I can’t imagine leaving the house now without wearing SPF 50 facial sunscreen. Thankfully the formulations for sensitive skin just keep improving. And hydration I think is vital – even more so if you happen to live in one of the warmer Aussie climates. It’s iynteresting that your German cousins also called out the importance of being gentle with the skin. I don’t think it’s something that I’ve heard too much about in our part of the world but it makes sense that a light touch would support the skin.

  • Alisa

    I love Caudalie products am especially hooked on their ‘cashmere’ line. For cleansing, my Austrian grandmother used lye soap: it exfoliated and brightened and moisturized and to the day she died she had the most beautiful skin I have ever seen. Having said that, I agree with the basic olive oil soap that is readily available. Nuxe oil: yes!!! So inexpensive and so effective. Tinted moisturizer: yes! I will have to try the LaRoche Posay (available discounted at Costco, btw) – at present I use the Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense, it is a liquid, very light. I use good old Biafine on my neck and décolletage (love that word…) and sometimes at night on my face if I feel I need a ‘boost’. One note: I think it is interesting that Catherine Deneuve is often criticized for wearing so much makeup. (She, of course, ignores all criticism and does what she wants!)

    • Janelle Post author

      I think if I was in Catherine Deneuve’s shoes Alisa, I’d probably do what I whatever I wanted too. Thanks so much for the product tips – olive oil soap is on my ‘try at home’ list. And Biafine is one product I’ll be picking up before I go home. It’s not easy to get in Oz. I bought a small tube while we were in Tain-l’Hermitage and loved it.

  • Alisa

    Its American counterpart, Sonafine, is only available by prescription and costs over $100 per tube, the same size as the $5 Biafine. Same exact ingredients listed in a slightly different order, different manufacturer. I return to the States laden with Biafine cream for my friends!

  • Taste of France

    On moving to France, I was astounded by the proliferation of anti-cellulite products in pharmacy windows. I’ve never met anybody who admits to using these products (which might be why they work so hard on advertising?). But on skin care, it’s clear: less is more.
    There’s a fine line between “wearing makeup” and “being made up.” French women tend to err on the side of looking natural, if imperfect. Makeup is just to enhance a little or erase a little–like photo filters–without going too far.
    Avène and Clinique are both great, non-allergenic lines; however, Clinique in France is twice as expensive as Avène.

    • Janelle Post author

      As always Catherine, you’ve summarised things up perfectly. My new beauty routine could look exactly like an extract from your comment. Less is more. Enhance a little. Erase a little. Don’t go too far. Thank you for the insight and advice.

  • Françoise Dureau

    Hello Janelle
    As a French woman I totally agree with what you say. You must be gentle with your skin. Comfort is essential. Of course sunscreen is also important.
    I’ve recently adopted La Prairie.’s skincare as à daily routine. It’s very expensive but long lasting (6 months) and I always have a 30% discount. I’ m very pleased with the results. The cleansers are very soft and comforting. Serums are efficient. Creams are incredibly comfortable.
    As for make up, the new génération of foundation unifies thé skin but can hardly be seen. It’s great ! The aim is to highlight your beauty not a way to hide defects. If you are gentle with your skin there’s not supposed to be any defect.
    This financial investment is to me a way to restore some self esteem and self confidence which tends to be weakened by years……
    Bye for now.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thank you for sharing your tips Françoise – I’m very grateful. I think your points about make-up really highlight the unique approach French women take to beauty. Enhance rather than hide – it feels different from the approach in my part of the world. Also – your comment about self-esteem and confidence really interests me. Many people might think that investing in skin care is superficial but I truly believe that anything that makes us feel better about ourselves is worth doing. Confidence comes in baby steps. Doing small things that allow us to build confidence allow us to do bigger things.

  • Françoise

    To me it has definetely everything to do with self esteem which is constantly challenged whether by us or by the images we can find in media. We have to keep convincing ourselves of the fact that there is nothing wrong or superficial with taking care of ourselves.
    It’s a means to remain self centered when we, women and mothers tend to forget ourselves to take care of others.
    These “others” can in fact benefit from us taking care our skin and body !

    • Janelle Post author

      Thank you François – I agree entirely. I firmly believe that we have to put our own life masks on first before we try to help others, and if that involves taking care of our skin, then so be it.

  • eveange66

    French woman here, veering to mature bracket (I recently turned 53).
    Yes I only drink water !! or red wine or fruit juice. Never sodas.
    i’ve always been taking care of my skin, since I was 15 as far as I can recall. I wear minimal make up (even more minimal since I am on extended sick leave), never fundation.
    Never used brush to clean my face. I don’t exfoliate too often.
    But mostly yes, I try to be gentle to my skin (face AND body) and not to follow the trends, which can be really bad.
    A also use organic cosmetics for face, hair, body, since 2003 : I am now at about a ratio of 80% organics, with also a lot of vegetal oils.
    Darphin is very good indeed but very expensive. It is a shame that you could not order on line while you are in France as many pharmacist’s website can offer some rather good bargains. Another brand which is quite similar is Decleor. Both brands started as beauty salon brands.
    Use whatever thing that work for you to clean your face, be it face milk, foam lotion or soap: in that respect, always, always listen to your skin and your feelings. Most french women do not do highlighting, contouring or whatever on the face. But first of all, moisturise is key above everything. I am always amazed when I read that women in the US or UK or OZ do not apply a moisturise cream under the SPF or, worse, under foundation. We all do need moisture, even if combination skin.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thank you so much for all of your insights – I’m really grateful. I’m so interested in the French woman’s focus on being gentle with their. I realised as I wandered around Rouen today that there were barely any ‘exfoliating’ devices or products on the shelves – a stark contrast to Australian shelves. It is really making me think. Thanks too for the product tips – and for the reminder to moisturise.

  • Françoise

    Oh yes we definetely all need moisture cream as much as love 🤗. As for exfoliating there are excellent soft ones without “grains” which can be applied once a week for a wonderful benefit. My favorite is Masque resurfaçant by La Prairie. When it comes to natural or Organic cosmetics they infortunately contains too many allergens for my sensitive skin (alcohol essential oils for example and the anti aging ones are not comfortable. Waiting for some improvements…..