I’ve been obsessed with the timeless, alluring beauty of French women since I was a teenager. My hours were spent either on Tumblr saving pictures of Jane Birkin and Bridgette Bardot or poring over every word of How To Be Parisian like it was my Francophile bible. It’s influenced everything from my wardrobe to the pared-back approach to makeup I lean into now.
But much like the rest of the Parisian way of life, while the ‘it’ girls make it look so simple, French makeup isn’t as easy as it looks. Flawless skin with minimal foundation, long and fluttery lashes, and of course, the perfect red French lip. In short, looking effortless requires quite a lot of effort.
The good thing about this less-is-more approach to French makeup is that you don’t need to splash out on trending products you’ll probably never use again, or follow tutorials with more steps than the Eiffel Tower (always take the lift).
Of course, you could (like me), spend years following iconic French women such as Jeanne Damas, Lena Situations, and Camille Razat, trying to figure out the secrets behind their perfectly imperfect makeup. But it would probably be much more time efficient to say, have all those French-approved techniques and makeup bag staples in one article.
Want to know how you can give your makeup routine a French touch? Read on for the lessons I’ve learned along the way, as well as secrets from expert makeup artists on how the French girls really do it.
Lesson 1: There is no French makeup without skincare
While Parisian women might like to splurge on a high end cream now and then, there’s nothing more integral to their everyday routine than French pharmacy skincare.
Basically, French pharmacies are the best spot for finding affordable, efficacious and dermatologically-backed skincare, and it’s why you’ll find bottles of brands such as Embryollise and Bioderma lining the cabinets of French women and beauty editors alike.
Obviously it wasn’t going to be long before Tiktok also jumped on the pharmacy-loving train. The skincare community has taken to sharing their French pharmacy hauls including classic products such as the A313 Hyaluronic Acid and Biafine’s Emulsion Cream, which are unavailable or difficult to find in the UK and US.
Bioderma’s Micellar Water was a staple in French skincare routines well before it made a splash over here, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a Parisian woman who doesn’t swear by La Roche-Posay.
But back to the lesson: follow the example of French women and take good care of your skin. “Skincare is the ultimate base,” agrees Cristelle Ewa, a makeup artist who runs @frenchtouchofmakeup on TikTok. “It wakes up the skin and gives that flushed color that is super natural and fresh.”
Your skincare routine doesn’t need to be overcomplicated or expensive as we’ve just covered (hydrating and barrier-fortifying products are the way to go), but healthy and happy skin is the foundation of French makeup, pun intended.
Best buys from French skincare brands
Lesson 2: Go minimal and precise with your coverage
As we touched on above, less is more when it comes to your base makeup, so when French women do look for coverage, they use it sparingly.
“The French aesthetic is all about the undetectable,” says makeup artist Sophie Tilley. “A base therefore would never be a medium or full coverage foundation: you’d be looking for a tinted moisturiser or BB cream. Then where redness, blemishes or discolouration need to be covered, a concealer would be used just on those areas.”
Cristelle also counts a signature British beauty product as her go-to for achieving an effortless glow: “Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood Flawless Filter, £36, Cult Beauty, is THE multi glow tool as it can be used alone as a radiant base, mixed with your foundation or BB cream or dabbed into the skin as a finishing product for an overall glow.”
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative, e.l.f’s Halo Glow Liquid Filter, £14, Boots comes in as a close dupe for CT’s – trust me, I’ve tried it.
Lesson 3: Get hands on with your makeup application
All of the makeup artists I spoke to agreed that using your fingers to blend in product rather than a brush is a non-negotiable and key to achieving a natural finish, as the warmth from your fingers helps the product to melt into the skin (how many times have you seen a video of a gorgeous French woman patting her lipstick into her lips? Exactly.)
Another trick for the most natural application: applying your base product from the centre of the face outwards, “until it blends to nothing around the jawline,” says Sophie.
Lesson 4: Brown is the new black
“Brown is the nouveau black,” says Cristelle. “You get the drama but you don’t get the heaviness that sometimes comes with black, so try swapping in a brown mascara or liner.”
Say no more!
Lesson 5: If you’re not wearing a lipstick, you might as well be naked
“It’s got to be that signature red, but with a difference,” says Olivia Devey, national beauty expert at Guerlain. She recommends “a velvety matte, applied without a lip liner and blotted into the lip for that just kissed effect.”
Firstly, you’ll want to prep the lips, because while a matte red lipstick is part and parcel of the Parisian look, the dry flakes of skin it’ll cling onto is not. “Tinker Taylor Little Lip Kit, £36, Tinker Taylor is the best for prepping lips,” says makeup artist Zoë Taylor. “It’s a 3 part lip care sequence, lip scrub to buff off any dry skin, lip oil for hydration and lip balm to nourish and lock in all the goodness.”
“With a red, take a few dabs from the bullet then smush it in with your finger or better yet, take some pigment on your fingertip and press into the lips, mainly in the middle of the mouth. Press your lips together and keep blending in with your finger, working outwards so you achieve a blurred edge,” says Sophie.
“I love Nars Cosmetics Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl, £22, Cult Beauty for cool skin tones and Chanel Rouge Allure Ink in Signature, £31, Boots for warm skin tones,” says Zoë.
If there’s going to be a part of your makeup routine where you splurge, it should be the lipstick. Because really, there’s nothing that feels more sophisticated than pulling a beautifully designed lipstick case out of your handbag, whether you’re applying it in a French bistro or in the back of a taxi.
Lesson 6: Lash curlers are a girl’s best friend
Nailing French girl eye makeup is all about the lashes, and so unless you were born with a naturally curly set, a lash curler is an absolute essential in your makeup bag.
“When curling your lashes, don’t clamp down,” says Sophie. “Close the curlers softly on your lashes and give it a ‘pumping’ action for a lighter, gradual curved curl, rather than a harsh bend.”
My favourite is the Kevyn Aucoin Eyelash Curler, £17, Cult Beauty, which allows you to use as much or as little pressure as you want.
Lesson 6: Messy liner is the eye equivalent of the bedhead
“French girl eye makeup is always a little bit lived in, and less is always more,” says Zoë. “Apply a soft liner along the upper and lower lash line and smudge it with a brush.”
If you don’t like getting a brush near your eye, a tip I’ve learned is to blink hard three or four times after applying the liner. Without fail, it always gives that smudged, carefree smokey-liner look. Just have a cotton bud handy to clean up any rogue bits.
“Then apply lots and lots of mascara; the way you apply it here is key,” says Olivia. “Bounce the brush on the root of the lashes repeatedly and then maybe once or twice pull the brush to the tip of the lashes. This builds that smouldering effect close to the eyes and keeps the lashes really fluttery.”
Lesson 7: Fake a flush
If you’ve never got to grips with the secrets of contouring, I’ve got good news for you: French women don’t care for it.
“Contouring isn’t really part of French makeup,” says Zoë. “Instead, think of bronzer gently buffed around the edges of the face, under cheekbones and across the bridge of the nose, where the sun would naturally fall on the face.”
Blusher, however, is incredibly important for capturing that post-St Tropez healthy glow all year round. As you’re trying to achieve as much of a dewy finish as possible, swap out your powder blush for a cream or liquid version.
“A vibrant red blush (your lipstick will work) mixed with bronzer is the perfect French sunkissed glow, plus it’s quick and easy!” says Cristelle.