We Asked a Francophile How French Women Approach Aging Gracefully

This certainly isn't the first time we've sang praise to French-girl beauty, but can you really blame us? From the nude skin to the undone textured hair, it's just so good. Because a spontaneous trip to Paris isn't really feasible this early in the work year, we instead turned to author and self-confessed Francophile Katrina Lawrence to fill us in on a few French beauty insider secrets. Lawrence has been traveling to Paris since she was five, and in the spare time she has from her gig as a beauty editor, pours over French history and literature without abandon. The next natural progression was to put all of her thoughts and musings in one place, thus, her book Paris Dreaming was born. Hungry for all things French, we quizzed Lawrence on everything from low-key Parisian hair, to just how French women seemingly resist aging.

Model with pink lipstick

What is it you love most about the way French women approach beauty?

I think it’s that they’re the ones in control of beauty, not the other way around; they wear makeup, the makeup doesn’t wear them. French women don’t tend to follow specific beauty trends, particularly if it doesn’t suit them. That’s why we usually think of either red lips or smudged eyes when we think “French” makeup; both are beauty classics (the makeup equivalent of a little black dress). To me it’s chic, eternal, and ageless. In France, makeup is about good grooming and accentuating the positives, and committing to a beauty routine is basically a form of social politeness. You always put your best face forward the second you step outside; you never, for instance, catch the train to work while doing your mascara. But getting ready for the day isn’t seen as a chore in a country where people take pleasure in aesthetics. I love how the Parisian makeup artist and Estée Lauder Global Beauty Director Violette once wrote on Instagram: “Darling yourself. I’ve always thought of the word darling as a verb. That would mean to celebrate, to take care, to treat yourself. Every time you do your skincare routine, every time you put your makeup [on—do it with pleasure, do it with happiness, do it with self-love.”

Any French beauty myths you’d love to dispel?

The French have a lovely expression ‘La Beauté N’a Pas d’Âge’—Beauty Doesn’t Have an Age. And Coco Chanel once proclaimed: “You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.” All of this is true, of course, but it’s perhaps not as effortless as some French women—as prone to discretion as they are to elegance—would have us believe. I feel as though France likes to have the world think its women don’t succumb to plastic surgery, that the facial exercising that comes with French vowel pronunciation is firming enough, and that everything else can be fixed with a good haircut. Truth is, while face-lifts might be falling from favor, as they are in many countries, fillers and freezers are reported to be as common in France as anywhere else. The other French Beauty Myth that makes me laugh is the whole messy-hair-don’t-care thing. It’s so untrue.

What French beauty products can you not live without, and why?

Clarins Beauty Flash Balm ($48). This was the original face illuminator—long before the days of highlighting and strobing—and is still, in my opinion, the best because it gives you a natural-look glow by delivering a dose of radiant dewiness rather than relying on obvious, shimmery tricks-of-the-light.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue ($86). The classic of all classic fragrances, this 1912 beauty was inspired by the ‘blue light’ of crepuscular Paris, so it’s suitably misty and moody, starting off with a vaporous sparkle, and melting into a seductive muskiness. Its potent sillage (perfume trail) lingers well into after-dark.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Solution ($15). My skin has a tendency towards rosacea, so this gentle no-rinse cleanser is my first step for keeping things in check.

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré ($16). I generally don’t need my moisturizer to treat (I use all sorts of serums for this)—I just want a cream that will nourish my skin without overdosing and clogging, plus work as an effective makeup base. This does all that.

Vichy Minéral 89 Daily Booster ($30). Before I apply any aforementioned serums, I make sure that my skin is well hydrated and thus most receptive to treatment. I love a hyaluronic acid-based formulation for this, and this one is just about the best I’ve come across.

What about French-girl hair. Is there a secret?

Ah yes, the old I-just-tumbled-out-of-the-sheets-this-sexily look. While French women in general aren’t [obsessed with] their hair in the way that other women can be (they don’t want to look as though they’ve spent mind-numbing amounts of time with their GHD) they certainly don’t put in zero effort. They ensure that they have a good haircut that gives movement and shape, and they use high-quality hair care that allows them to wash-and-go. Once this solid base is established, a certain breeziness when it comes to styling is fine, and actually suits the overall style of French women, as it balances out what could be an overly contrived effect. Not that this laissez-faire hair is an ageless strategy; as French women age, they will probably make more of an effort to wear their hair up, or in neat bobs. As Caroline de Maigret and the co-authors of How to Be Parisian noted: “As your face gets messier with age, your hair can get neater for balance.” Again, there’s that idea of balance. Just what we’d expect from women who happily sip a glass of wine with lunch.

How do you find French girls approach aging when it comes to their skincare?

In their twenties and thirties, French women are generally all about facials and power-packed skincare. They’re loyal to their skin aesthetician and use what’s recommended. Or they’ll speak to the pharmacist about other options. The French pharmacy is not like the typical one. The skincare found here is different from that stocked in department stores and supermarkets, and it’s serious, dermatologically endorsed stuff. Those who work in French pharmacies know what they’re talking about. I love lurking around the top Parisian pharmacies, eavesdropping on the conversations Parisiennes are having with these experts, and hearing about the latest and greatest in treating pigmentation or fine lines. And shopping while there, of course! The prices are decent, so there’s really no excuse to not have good skin in France. 

What does the typical French anti-aging skincare routine look like?

Even though French women don’t wear a huge amount of foundation, they’re religious with cleanser, as there’s little point doing anything to your skin if it’s not clean. Micellar water cleansers are still huge, especially in Paris where the water can be harsh. Many French women follow up with a thermal water mist, to hydrate skin and prepare it for treatment, which might be one serum, or several, spot-applied depending on needs and the pharmacist’s advice. Given that the treatments are the ones doing the treating, moisturizers can stick to doing what they do best. French women love a luscious cream, something that is beautifully scented, say with rosewater, for a gorgeous sensorial effect, and also something that is a pleasure to massage in—facial massage being a great anti-aging technique. There’s one other key anti-aging strategy, which is sunscreen, of course. Even though French sunscreens are some of the best on the planet, I’m not convinced French women use enough of them. Have a look at their skin after their long summer holiday. It often looks a little sun-ravaged from all those hours in Saint-Tropez rays. I guess it’s nice to know French women aren’t too perfect, right?

Any other French beauty tricks or secrets you’d love to share?

I love the French gommage style of exfoliation, where you rub an enzyme-powered paste into skin for a double-action sloughing. French women also adore these scrubs for their bodies. The décolletage is particularly prone to showing the signs of aging—one reason being its low levels of subcutaneous fat—and French women pay extra attention to this area, and protect it with those fabulously tied scarves of theirs, which is surely the chicest form of sun protection around.

Related Stories