When I moved to Paris a few years ago, the first thing I did was shamelessly study every single French girl I came across. On the metro, in every single cafe, every bar, everywhere. Perhaps it was creepy, sure, but can you blame me? I was in the land of je ne sais quoi! I needed to soak it all up until I could impart my own mysterious, sexy aura. Then, I moved to the South. I imagined the beauty routines would be it'd be quite similar to Paris, but I was wrong.
I asked everyone I came across about their regimen—that, and how they believe it measures up to a more American or Parisian line-up. The answers I got were illuminating, to say the least. Below, find the biggest differences between my routine once I moved to Paris, and how it changed once I moved to the South of France—and why it's made all the difference.
What everyone says about Parisian beauty is true.
One French friend of mine, at the time a stylist for the legendary Le Bon Marché, said, "We don’t want to waste our lives getting ready. We want to get out there and live!"
“Actually,” said another, a beauty editor in Paris, "it’s because life in Paris is so hectic, we don’t have time to do a full makeup routine in the mornings. We go out until late at night to eat and drink with friends. I think we’d all rather sleep more.”
The reasons for this may vary, but what is important is that it’s absolutely true what they say: French girls don’t spend as much time in front of the mirror in the mornings as I do. My routine at the time was very average: wash, tone, moisturize, then prime, foundation, concealer, cat eye, mascara, setting spray. And I thought that was light.
So, living in Paris taught me to pare down my routine.
Multi-purpose products cut down on time spent searching for each individual product (and spending). That's the first thing I learned from reverent whispers throughout the office when I moved to Paris. David Malletts' Spray No.2: Le Volume ($40) is the stuff of legends. It's a volume powder as well as a dry shampoo, making it so you don't need two products to do the job. Glossier's Cloud Paint ($18) can be worn on the eyes, lips, and cheeks with just a swipe of your fingertip. It was tossed to me nonchalantly across the conference room table when I asked another co-worker about product. And I’m almost totally sure when one manager heard her intern used her Chanel's Boy de Chanel Lip Balm ($38) as a brow gel, she rushed to get her a full-time contract.
So, what this resulted in for me was buying far less product, which meant I could splurge a little more deliberately. French girls buy the best quality they can afford—but they also know the best product isn’t always the most expensive. I could save up for months for a tub La Mer’s Crème de la Mer ($180), which, in fact, I have in the past, and if you wanted to gift me I wouldn’t say no. But, I know Sanoflore’s Baume de Rosée ($24) plumps up and brightens my skin in a way nothing else ever has.
In hindsight, this felt like the perfect blank slate for my next lesson in French beauty.
The Riviera has a totally different vibe than Paris does.
I moved to the South of France earlier this year. Life in Paris was lived at a breakneck pace, but here in the South, they take relaxation seriously. The French Riviera isn’t just a playground for the world’s rich and famous. It’s the playground. Monaco, Saint Tropez, Cannes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, these are the luxe summer retreats for the world’s elite. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that beauty here is a much more glamorous affair than it really is.
However, in the South, life is lived outside. Obviously, the beaches are picturesque in summer, but in winter, the Alps are a bus ride away. Physical activity is a given. In Paris, my weekends spent at galleries and exhibitions (another totally true cliché). Now, they’re spent exploring tiny medieval towns nearby, walking seaside paths with friends, and sunning myself on a new beach every weekend. Yes, I know. It’s a hard life. And while I am absolutely the kind of person to wear lipstick on a hike (a bright red to match my exhausted, tomato red face, thank you), the drastic change in lifestyle has brought a brand new set of demands for my morning routine.
Provençal-style skincare is all about sun protection.
My first lesson was that SPF 15 wouldn’t cut it here. Bioderma’s Hydrabio Perfecteur ($20) has SPF 30, is a moisturizer, and a radiance booster. It’s a gentle formulation for dehydrated sensitive skin, which is perfect, because with the hard water situation and salt from the sea, my normally combination skin tends to be a lot dryer and more temperamental. But that’s for overcast days.
For days spent in the sun, Mimitika is a great French brand dedicated to sun protection. Their lightweight Crème Solaire Visage 50+ ($22) is a sun lover's dream, though for beach days (or ski days), their Lait Protecteur Minerale 50+ ($29) is water resistant and super moisturizing. Mimitika clearly has a thing for pretty packaging, but best of all, its products are vegan and cruelty free.
That said, I discovered Avène's Reparateur Après Soleil ($29) as soon as I moved south, as it's designed for use after a long day in the sun (to hydrate and soothe aggravated skin). Throughout the long summer days, particularly during these crazy heatwaves, the French love their brumisateurs, a spray of cool mineral water. Vichy’s Mineralizing Thermal Water ($10) is one of the best, as it's enriched with water from French volcanoes and helps protect, hydrate, and soothe tired, dry skin.
The South provides few opportunities for full-coverage makeup.
Beauty here is much more minimal than in America, and even more so than Paris. During the cooler months, when makeup will actually stay on your face, the cat-eyes and bold lips come out, especially around the holidays. Those in Provence will commonly choose one feature to highlight, and leave the rest as neutral as possible, just like their Parisian counterparts. Instead, the focus in this part of the country is on skincare and natural beauty. And it’s easy to see why: A healthy diet is easily accessible, the sunshine is year round, and with those famous French pharmacies on every corner, glowing skin is almost guaranteed.
With sunscreen as a base, I'll rarely add any face makeup at all. But, on days I decide to apply makeup, La Roche Posay's Hydreane BB Cream ($30) offers the perfect amount of natural coverage. Then, I'll do a swipe of mascara and a subtle lip tint or stain (which ends up saving me about 35 minutes, as compared to my original routine).
To sum it all up:
If I had to describe the beauty philosophy the south of France has taught me, I’d have to say it’s a little bit luxe, but mostly unfussy, much like the region itself. But mostly it’s taught me looking like a French girl is much less important than taking care of the skin I’m in. It’s less about trying to imitate someone else, and more about figuring myself out. That’s the secret to je ne sais quoi.