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 2021, 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 skincare 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 - Avene
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 more. Magnifique (magnificent)!
#2 - La Roche Posay
Another contender for '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. Superbe (superb)!
Check out our Avene vs La Roche Posay guide for an in-depth comparison of these two similar French pharmacy skincare titans.
#3 - Clarins
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!
#4 - Yves Rocher
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.
#5 - Lancome
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!
Lancome doesn't just deliver high quality looking products, though. They are a major contender for the 'best luxury brand' too alongside Clarins, and their best-selling Advanced Génifique Serum is one of the best French anti-ageing elixirs around.
#6 - L'Occitane
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!
#7 - Caudalie
Another hotly contested title, but ultimately the 'best natural French skincare brand' 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.
#8 - NAOS
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.
#9 - Nuxe
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.
#10 - Embroyolisse
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!
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