As beauty editors, we often have a habit of treating hair, makeup, and skincare like a science. We test new products with the clinical detachment of a learned researcher. We classify ingredients like a biologist classifies animals by species and genus. The product's packaging is our beaker, and brushes, beauty sponges, and mixing spatulas are our experimental tools. To us, our bathroom vanity is more than it appears to be. It's a laboratory where we do our analysis and decide whether or not a specific product delivers real results.
While this is an important approach to beauty, it's also equally as important to appreciate the opposite, more artistic perspective. The word beauty, itself, hints at its expressive and ephemeral nature. Instead of judging something solely by its ingredients or its purported benefits, we need to consider how it makes us feel. To us, this is the reason why the world's continuing enchantment of French beauty has endured for so many decades. Simply put, the French tend to choose only the beauty products that make them feel more like themselves.
It's this unabashed display of natural beauty and confidence that leaves the rest of us wondering how they do what they do, attempting—in vain—to peg it on a certain product or routine, when really it's about an attitude. Keep scrolling to learn more about French beauty from real French women and makeup artists, including the four products French girls would never use (and what they'd use instead).
According to Parisian makeup artist Marlon Monroe, the French beauty philosophy goes hand-in-hand with the French fashion philosophy. "The minimalism of the French fashion allows the freshness and the authenticity of the woman," he says. He specifically references Coco Chanel and her insistence that simplicity does not mean stripping. "A few accessories allow an outfit to be pruning and effective, and similarly for the beauty of the face, a nice blush, a lipstick of the right tone, a nice line of eyelashes will put a face in light without making a mistake," he says.
Alexandra Roos, co-founder of the French fragrance brand Roos & Roos Fragrances, agrees that the French beauty style is based in simplicity and effectiveness. "French beauty style wants to appear natural—the effortless beauty. Even though it cannot be totally true, French women like this idea and apply their beauty routine with this philosophy. We've always been told when applying makeup that you need to choose between eyes and lips. Either wear a bright red lipstick by Chanel and only mascara, or smoky eyes with a natural balm."
So even though each person is unique, as will be their beauty style, there are a few certain products that the majority of French women don't use. Keep scrolling to see all four of these products, along with the products they would use instead.
1. Contour Products
The most popular makeup product French people avoid is contour. Take it from Aurore Manach, marketing director of French beauty brand, Collosol. "The traditional French girl will never use contouring products. Contouring is good for photo shoots and shows, but not for everyday life." As such, she says that in particular, "contour palettes are not popular with French girls." Remember, the general French beauty philosophy is all about keeping with the utmost natural-looking skin possible.
French people use blush instead of contour. It adds definition to the cheekbones without changing the natural look or texture of the skin. This is key, since Manach says that "the French style is first to have beautiful skin. Then to use a little bit of blush and a lip balm. In fact French girls, and I’m part of them, focus on skincare and pay less attention on makeup [...] Indeed, the aim is to use makeup as little as possible and look good."
Aside from blush, the traditional French beauty enthusiast will use a bronzing powder for definition and a little sun-kissed tan. "I don't know a French girl who doesn't use a bronzing powder," Manach says. "The most famous is the Terracotta from Guerlain, but I also like Benefit's Hoola Bronzer ($30)." Manach isn't kidding when she says Guerlain's Terracotta Bronzer is the most famous. It's an iconic product even in the States. It's also a regular best seller at Sephora, thanks to the natural-looking radiance and color it imparts. Sure, it's expensive, but it's also a classic.
2. Highlighting Products
Highlighting palettes are another well-loved makeup products French women traditionally avoid. In fact, they avoid the super-glowy look in general: "The glowy/dewy look trend does not really work here, from luminizer to full-on glass skin," Roos notes. "Maybe because we've been trying to escape greasy-looking skin for so long," she says humorously.
Manach agrees. "I also don't use highlighting powders; I tried them but have never been satisfied. It's too much."
French celebrity makeup artist Mayia Alleaume agrees. "Traditional French girls would never use contouring and highlight palettes," she says. "They don't like changing their features, and they don't like to be to cakey. They prefer to glow naturally with bare, well-moisturized skin." (BTW, Alleaume's clients include the likes of Carla Bruni, Coco Rocha, Melanie Thierry.)
This one surprised us, especially since we're die-hard fans of well-placed highlighter (shout-out to RMS Beauty's Living Luminizer $38, which imbues a gorgeous radiance to our skin, no matter what). However, it makes sense when we consider that French beauty is all about keeping the skin looking as natural as humanly possible.
Instead, they tend to opt for a velvety matte finish, which they achieve through the use of various BB and CC creams, along with a mattifying powder on top. "French girls love BB and CC creams," Manach explains. "The preferred brand in France is Erborian's Nude BB Cream ($39). After that, we'd use a mattifying powder—for instance, the Super Matte Loose Powder from Make Up For Ever."
3. Bright Eye Makeup
According to Manach, bright eye shadows aren't too popular in France. Generally, it's all about highlighting the lips, so French women tend to stray from bold eye color at the risk of looking to done. "Concerning the eyes, I would never use colors. When I say colors, I think about green, pink, purple, and Indian blue. And I don't even want to speak about black eye shadow… With the success of Black Swan, smoky eye tendency was trendy in France for a while, but it was several years ago."
Instead, the traditional French beauty tendency is to go for a bold lip or a smoky neutral liner. Either one adds a bit of drama to the face without involving too much color. Again, this all stems back to their love of natural color and low-key yet elegant essentials.
If they do opt for eye shadow, it's a neutral palette, like Naked2 from Urban Decay. "Eye shadows are not an everyday product for French girls," Manach says. "We use them sometimes when we go out. I never use them. Some of my friends use Naked 2 and Naked 3 palettes from Urban Decay because the colors are pretty nude, pretty light."
Speaking of lipstick, French girls love to play with color and texture. However, in lieu of traditional formulas, French women are into long-lasting waterproof formulas that eliminates the need to maintain color throughout the day. "She's searching hard for makeup stability and not having to touch it too often," Monroe explains.
Manach gives three specific shades real French girls love. First is Dior Rouge Dior Lipstick ($37) for red shades; the formula is extremely pigmented and opaque. Second is Givenchy Le Rouge Lipstick ($37) for richer reds and burgundy shades like Grenat Initié. Finally, she recommends Yves Saint Laurent Le Nu Lipstick ($37) for a nude shade. "And when I don't want to wear a lipstick I wear Dior Lip Glow Color Reviving Lip Balm ($29)," she says.
4. False Eyelashes
"The traditional French girl loves long, beautiful eyelashes, but not false eyelashes, due to a lack of know-how or simply lack of time in the morning!" Monroe notes. Since their daily beauty routine is fairly simple and quick, they turn to extensions or to the newest volumizing mascara.
Aside from volumizing mascara like this one from L'Oréal, French women turn to lash-conditioning serums and growth formulas. "French women love makeup care such as Talika Lipocils Platinium ($59), which makes their lashes grow naturally," says French celebrity makeup artist Mayia Alleaume.
Keep scrolling to see other beauty products French girls love.
Roos calls fragrance the best beauty accessory that French women wear. This one, from her namesake brand, is simultaneously sweet and smoky with notes of pink pepper, saffron, oud, patchouli, and white musk.
To remove makeup, use a French pharmacy classic: Collosol Eau de Lait. It's a milky liquid that dissolves through tough makeup, dirt, and impurities. The best part is that it acts like a micellar water, so you don't need to rinse it away. "I need simple products like Collosol; I need that beauty step to be quick and efficient and with a minimum of products," Manach says. "It's wonderful for summer and winter because it's simultaneously fresh and comforting."
Alleaume says multipurpose beauty oil is a must, since it moisturizes the face and body, naturally perfumes the skin, and "makes hair look fabulous." This one from Leonor Greyl is delicately scented with magnolia petals, which explains why it makes us feel so luxurious.
Next, check out the best French makeup brands and what we recommend buying from each one.