While the allure of the French woman is as strong as ever, beneath the shell of effortless, natural beauty is an arsenal of time-honored traditions, religiously-followed beauty rituals, and unique attitudes that help keep these women gorgeous at every age and in every era.
They put a mask on it.
The French are known for their intensive skin creams, and a trip to any pharmacie will provide a fantastic array. “French women focus much more on skin care than cosmetics; we like to have a super-healthy, luminous, and clear complexion,” says Mathilde Thomas, founder of skin-care brand Caudalie. "It’s all about simplicity.” But, another way women moisturize is with oils, a ritual that’s just catching wind on this side of the pond. Thomas explains: “Oils have been integral to the beauty rituals of many French women for years. I’ve grown up using them on my skin and hair, and my entire family does the same."
They soak in seawater solutions.
We’re all aware of La Mer’s highly-touted seaweed extracts — and the steep price tag that comes with them. And, Stateside, spa time is something that’s enjoyed by those with disposable income. Combining seaweed with spa treatments seems like a delicious, yet out-of-reach experience. But, in France, where inhabitants have been practicing thalassotherapy since the 1800s, seaweed baths, seaweed wraps, and massages offer a something-for-everyone spa treatment.
“Everyone is doing thalassotherapy in France. There are centers for every income,” says Fournier. The idea is that seawaters — rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, and iodine — help nurture skin. The salty waters can also help detox. “Whatever your skin and body needs, it will take from seaweed and seawater. Whatever your skin and body have excess of, it will detox it,” Fournier says. “You see the difference in your skin, and it helps you feel lighter."
While in New York, Fournier mimics the experience by bathing in seaweed baths with products brought back from France. “I smell like no tomorrow," she admits. "It smells so bad, but it’s amazing in what it brings to your skin.” Here, health food stores sell similar products, like The Seaweed Bath Company’s Ocean-Fresh Whole Seaweed Detox Bath.
They leave their hair alone.
They get polished...without polish.
Since royals stocked their quarters with cornflower water and rosewater in Versailles, so have French women used specialty waters for beauty pursuits. Eau de bleuet, or cornflower water, and Eau de rose, or rosewater, often do the duty of modern-day toners for many French women, who spritz them after cleansing, according to Jett.
Thermal waters such as Avène Thermal Spring Water and La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water also play a part in many French women’s skincare, serving as a rinsing agent after cleansing.
“We have very hard water in France,” Jett says. “These thermal water spring waters are the best to rinse with because they’re kind to your skin.” Even no-rinse cleansers can use the boost of thermal waters. Jett, who uses the Vichy Pureté Thermale 3-in-1 One Step Cleanser at the suggestion of world-famous facialist Joëlle Ciocco, sprays the micro-ionic mist on her skin after cleansing.
They see anti-aging as an attitude, not a product category.
Jeanne Damas, a personal style blogger and the face of Macy’s new Maison Jules line, has an anti-aging strategy that doesn’t quite involve prestige product lines or doctors with needles: She doesn’t worry. “A woman can be beautiful at any age. I think my mother is very beautiful, so I’m not scared of aging,” she says. “French women have a very natural approach to beauty. For us, it’s important to look natural, I think. Be happy for who you are and make the best of it."
Or, when push comes to shove, there’s always mesotherapy.