While France might not be the land of 10-step rituals, it is still a place where skincare is taken seriously. And much of that is down to the fact that the most popular French skincare brands can be found in the pharmacy.
From iconic micellar waters that every major makeup artist has in their kit to cult moisturisers adored by beauty editors around the world, French pharmacy brands are where it’s at if you’re looking for hardworking skincare at affordable prices. And while 15 years ago, these used to be products that I coveted from across the Channel, we can now get our hands on the very best French pharmacy brands right here in the UK.
French skincare is all about science-backed ingredients and dermatologist-approved formulations – and while they might not always be the sexiest looking products on the shelves, they certainly deliver on results.
There are dozens of brands to choose from, and I’ve been lucky enough to try the vast majority of them, but there are six which I consider to be the most superior. These are my pick of the very best French pharmacy brands – and the star products you have to try.
1. La Roche-Posay
As someone with acne-prone skin, La Roche-Posay heads up my list of the best French pharmacy brands thanks to its wide array of non-comedogenic formulations and targeted treatments.
And it’s not just spots that they’re masters at combatting. From sensitivity to dryness, La Roche-Posay has a range to suit your specific skin needs. All its products are gentle yet effective and I’ve yet to meet a dermatologist or beauty editor who doesn’t recommend at least one thing from this brand.
The La Roche-Posay products to try now
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+ Blemish Treatment, £20, Boots
A lightweight gel-cream moisturiser that I always come back to when I’m dealing with a bad bout of acne. It’s brimming with niacinamide and salicylic acid, which unclog blocked pores and minimise active breakouts. Plus, it works to fade pigmentation left behind by old spots.
La Roche-Posay Heal B Aquagel SPF30, £38, LookFantastic
This was one of the buzziest SPF launches that I can recall in recent years and I’m happy to say that it’s a product that has more than proved the initial hype. It’s been nearly two years since I first tried this juicy suncream and it remains my favourite way to wear SPF on the daily. Packed with hyaluronic acid, it leaves skin looking so glowy and protected from UVA and UVB rays.
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Soothing Face and Body Balm, £18, Boots
This is exactly the kind of hardworking product that you’d expect from a French pharmacy brand: a reparative balm containing 5% panthenol to soothe irritation and protect sensitive patches. And while it’s a staple in French homes thanks to its multipurpose nature, it’s recently been flying off the shelves thanks to skincare reviews on TikTok touting the hydrating benefits of this classic cream.
We’re all well aware of the importance of grapes in creating one of France’s other biggest exports – wine, obvs – and this French pharmacy brand uses the humble ingredient in the formulations of its skincare range.
Caudalie marries botanical ingredients with scientific innovation, in a way that feels spa-like while still delivering potent results. And while the brand is known for its pioneering approach to anti-ageing skincare, there are ranges to tackle blemishes, boost glow and reduce pigmentation, too.
The Caudalie products to try now
Caudalie Beauty Elixir, £34, Sephora
I vividly remember purchasing this from a pharmacy in Paris before it was available here in the UK, as I’d read that so many celebs swore by it for glowing skin. I don’t tend to be that fussed with face mists, but this one definitely delivers on radiance and I love that it can be used before or after makeup to revive skin. Oh, and it smells incredible.
Caudalie Vinopure Blemish Control Salicylic Serum, £32, LookFantastic
It can be hard to find decent spot-control products that aren’t marketed towards teenagers, but this lightweight serum from Caudalie feels like a treat to use while also tackling blemishes, pores and excess oil. It contains natural salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells and niacinamide to even skin tone, without leaving skin feeling stripped or tight.
Caudalie Vinergetic C+ Brightening Eye Cream, £32, Cult Beauty
A Vitamin C eye cream is a non-negotiable in my skincare routine and this is up there with the best of them. Alongside the classic skin-brightening ingredient, it contains caffeine to de-puff, niacinamide to smooth and olive squalane to inject some much-needed moisture. Even the most tired eyes and darkest circles will look rejuvenated after using this.
Dehydrated skin types, rejoice! This French pharmacy brand is all about quenching thirsty skin, thanks to the star ingredient: mineral water.
Founded way back in 1931, Vichy was created by Doctor Haller after he discovered the skin benefits of water found in the volcanic region of Auvergne. It still acts as the base for all of Vichy’s products today, helping to protect, soothe and improve skin health.
The Vichy products to try now
Vichy Minéral 89 Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum, £27.50, LookFantastic
I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t benefit from adding this cult hyaluronic acid serum into their routine. While there are tons on the market, this one has a pared-back formula containing only 11 skin-quenching ingredients. It deeply hydrates even the most parched of complexions and leaves a layer of protection on the skin to improve its barrier over time, while instantly helping skin to look more plump and juicy.
Vichy LiftActiv Collagen Vitamin C Specialist Night, £40.95, LookFantastic
Now that I’m approaching my mid-30s, collagen is an ingredient that I’m very interested in upping in my routine since the skin’s production of it starts to slow down as we age. Vichy is one of the best French pharmacy brands for more mature skin and this restorative cream is brilliant at boosting elasticity, brightening and strengthening skin overnight.
Vichy Normaderm SOS Anti-Blemish Sulphur Paste, £18.95, Boots
There is no product on the market that will magic away a spot overnight, but this blemish-fighting paste certainly gives it a good go. Made with 10% sulphur, niacinamide and glycolic acid, it works by drying out the spot and gently exfoliating the surrounding area. Even on the angriest of breakouts I find that things look a lot calmer and more controlled the morning after I’ve used this.
I’m calling it: NUXE is the chicest French pharmacy brand, and if you’re a glow-seeker when it comes to skincare, then its products will be right up your street.
The formulations are rich in pampering ingredients such as honey and sweet almond oil for a truly luxurious experience. Plus, there are some truly cult products that I will never be without.
The NUXE products to try now
NUXE Huile Prodigieuse Multi-Purpose Dry Oil, £32, Cult Beauty
This glass bottle is probably the most instantly recognisable NUXE product and it boasts a whole host of celebrity fans thanks to its glow-boosting capabilities. Sure, you can find body oils that cost less, but this one blends camellia, hazelnut, macadamia and more to leave limbs so soft and ultra-sheeny. Plus, there is no oily residue and it smells incredible.
NUXE Sun Face and Body Delicious Lotion SPF 30, 23, LookFantastic
Although I am fully on board with the importance of using an SPF daily, sometimes sun protection can feel like a chore to use. This face and body sun cream from NUXE is no such hassle. It has a beautiful, silky texture that glides onto skin, without any of the stickiness or greasiness of a classic sun lotion, and leaves skin looking dewy and fresh. Honestly, I feel excited to re-apply it.
NUXE Rêve de Miel Lip Balm, £12, Cult Beauty
This was the first fancy lip balm that I ever purchased and it hooked me in for life. I am never without a pot of this on-hand as it’s brilliant at relieving chapped lips. The intensely moisturising blend of honey, shea butter, and plant oils instantly relieves that tight feeling that you can get with dry lips and leaves them feeling balmy and plump.
Even if you don’t know a thing about French pharmacy brands, if you’re into beauty then chances are you will have seen Bioderma’s biggest export: its iconic micellar water. Practically every makeup artist has a bottle of this in their kit, and it’s one of those products that I remember carting back with me from a trip to Paris as I was so desperate to try it.
But Bioderma is way more than just micellar waters – it offers great basic skincare options for sensitive, dry and oily skin types too.
The Bioderma products to try now
Bioderma Sensibio Cleansing Micellar Water, £16, LookFantastic
The original cleansing water makes removing makeup totally faff-free. Just apply it to a cotton pad and sweep it over your face and eyes to dissolve all traces of dirt and makeup. Most importantly, it was formulated with sensitive skin types in mind, so there’s no risk of irritation or discomfort after using this. There have been many alternatives launched since, but there’s something special about this product.
Bioderma Sébium Purifying Foaming Gel, £18, LookFantastic
Gel cleansers usually aren’t my bag, but I always have a bottle of this in my bathroom cabinet for dealing with a big breakout. Formulated for acne-prone and oily skin, it’s a cooling, soap-free gel infused with zinc and copper sulphate to reduce excess oil and unclog pores without stripping the complexion. My skin always feels much calmer after using it.
Bioderma Atoderm Shower Oil, £19, LookFantastic
If there’s one thing the best French pharmacy brands do well, it’s shower oils, and this one from Bioderma is one of my favourites. It contains coconut and sunflower extract to soothe and nourish dry skin, reduce tightness and ease irritation. It feels really luxurious, thanks to its oily consistency, but it still has a nice lather that leaves skin feeling clean. It’s so gentle, I can even use it on my kids.
If you love your skincare brands to have a real history, then Avène is for you. It dates right back to the 18th century, when thermal spring water baths in this region of France were used to ease the symptoms of patients dealing with eczema, dermatitis and other skin conditions.
Then, in 1990, Avène products began being manufactured at the site so that the rest of us could benefit from the water’s soothing properties. This is gentle skincare perfect for calming sensitivity and inflammation.
The Avène products to try now
Avène Thermal Spring Water Spray, £10, LookFantastic
Yes, okay, this is basically water in a can, but it’s Avène thermal spring water in a can – that’s what makes it truly special. As well as being used to refresh tired skin and boost hydration, it can be spritzed onto any areas that feel dry or itchy as a soothing treatment. It’s particularly great on things like sunburn if you haven’t been topping up your SPF.
Avène Hyaluron Activ B3 Serum, £40, Boots
This serum is definitely at the pricier end of typical French pharmacy products, but I recently tried it and adore it. It contains a high concentration of pure hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to plump skin, improve elasticity and gently improve the appearance of fine lines. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and my skin looks so fresh and healthy.
Avène Cicalfate Restorative Hand Cream, £11.75, LookFantastic
I always keep a tube of this hand cream by the side of my bed and apply it religiously every single night. If you hate heavy-feeling hand creams, as I do, then this one is brilliant as it manages to be deeply moisturising without leaving behind any residue. If you suffer from dry knuckles or cracked skin on your hands, then I can’t recommend it enough.