With a rapidly growing cult-like following and thousands of beauty brands worldwide keenly mimicking their every move, French skincare brands are evidently on a pedestal in 2023, and not without reason.
French skincare is a haven for all skin types due to its famously gentle and simplistic approach. Regardless of having dry, sensitive, oily or problematic skin, the uncomplicated formulas on offer from French skin care brands provide effortless solutions for achieving that coveted radiant, healthy glow without breaking the bank.
France also just so happens to be one of the birthplaces of dermatology, and hence many of the brands are deeply rooted in the origins of skincare science, so you know they know what they're doing.
While every French skincare brand holds these fundamental qualities at its core, each brand also has quirks and nuances that set them apart from each other and make them unique. We have curated a list of the 13 best French skincare brands to help you compare and contrast these differences and ultimately discover your personal favorites. Commençons (let's begin)!
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#1 — La Roche Posay
2023 update: #2 → #1
As a contender for the title of 'Best brand for sensitive skin', La Roche-Posay sources the selenium-rich water they use in all of their products from the town they named themselves after (La Roche-Posay in Western France). Selenium, by the way, is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation and improves the elasticity and firmness of the skin.
La Roche-Posay's mantra of working with the world's best dermatologists and committing to a strict formulation charter means that you really can't go wrong with this French skincare brand as a beginner. Even if you are unsure of your skin type or the problems you may be facing, their products will work for you.
Effaclar Duo (+) is their best selling French acne skincare product, and it's not hard to see why when it guarantees "clearer skin in 4 weeks" (and 100s of reviews vouch for its efficacy) with its formulation specifically for oily, blemish-prone skin in adults and teenagers. Of course, they also sell the full range of products that you would expect from a well-established skincare company (e.g. moisturizers, cleansers etc.) and some of the best French face products available on the market (such as the best French retinol). Superbe!
Check out our Avene vs La Roche Posay guide for an in-depth comparison of these similarly popular French pharmacy skincare titans.
#2 — Avene
2023 update: #1 → #2
Avene's thermal spring water sourced at Sainte-Odile and filtered by the Cevennes Mountains is the resounding reason for their overwhelming success, especially amongst the sensitive skin community. It possesses naturally soothing, anti-irritating properties and is highly rich in silica (a natural anti-inflammatory that gives you a beautiful glowy complexion and stimulates collagen production).
Unsurprisingly, this skin-quenching thermal spring water forms the foundation of almost all Avene products. Most notably, the Avene Thermal Spring Water Spray (Eau Thermale), which I will unashamedly herald as my favourite French skincare product of all time. Spray a fine mist over the skin after cleansing, wait for 30 seconds, and then pat dry to be greeted with a gorgeously glowy version of yourself.
While their primary focus is on treating sensitive and irritated skin, Avene also offers a superb range of products for oily and blemish-prone skin, as well as suncare, anti-ageing formulas, and arguably the best French moisturizer. Magnifique (magnificent)!
#3 — Caudalie
2023 update: #7 → #3
As the best natural French skincare brand, the #3 spot couldn't go to any other French skincare brand than Caudalie. They maintain a comprehensive manifesto detailing their brand's environmental commitments (which we will go over in a moment), and every year since 2012, they have contributed 1% of their turnover to the "1% for the Planet" reforestation cause, making them the largest contributor of the global cosmetic industry.
Caudalie's manifesto is as follows: (1) they select effective ingredients of natural origin, (2) they never use suspicious or undesirable ingredients (e.g. ingredients of animal origin, potentially endocrine-disrupting preservatives, mineral oils, or irritating/polluting agents) and (3) they have committed to complete transparency, aiming for as close to 100% natural ingredients as is humanly possible.
Inspired by the Youth Elixir of the Queen of Hungary in the 16th century, the Beauty Elixir has a unique formula that impressively reveals complexion radiance, visibly smooths the features and tightens the appearance of pores. It comes as no surprise that this product is a cult-favourite and a best-seller, as well as their flagship cleanser arguably boasting the title of best French face wash.
#4 — Lancome
2023 update: #5 → #4
Lancome doesn't just deliver high quality looking products. They are a major contender for being the best French luxury brand (alongside #5 and #9), and their best-selling Advanced Génifique Serum is one of the best French anti-ageing elixirs around.
Perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when most people choose a skincare brand, but the positive cognitive effect a well-made product generates can genuinely make all the difference when it comes to seeing results. Studies have shown that, akin to the placebo effect, high-quality packaging can affect our perception of the quality of the package contents, and hence the perception of how well the product works.
The happier we are with our product choice, the more confident we are of its performance, the more content we will feel in general, and of course, there are dozens of health and skin benefits attributed to happiness too! And let me tell you, you would be very happy with Lancome.
Check out our best French serums article for a more in-depth review!
#5 — Sisley
2023 update: *NEW*
Sisley is a French luxury brand known for its high-quality skincare products that beautifully marry the power of nature with scientific innovation. Established in 1976, Sisley was born out of the belief that skincare should be an indulgent ritual that harnesses the benefits of natural plant extracts and essential oils.
The brand's dedication to sourcing the best botanical ingredients, coupled with its meticulous approach to formulating its products, is what sets Sisley apart in the crowded landscape of skincare.
Sisley stands out for its commitment to phyto-cosmetology, the practice of using natural plant extracts in beauty products. This innovative approach allows Sisley to create high-performance products that can address a wide range of skin concerns. Moreover, the brand's focus on holistic beauty ensures that its products not only enhance the skin's appearance but also improve its health and vitality.
One of Sisley's standout products is the Black Rose Skin Infusion Cream. This moisturizer is part of the brand's Black Rose collection, a line that's a testament to the brand's commitment to luxury, innovation, and the power of botanicals.
Sisley's emphasis on natural, high-quality ingredients, scientific innovation, and indulgent skincare rituals positions it as one of the best French skincare brands.
#6 — L'Occitane
2023 update: #6 → #6
It has to be said, pretty much every French skincare brand was a contender for our 'best ethical brand'. However, L'Occitane are our clear winners due to their ethical efforts transcending their line of business, going above and beyond their moral obligations.
Not only does L'Occitane act in sustainability, conservation and fairness (they aim to have fair trade agreements with ALL of their direct producers by 2025!), but they also champion three very worthy causes. Firstly, the empowerment and emancipation of women (their commitment is to support 60 thousand women in their socio-economic development by 2025); secondly, the fight against preventable blindness (they aim to enable 10 million beneficiaries to have access to eyecare by 2025); and finally, the celebration and conservation of artisanal craftsmanship.
As well as being on very steady moral high ground, L'Occitane is arguably the premiere provençal French skincare brand and another contender for 'Best luxury brand'. They offer every product you would expect from a well-established skincare brand (e.g. moisturizers, cleansers etc.), and most notably, they hold the title of '#1 premium handcare brand in the world'. This fact doesn't come as much of a surprise, though, as their Shea Butter Hand Cream is genuinely to die for - I can't get enough of the stuff!
Check out our best French hand cream post for a more in-depth review.
#7 — Nuxe
2023 update: #9 → #7
A self-proclaimed sensory haven of wellness and beauty (a well-earned proclamation, one might add), Nuxe is a pioneer in combining the marvels of nature with the prowess of science to create irresistible daily skincare for women. Aliza Jabès, the founder, felt the need to offer women a cozy, intimate setting where they could finally take care of themselves, recharge their batteries and let go. Doesn't that sound wonderful!
Nuxe's best-seller is a multi-purpose oil that nourishes and beautifies the face, body and hair. With its unique dry oil texture and its addictive fragrance with sunny, sensual notes, Huile Prodigieuse serves up a moment of genuine inimitable pleasure.
#8 — Vichy
2023 update: *NEW*
Vichy, a celebrated French skincare brand, is recognized for its use of mineralizing thermal spa water from the hot springs of Vichy, France. This unique water, rich in 15 essential minerals, forms the backbone of Vichy's products, offering healing and rejuvenating effects.
Combined with the brand's commitment to rigorous dermatological testing and suitability for sensitive skin, Vichy stands as a noteworthy contender in the realm of global skincare.
A prime example of Vichy's philosophy is the Mineral 89 Serum, a daily hydrating and plumping booster. This product's formulation includes a remarkable 89% of Vichy's mineralizing thermal water, known for its ability to bolster the skin's natural defenses. The serum is also enriched with hyaluronic acid, celebrated for its exceptional hydrating properties. Together, these ingredients work synergistically to hydrate, fortify, and leave the skin looking refreshed.
The enduring popularity of the Mineral 89 Serum further testifies to Vichy's reputation for delivering both immediate and long-term skin health benefits.
#9 — Clarins
2023 update: #3 → #9
Listening to women's needs and a love of nature are the principles Jacques Courtin-Clarins had in mind in 1954 when he founded Clarins. Several generations later, Clarins is arguably the number one high-end luxury skincare brand not just in France but in the whole of Europe. They put a particular emphasis on the efficacy of their products which comes as a result of their exceptional scientific methodology.
Of course, luxury and high efficacy come with a steeper price tag, but since their products feel like a whole spa session for the face with every droplet, it is oh so worth it. I am convinced that their best seller - the Super Restorative Day Cream - is enchanted with magic; it excels at brightening and smoothing for all skin types (even for my temperamental skin!), as well as deeply nourishes and moisturizes day after day. Not only that, but it seemingly lasts forever since only a tiny amount is needed each day. It is a best seller for a reason, after all.
One of my favourite aspects of Clarins is that they recommend the perfect product pairings to complete your beauty routine, depending on your specific goals. For instance, their recommendation for maximum anti-ageing effects is to pair and use the day cream with the Super Restorative Remodelling Serum every morning. Needless to say, I can't recommend this combo enough as we are *obsessed* with it.
Clarins also offer a host of other supremely high-quality products, including night care and treatments for any skin concerns that might spring to mind. Et voilà!
#10 — Yves Rocher
2023 update: #4 → #10
By managing every step of production, Yves Rocher regulates the cost of its products with one goal in mind: affordable beauty for every woman, without exception. Affordability doesn't equate to lack of quality, though, as exemplified by the fact that over 30 million women entrust Yves Rocher with their skincare.
Botany and flowers lie at the heart of all Yves Rocher products; this is in large part thanks to the founder, Mr Yves Rocher, who originally intended his personal care company to revolve around botanical beauty. Over 60 years later, these underlying principles haven't changed - the true hallmark of a successful brand.
A prime example of Yves Rocher's botanical-inspired skincare, the best-selling Face Moisturizing Hydra Vegetal saturates the skin with intense hydration thanks to the natural water storing properties of the Edulis plant.
#11 — Embroyolisse
2023 update: #10 → #11
Over 70 years ago, on the wards of a Parisian hospital, a formula that has now achieved almost mythical status was attained by a French dermatologist that left skin looking and feeling naturally beautiful. This formula, so the story goes, was the original Lait-Creme Concentre. A whole range of skincare and cosmetic products was subsequently born, ultimately resulting in the modern brand Embryolisse.
Celebrities, makeup artists and dermatologists all over the world swear by this brand. To quote Karlie Kloss, an American supermodel: "Embryolisse is where it's at."
The Lait-Creme Concentre is their flagship product which boasts an impressive 5-in-1 multitasking ability. Not only does it excel as a moisturizer, but it also excels as a primer, makeup remover, hydrating mask AND an aftershave. It's plain to see why it is rated so highly by celebrities and makeup artists alike as a fantastic timesaver, especially when the results are undeniably stunning. Ooh, la la!
#12 — L'Oreal
2023 update: *NEW*
L'Oréal, one of the world's largest cosmetics companies, originates from France and has been a cornerstone in the beauty industry for over a century. Its vast range of products, innovative research and development, and affordable pricing have earned it a place among notable French skincare brands.
Despite its extensive catalogue, L'Oréal never compromises on quality, ensuring all products are tested and validated by scientific experts.
One of L'Oréal's distinguished lines is the Revitalift series, specifically designed for its anti-aging benefits. The Revitalift Moisturizer is a standout product in this line. This daily moisturizer is formulated with Pro-Retinol and Centella Asiatica, also known as Tiger Grass, aimed at reducing wrinkles and firming skin.
L'Oréal's blend of wide-ranging skincare solutions, scientific validation, and consumer-friendly pricing, exemplified by products like the Revitalift Moisturizer, confirms its position as a leading French skincare brand.
#13 — NAOS
2023 update: #8 → #13
While NAOS itself might not be a very well recognized name, perhaps Bioderma, Esthederm, and Etat Pur will ring some bells. That's right; NAOS is a collection of *3* French skincare brands, each with ecobiology at the heart of their approach to skincare.
The key to their success is viewing skin scientifically as a living ecosystem that constantly interacts with its environment that changes over time. Preserving this ecosystem and naturally strengthening the skin's natural mechanisms is a radically refreshing take on skincare that they commit to, and it has me personally captivated.
"Rather than over-treating the skin, it must learn how to function properly." - Jean-Noël Thorel, Founder of NAOS.
Originally published July 3rd 2021. Last updated August 4th 2023.
Calum Torrington is the founder of FemmeNordic. He has worked as a beauty editor since 2020 and employs his analytical background in mathematics to thoroughly scrutinize complex INCI lists. Now, he helps over 1 million people per year to find the best beauty products.