Snob Essentials

French Skin Care Investigation by Renée Rouleau


Guest blog by Renée Rouleau

Partly due to my French heritage and my French husband’s stories about his mother being an esthetician, I’ve always had an interest in how French women care for their skin. On a recent visit to France, I visited with estheticians while getting facials and talked to many French women, and I have returned to the U.S. with some interesting observations in my quest to decide who has the better approach to skin care–Americans or the French.

French women rarely alter their natural appearance.

In France, both women and skin care professionals believe that when it comes to skin, that you should accept what you’ve been given. Many French women rarely change or highlight their natural hair color except perhaps to cover their gray hair. They rarely opt for plastic surgery and they’ve yet to embrace injectables and fillers the way American women have. In short, French women prefer to celebrate their natural beauty and they prefer to age gracefully.

Unlike my French contemporaries, I’ve found that the American approach to beauty and appearance varies dramatically. While many American women will have a similar philosophy to that of the French, others, in an attempt to look younger, will be the complete opposite and alter their image in whatever way they can.

Beauty tip: When consulting with a cosmetic professional, always look at their skin. Do they look natural? Do you like the way they look? If you do, this might be someone to consider trusting your skin with. People will do on you what they think looks great on them. So if you go to someone to have Botox® and they don’t look natural, there’s a good chance you might not either.

French women get facials often.

The French have both invented and perfected the art of the facial and getting regular monthly facials is part of their culture. There are countless facial salons in France–and French women both believe in facials and love getting them to keep their skin healthy and looking its best. And it’s not uncommon for a French woman to even get facials every week!

In the U.S., while facials are very popular, a woman might only get a facial several times a year.

For many French estheticians, microdermabrasion is a no-no.

Many French estheticians never embraced microdermabrasion technology because it seemed too harsh on the skin and French estheticians are all about being gentle. Even AHA’s (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) aren’t as popular in France as they are here in the U.S.

It’s true that American estheticians are more aggressive with the skin. We love to embrace the newest anti-aging technology, even if it’s not always tried and true.

French women seldom wear sunscreen–or stay out of the sun.

The concept of staying out of the sun and wearing sunscreen every day hasn’t really caught on with the French. Many French women still love to go to the beach and get a tan, and skiing in France certainly brings on damaging UV rays. Since UV exposure from the sun (even on a cloudy, winter day) is the #1 cause of aging, this isn’t working in their favor.

As a matter of fact, after every facial I’ve ever had in France, NOT ONE esthetician ever put sunscreen on my skin as the final step in the facial. I would never leave my clients fresh, new skin unprotected when they walk out of my door. That would be a complete skin sin. Wearing an SPF moisturizer on the face, neck and chest 365 days a year, rain or shine, inside or out is something I preach to my clients, family, and friends pretty much daily.

French skin is lacking a glow.

Many French women still smoke and of those who don’t, many are exposed second-hand hand smoke in cafés and bars, and by virtue of being around friends or family. Many French restaurants and clubs have recently started no-smoking policies, so that’s helpful for non-smokers. It’s a fact that smoking starves skin cells of oxygen, which results in dull, sallow, tired-looking skin with an absence of a glow. Added to this is the genetic makeup of French skin. Like many European complexions (with the exception of the Irish and the Scottish), French skin is thicker so the blood circulates slower which results in tired-looking skin.

It’s my belief that glowing skin is beautiful skin. Something French estheticians don’t seem to focus on that at all. Since the micro-circulation of the skin is compromised due to smoking and genetics, I’d think they’d talk about this more and they don’t. Yes, facials definitely help to get your skin glowing because they increase blood flow and breathe new life into the skin, but French estheticians don’t enforce doing this at home.

By the way, three years ago when I walked into a facial salon in Paris, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The receptionist was smoking! Yes, actually smoking while she greeted me! Wow, you would never find this in the U.S.–thank goodness!

French estheticians believe Americans have the most beautiful skin.

I’ve asked many estheticians in France what they observe about American skin versus French skin and hands down, most will say that American skin is more beautiful. I heard French estheticians say again and again that “Americans have smaller pores, tighter skin with fewer lines and wrinkles, and they don’t go in the sun”.

Going back to an earlier point, European skin has definite genetic traits; thick, oily, and flaccid (lacking tone), large pores, and under-circulated. Something that’s true of French, Italian, and Greek skin. Genetics do play a part in how your skin will age, but the biggest contributor to the look of your skin is how you take care of it. It’s estimated that 30 percent of how your skin will age is due to genetics, while 70 percent is up to you! So, if your skin is genetically prone to being thick, oily, flaccid, and under-circulated, with the right skin care program (both at home and in-spa) and good skin care habits, you can really make a difference.

Many French women aren’t disciplined when it comes to caring for their skin at home.

I’ve heard French estheticians say this again and again: that French women are extremely dedicated to their monthly facials, but they aren’t very diligent about wearing sunscreen every day, washing their skin before they go to bed, and exfoliating–all necessary steps for healthy, younger-looking skin.

Facials and skin procedures are all helpful in the quest for healthy, beautiful skin. But what you do to your skin every day at home plays an even bigger part. If you worked out with a personal trainer four times a week but then you ate junk food at home, would your body really be that healthy? No. Using good quality products at home–products that are exclusively formulated for your skin type, and practicing good skin care habits is essential.

And Americans do that so well.

So, “Who does skin care better?”– My answer is Americans.

Hands down, we take better care of our skin.

And it shows.



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  1. It is very interesting to read the differences between the two countries. I believe the French are right about not using botox and fillers. Clearly less is better when it comes to botox. Some of our celebrities look awful and not younger at all.

  2. I agree with Andrea, this post was so interesting! I lived and worked in northern Italy for a spell and when I went back to the States for a visit after being in Italy for months, my facialist asked if I had started smoking! I hadn’t at all, but I was constantly around people who were smoking. My skin was that clogged. I also noticed that most Italian women left their beautiful hair natural. The few that colored it, well lets just say it was usually day glo orange : )

  3. This was such an interesting read!

    I don’t believe in coloured contacts, coloured/highlighted hair, botox, injectables etc. Why not just be happy with the way you look and do a good job with what you’ve been given? Natural is more beautiful than artificial any day!

  4. I agree, this was one of the most interesting posts I have ever read on a ‘bag snob’ site. Thank you for the intelligent information.

  5. It’d be interesting if you compared how Americans took care of their skin with those from other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea. I think they go out in the sun a whole lot less than Americans do since being tan is not something they prefer.

  6. Yes, excellent article! However, I disagree that American women have better skin. I am Asian-American and lived a year in France when I was in University and I remember being struck by the fact that none of my French classmates had acne, as opposed to my American classmates back home. This was before the days of Mac-do in Paris but even now, I have seen French women with very nice, natural looking skin. One thing that was not discussed was diet. The French tend to eat organically – seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat dairy and nuts tend to be prevalent in the French diet and I believe this care in nutrition comes through in their skin. Yes, smoking and sun exposure are two of the worst things you can do to your skin, but I think Americans can learn from the French in eating a more healthy, nutritious diet!

  7. I’ve read the article and find it irrelevant. I am Parisienne and lived in Seattle for four years. American women do not care their skin or they start too late. I’ve received my first mouisturizer kit as a Christmas gift when I was 11 years old! Almost all American women are far behind French women. Ok we do have smoke, but we use masks at home, go facial every other week, mouisturize twice a day (not only our face but also our body), get enough water(I don’t mean drinking water like a maniac you can get water from vegetables and it’s the best way body to preserve it’s hydration), we eat healty(Mediterranean diet). I couldn’t have believed how women drink and eat at States when I was in Seattle. And “French Women’s beauty myth” is not all about the skin care. Here the facts I know about us and Americans.

    – We hate unnatural looks. For instance one never ever dye her hair to blond if she has brunette nature. You can see people like that wondering the streets of Paris but probably they are tourists.

    – We never make too much make-up. We hate that waxy look. But I am not saying that we are not making make-up. We do, in fact we rarely go out without make-up but it must be very natural and perfect. We also carry lots of lip stick for all occasions.

    – I can’t remember a night that I didn’t remove my make-up and go to bed. I am 27 now and it’s been quite long since I’ve started to do make-up. You do the math. But always always remove it and mouisturize your make-up.

    – Yeap we drink wine but we never loose control. We know when to stop because we are drinking wine since we were children. My grandpa was offering a glass of wine (half wine half water) in special occasions since I was 12 or 13. We never get drunk, drunk women are not attractive.

    – We never eat fast food every single day. We do eat healthy but of course we indulge ourselves every once in a while with junk food but never make it a habit. I would rather die because of smoking than obesity. It’s not healthy to be 180 pounds and not to smoke. Ideal is to be in normal weight and not to smoke but smoking is like culture for us and almost everyone smokes in here. Not two packs a day but socially we do smoke.

    – We never wear inappropriate shoes to work or to a rendez-vous. We like heels and you know what we can even run with them. We are trained 🙂 We never ever wear sneackers to a date. Never gonna happen.

    – We like classic pieces. Classic, timeless dresses, jewelery, nice skirts. We like to look feminine.

    So it’s not all about skin, it’s all about the life style.

  8. I am American from Seattle, and have lived in France and England. Of the three countries, I would have to say, the Americans are the most obsessed/concerned with beauty, but the least likely to have beautiful natural skin, the French smoke the most but age gracefully & beautifully and have better skin overall, the English are usually not bothered about much other than weight but don’t do a lot to keep it off. The French utilize an overall beauty concept that the Americans and English don’t do. Yes, they do smoke, men more than women, they drink, but not a lot (a glass of wine or two, that’s it for the norm, compared to the US and especially England’s habit of binge drinking). They also eat the healthiest diet, have the most self confidence and use beauty regimes that work for extended periods of time. Compare that to many Americans who will start a regime then quickly change when they don’t get fast results, ending up in a succession of possibly effective routines carried out for too short a duration. And then there’s the English, who often can’t be bothered and just slather on more makeup.

    Overall, the French way shows us that being obsessive about one component doesn’t cut it. A fairly balanced life of a few vices not done overboard(smoking, drinking fast food), a predominantly healthy diet, effective longterm beauty care, and plenty of water is much more effective than week/month long diets, before losing the weight and going back to your unhealthy eating habits, weekends of binge drinking and occassional obsessive visits to the spa (when it gets bad) for extreme beauty treatments and quick fixes, and then lacking to do the followup care.

    The French have what we seem to be lacking, patience and acceptance of aging as a natural normal process.

  9. I have to say, I have never met a French woman who does not cleanse her skin every night. Going to bed with make-up on is a big no-no in France. I agree with Charlotte and Tiffany 100%. In my opinion, the French do it better. Even if they smoke, compare that to American’s unhealthy eating habits, drinking “to get wasted”, tanning salons, and just cake on the makeup, French women do age more gracefully. I work at a busy spa in North America, and I disagree that women here take better care of their skin with products. I’ve had MANY MANY clients who don’t ever exfoliate, use a mask maybe once or twice a year, and many don’t cleanse their skin. The products they use at home are many times cheaper drugstore products, full of ingredients that are actually not even good for their skin. They use proactive, take acutane, use strong aha’s, etc. At my spa we also have a VISIA machine, which takes pictures of the person’s sun damage that hasn’t surfaced yet. Maybe American women hide it better with layers upon layers of makeup, but they def. have sun damage galore and a LOT of dehydration. French women invest in their skin care much more than Americans from my experience…They buy higher quality products on a regular basis, and actually use them, instead of leaving them expire in their cupboards at home.