Going out in public without makeup used to instill a paralyzing fear inside of me. It sounds hyperbolic, but it's true.
I'd felt that way ever since middle school when my skin began to betray me. The pre-teen hormones surging through my body brought with them unsightly blemishes that I picked with abandon in hopes that they'd disappear, but of course, they only grew deeper and increased in number. So began my foray into thick, full-coverage foundation, powder, and blush—anything to distract a bullying middle schooler from poking fun.
Though my skin eventually cleared dramatically, I still felt ugly without makeup; the acne wasn't there, but to me, it was a phantom condition. Any errand I'd run without makeup on was done with my head hung, afraid to make eye contact with anyone. It felt as though a stamp were on my forehead telling everyone to stare at me. Thus, I'd wear makeup to the gym, to the beach—anywhere that seemed irrational to wear a full face of makeup, there I'd be, fully made up. Makeup was my security blanket.
But recently, I was put in a situation that threw me out of my comfort zone: a press trip to Provence, France, with a group of people I didn't know. Normally, this would be grounds for spending extra time on my hair and makeup to feel more confident, but as soon as we touched down in the quiet rolling hills of Provence, a wave of calm overcame me. Being a virginal Euro-traveler, I'd only heard of the laid-back lifestyle of French women, but to see it firsthand was palpable. Caked-on foundation and Instagram brows were mere cyber-trends to the fresh faces I was met with, and I'd never felt more… made up.
Slowly, I grew comfortable with adopting the natural approach to beauty I was so blatantly surrounded by. It also helped that the trip was sponsored by L'Occitane, and the underlying theme of our stay was, of course, skincare. But quite possibly my biggest inspiration for dipping into my makeup bag less frequently during the trip was meeting Lucy Primrose, the director of learning and development for L'Occitane.
Primrose was the essence of health: She was fit, her skin glowed from within, and she didn't have so much as a fine line. I couldn't have guessed her age if I tried. Dying to know how she manages to look so youthful sans makeup, I asked her what the je ne sais quoi is about French women.
"To me, the French look is effortlessly polished," she explains. "They tend to emphasize skincare over makeup and focus on fresh, clean, radiant skin, rather than hiding it behind makeup. Radiant skin followed by a lick of mascara and the perfect red lipstick completes their effortlessly chic style." She continues,
"The French embrace natural beauty and tend to seek out products that are as natural as possible. The focus from a very young age is looking after your skin and maintaining your skin's natural radiance by using a simple yet complete routine such as a cleanser, toner, eye product, moisturizer and gentle exfoliant that will reveal fresh, radiant skin."
But Primrose's biggest skincare secret lies in oil. It's a controversial ingredient for those who worry about breaking out (read: me), but she insists this is the key to her radiance. "People with oily and combination skin often panic at the idea of applying a face oil, however, when used sparingly, they can actually help to balance the skins natural oils," she explains. "The great thing about face oils is that there are many ways you can use them: You can add one to two drops into your moisturizer to enhance it. Alternatively, you can use a face oil in place of your moisturizer if you have oily or combination skin. You might only choose to apply your face oil in the evening.
"I always recommend nighttime rather than the day, as your skin works at healing itself during the evening, so you will get more benefits from your oil and you also produces less sebum at night time. It’s about adjusting your method and amount of product you use by assessing how your skin feels from day to day. I love to use our Divine Youth Oil ($99) to gently massage my skin to increase the skin's circulation and bring oxygen and nutrients to the cells. It leaves your skin looking plump and radiant! It's the perfect way to end a busy day."
Primose even taught us a real treat: how to gently massage the oil into the face at night—a ritual of sorts that helps promote lymphatic drainage, circulation, and lift. She instructed us to gently rub a few drops into our hands, inhale the fragrance with a few deep breaths, and then use the inner sides of our hands to massage along the nose, the forehead, and underneath the cheekbones in upward motions, the latter of which was an area I discovered held a great amount of tension. When we were done, my skin looked as though I'd just gotten an amazing facial—putting makeup over it would have been a sin, so I thought I'd do as the French do and skip it for the next activity on our itinerary (I didn't even opt for the lick of mascara or red lipstick).
Admittedly, walking out into a group of people without makeup on was, as it'd always been—paralyzing. But perhaps everyone I was surrounded by was kinder than the ordinary folk because no one made me feel uncomfortable or as ugly as I normally feel when I go bare-faced. Plus, many of us had just been taught how to make our skin glow like an orb, so everyone was high off of their own natural beauty. Slowly, the paralysis began to fade.
As the day wore on, I'd forgotten I wasn't wearing anything on my face save for good skincare and a new sense of confidence. I caught a glimpse of myself in a car window's reflection and didn't wrinkle my nose or roll my eyes in the knee-jerk way I'd always done. Perhaps part of this new laissez-faire approach was from being in a beautiful city surrounded by lavender fields and sunflowers, or perhaps it was the fact I was buzzed on rosé and good cheese, but I didn't care that I wasn't contoured and highlighted. I felt amazing.
Next up: read what happened when our senior editor lived like a French girl for seven days.
This press trip was paid for by L'Occitane. Editors’ opinions are their own.
Opening image: @____roxanne