The French pharmacy is basically the stuff of beauty lore. They're chic but accessible, and packed to the brim with nourishing skin salves that are – more often than not – the secret to a French girl complexion (that is, natural but impossibly fresh). But French pharmacies are also overwhelming, especially when you throw bristling customers and a language barrier into the mix.
But if you find yourself in Paris – and it is currently Paris fashion week – le pharmacie is a rite of passage you need to take. Truthfully they're all good (and there are many) but the undisputed best is Citipharma in Saint-Germain-de-Pres. The multi-storied building has security at the door, and its aisles are packed with skincare fiends juggling jumbo bottles of Bioderma Crealine. In a word, it's heaven.
But unless you arrived into Charles de Gaulle with an empty suitcase, it's probably necessary you make discerning choices. And so we've compiled a list of just that. Keep reading for the best French pharmacy skincare buys, as curated by our beauty editor.
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5+
I know you can buy this in Australia, but in France it comes in different sizes. It's also reasonably priced, abysmal exchange rate and all. Balmy and rich, it's a cushiony barrier cream that soothes, protects and replenishes like nothing else I've come across. Perfect for dry/irritated/stressed out skin, or anyone who wants to look uber dewy. Throw a couple of tubes in your basket for good measure.
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume SPF 50+
This on the other hand, can only be bought in France, and dare I say it's worth the air fare alone (not really, but it is good). It essentially carries all the hallmarks of the original Baume with the added benefit of sun protection. Buy it in bulk because you'll fall in love.
This is an iconic French Retinol that's having a real moment on TikTok. It's very thick (almost like an ointment) but contains a Retinol Ester that speeds ups cellular turnover, improving concerns like pigmentation, congestion, dullness and fine lines. Confusingly it's dubbed a pharmaceutical grade Retinol, but you can buy it online now in Australia via French Beauty Co (most 'pharmaceutical' grade products are available via prescription only, but I digress). And a fun fact, I asked about this just last week in Citipharma and they told me I needed to ask for it behind the counter. Apparently the rules have also changed in France! If you want to do the Retinoid thing, add to cart.
This is like the skincare equivalent of cling wrap. It's a rich barrier ointment that cocoons the skin, keeping moisture in and basically everything else out. It quite literally contains paraffin, so it more suited to treating minor cuts and cracks than it is a daily moisturiser. Personally I love it on ragged cuticles, too.
Bioderma Crealine H20 Micellar Solution
This is also available in Australia (you've probably used it) but in France it goes by Crealine instead of Sensibio. The reason for this is simply because one is French and the other is manufactured for the rest of the world. The gold standard in lazy makeup removal, it's a product you're guaranteed to finish.
Bioderma Aquafluide 50+
I get a thrill from buying international sunscreens and while it's always a risk, this formula was a success story. Light and milky, it has an interesting texture that dries down slightly but still feels hydrating (I'd describe it as cashmere on the skin). If your complexion is delicate or reactive to certain sunscreens, it's a good option.
This is basically the French version of Elizabeth Arden's Eight Hour Cream. It contains Marigold and Boric Acid, so it's not recommended for daily use. Instead, think of it as a do-it-all salve to instantly soothe chapped skin, torn cuticles, dry lips or flakes.
Caudalie Grape Water
While not as famous as Caudalie's Miracle Elixir, I love the simplicity and functionality of Caudalie's Grape Water (and yes, it is 100% water extracted from grapes). It has endless uses: you can use it to set or refresh makeup, dampen your face between skincare steps, cool you down on a hot day, refresh by the pool etc etc. A quintessential French skincare classic.