In America, French and European fetishism is huge. It seems like every other day, there is a new article claiming to disclose a never-before-discovered “secret” to how French women manage to stay so ______. Last year, I had the opportunity to spend the summer in Paris because a very generous friend offered me to stay in her flat (thanks Meg!) I went on a loose assignment for an American wellness website to discover the lifestyle "secrets" of Paris and to see if the "Gluten Free" trend has legs in Europe (spoiler alert, not really.)
Naturally, as a media-obsessed Amurican girl I was eager to absorb the French approaches to health, lifestyle, and beauty.
But I didn't write the article. Paris is a beautiful city with great culture, beauty, fashion, people, and parties. I had an amazing time that I will recall for my whole life. But TBH, some things were not really my style. For example, the vibe in Paris can be exclusive and judgmental. Many older women on the street will elevator gaze you and make their disapproval very clear if you do not attempt to fit into the Parisian “look.” Maybe I cared too much, but this annoyed me! I come from NYC where difference is generally more celebrated and so I resented feeling like I needed to conform to the Parisian aesthetic. That being said, I met some really cool people in Paris who bucked this expectation, showed me the best time, and who possessed a tangible quality of fearlessness that was well integrated into their lifestyles and aesthetics.
One thing that made it difficult to talk about French beauty and lifestyle habits from a health perspective is that French people really smoke sooo many cigarettes; it’s kind of crazy that there is such a cultural emphasis placed (and $$$ invested) on skincare considering the amount of tobacco that is consumed there.
There is a culture of secrecy in Paris...
...that pervades the eating habits of the dominant culture. Is it secrecy that keeps us hooked and fascinated by the impossibility of what French people represent? I had the distinct feeling when I was there that being alwayskindofhungry was part of the lifestyle, it's part of what they do to look good, which I didn't exactly appreciate. They also walk a ton and it's the perfect exercise because it doesn't require "vulgar things" like sweat or lycra. In fact, walking is highly stylish when done properly. Heels above an inch are not worn outside of fashion week.
I tried that leek soup (is this a real thing French people do?) and it was alright, although I’m pretty sure I smelled like onions for days. On the topic of food, it is of course true that there is some amazing food in Paris, and the produce is sublime. I really admire the pride taken in food, especially the produce and fresh ingredients. I mean look at those strawberries in the pic above.
Anyway, that’s my editorialization of Paris and the American fetishism of its people. Here are some observations that stuck with me from my stay.
"Tisanes" are beautifying herbal teas.
You can buy a variety of “tisanes,” made with natural ingredients for beauty that you don't see in the same way as in the US (yes we have Kylie Jenner's solution to a full colon) but these are herbal and actually lovely solutions for things like slimming, reducing sugar cravings, etc. Look for words like “drainant” to release water weight and bloating, with ingredients such as artichoke (artichaud) fennel (fenouil) and “extrait de vigne rouge” if that's what you're into. I got them at my fave pharmacie: Pharmacie des Archives. This is one of the most delicious teas I've ever had. The same company sells a nice "melange drainant" too, but don't steep it too long.
Tonics made by local pharmacies are what Americans have been searching for.
So few people seem to know that most pharmacies in France produce their own herbal tonics aimed at different things such as improved circulation, releasing water retention and bloating. These tonics are a closely guarded secret, and I'm convinced that it's the one Americans have been searching for! You might have to ask the Pharmacist multiple times in order for them to share; often they will keep the tonics behind the counter. They are consumed either upon waking or before bed, with water.
I had two, one was for circulation with vigne rouge which I would add to a glass of water in the morning. The other was made with artichoke which helped counteract my eager consumption of cheap, beautiful wine and salty charcuterie.
Bio is big in France, it's a competitive + rapidly growing market.
I spent so much time in organic ("bio") shops like Naturalia and Bio 'c' Bon when I was in Paris. My most notable discovery was this exceptional probiotic rich yogurt by a company called K.Philus at Naturalia. It's incredible stuff, sold in packs of 2 single-serving glass jars. You can buy sheep, cow's or goat's milk yogurt from K.Philus. I prefer sheep and goat. According to K. Philus, their yogurt contains "450 million live organisms per milliliter of products in perfect bio-compatibility with the dominant human intestinal flora." Strong probiotics came in handy to counteract the wine, bread and sweets, all the acidic stuff…Every morning I'd slice up an apricot or a nectarine, add some nuts and seeds and have a gorgeous breakfast.
Food fetishism is taken to new levels.
La Grande Epicerie is like a museum or concept shop for food, it's an offshoot of landmark luxury department store Le Bon Marche, which is capitalism at its most enticing. French people have suuuch a thing for “Discipline and Punish”! Fetishism operates on the same plane as restriction. This is what I want to add to all of the articles claiming to demystify French diet and beauty regimes in America.
(Although there is something to be said for the gluten products. The quality of their wheat does definitely seem higher there.)
Diuretics like Daflon and Oenobiol are sold to release water weight and bloating and can be really effective...
...but you have to make sure you’re consuming enough minerals such as magnesium and potassium to modulate your hydration levels, lest you faint from dehydration. Luckily, good quality mineral water is available everywhere. I was skeptical about this, but my gyno says that they're safe as long as you're staying hydrated. FYI, Oenobiol also sells "tan pills" which may or may not be toxic, so as with any product making slightly off-kilter claims, use with caution.
Skincare!!!!!!!! The French are masters of skincare and the quality to price ratio is excellent.
Seriously, do stock up on creams and oils while you’re here. These are my favorites:
Homeoplasmine - I'm completely obsessed with this stuff, it's like Vaseline with homeopathic ingredients that reduce inflammation. It's the best for lips, dry cuticles, small wounds (helps them heal without scarring) adding highlight to your face so you can contour with light. Great for that glossy look on eyelids, my favorite way to do an evening eye is to smudge some pigment up from the lashline and then dab Homeoplasmine onto the center of my eyelid. You can also use it as the top layer of your skincare regimen overnight to seal in the effects of whatever serum or cream you're using.
Biafine Cream - Great multipurpose cream. I use it more for my body than my face on dry spots or for overall moisture. It smells light and green, like the OG Aesop.
Delarom Oxygenating Balancing Aroma - omggg i love this stuff. I was turned on to it by an employee at Pharmacie des Archives, who suggested it over Caudalie's face oil. She gave me the impression that Caudalie is not regarded as a "serious" skin care brand, but that Delarom is the real deal. It's a bit more expensive than some of the other brands in the Pharmacie, but it's all natural and IMO worth it.
Caudalie Mask Creme Hydratant - I looove this moisturizing face mask. Caudalie is way cheaper in France than in the states, so it's a good idea to stock up if you're a fan.
Avene Eau Thermale - How luxury is this fancy fine water mist? Avene products are great for people with sensitive skin, eczema or psoriasis.
Micellar Water - is basically everywhere. It might not deeply cleanse your face at the end of the day but it's what I use most days instead of a "proper" cleanser and it does the trick for me. I don't wear that much makeup these days. It's so fast and easy and doesn't leave a grimy feeling. I like this one by Bioderma.
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse - smells like summertime and makes your skin look so alive. I don't think many women over the age of 18 use the gold shimmer version. I, however, love vulgarities.
Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre
might not be the most deeply nourishing but it leaves the best finish and serves as an excellent primer for makeup.
Embryolisse - is regarded as a "cult classic" in the USA. In France, the same woman who suggested I not buy too much Caudalie also told me that Embryolisse is not really considered "serious," but I stand by my belief in it as a primer. It leaves your skin with a velvety finish that is unparalleled by anything else I've tried, which is lovely even when used alone.
Do you have any favorite beauty products or items you stock up on when you're in France?