The Best of French Beauty

Author, Francophile and emigrant Emma Beddington shares the crème de la crème of continental cosmetics.

Emma Beddington, credit Natalie Hill

When I was 16, I fell hopelessly in love with France. North Yorkshire was all bearded historical reenacters, sheep and cosy tearooms, whilst France had Serge Gainsbourg, Yves Saint Laurent, amazing cakes and the ever-present suggestion of sex. I wanted all of that, fast. It also appeared from my crazed teenage francophile perspective that France did beauty far better than England. My extensive study of French Elle magazine indicated that French women were allowed to be interested in literature, politics and lipstick which seemed a far better deal than anything on offer in provincial 1990s England, where my second wave feminist mother insisted on a reeducation session when I expressed an interest in shaving my legs. Either, it seemed to me, I stayed in York and ended up serving herbal tea at consciousness raising workshops in the vegetarian café, or I moved to France and got to have sex with Daniel Auteuil whilst wearing Chanel lipstick. This was not a difficult decision.

When I moved to France to teach English, one of the very first things I did was buy myself a Chanel lipstick – Félin, a soft, pinky brown nude (this was the 1990s) and I continued to accumulate product throughout my time there, so much so I needed an huge vanity case to cart it all to university the next autumn. Whilst provincial France was a disappointment in many respects (the absence of Daniel Auteuil among them), beauty was everything I had hoped for. I discovered the magical wonderland of Sephora, a place where you could pick posh cosmetics off the shelf yourself without running the gauntlet of the heavily powdered and disapproving middle aged women in Yorkshire department stores and where even the lowliest mascara purchase came with a plethora of free samples – no begging required. Pharmacies too turned out to be a playground of good and surprisingly inexpensive beauty buys.

I kept the faith with French beauty for years after my return to England, dashing straight into the first hypermarket pharmacy after the Eurotunnel to stock up and spending my money and holiday allowance getting unsmiling French women with power hoses to spray my quivering thighs with cold sea water, wrap me in guano and clingfilm, or walk me sternly around knee high baths of alternating cold and warm water like a lame racehorse. Even now, twenty years after that Félin lipstick, I might not be in thrall to all aspects of French culture, but I still think a French pharmacy is one of the closest things to heaven on earth. Here are a few of my French pharmacy staples. Of course, you can get everything in the UK now, so they don’t have the “oh, it’s just something I picked up in Paris” cachet they used to, but they’re still le business.

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Lipikar – When he was little, my younger son’s favourite winter evening activity was to sit next to me on the sofa, take my black opaque tights between forefinger and thumb, pull and release, then laugh delightedly at the cloud of dead skin cells that would billow up. My skin is DRY (and my family are gross). Dryer than the desiccated corpse of Ramses II. In 1976. It repels most moisturisers, but Lipikar from the generally excellent French pharmacy brand La Roche Posay, is made of sterner stuff. I use the thick balm version in a pump dispenser and if I can be bothered to use it twice a day for a week, my skin becomes baby soft. Even if I just slap a bit on once or twice a week, I can avoid the worst of the skin cell billow (gross) (sorry).
Lipikar, £12.50548881413813BXD___Selected

Homéoplasmine – France is still mysteriously in thrall to homeopathy, despite supposedly being the land of cold, hard reason. It’s up there with their belief that “heavy legs” is an actual medical condition. But ignore the woo-woo name and this is just a brilliant all-purpose balm for chapped lips, those horrible sore bits you get around your nose with a heavy cold, rashes and skin irritations.
Homéoplasmine, £9.99
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Caudalie Eau de Beauté – Four of the happiest days of my life were spent on holiday in the Caudalie spa, which located in the middle of a vineyard in Bordeaux. The wine was amazing and plentiful, the hotel gorgeous and the treatments – including one where they soaked me in a person-sized wine barrel #lifegoals – bone-meltingly good, but better than any of that were the giant tubs of FREE SAMPLES in the spa changing rooms. I didn’t have to buy moisturiser for a full year afterwards. This enables me to tell you that Caudalie moisturisers are excellent and reasonably priced even when you aren’t getting them in free mini-tubes in your robe pocket, but my favourite Caudalie product of all is the minty fresh facial spray, Eau de Beauté. I don’t doubt it’s totally pointless, beauty-wise, but it smells amazing and the mere possession of a bottle makes me feel all pulled together and French.
Caudalie Eau de Beauté, £11.50

 

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Biafine – The Île de Ré is where chic Parisians go for their summer holidays, to eat oysters and ride bicycles, whilst wearing perfect Breton tops and bright white Superga plimsolls. When I went there a few years ago I fell off a bike three times and also acquired the worst sunburn of my life. This stuff saved me: it is simply the best sunburn remedy I have ever tried, taking the heat and redness out of my nuclear pink skin overnight. It’s good on superficial burns too and I now always have a tube in the cupboard at home.
Biafine, £16.99
10556075-1338997763-993187

Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse OR
Fake tan is a disaster for me due to a combination of incompetence and blue-grey Celtic skin tone, so when I want to take the edge off the blinding whiteness of my limb to wear a dress in summer, I splash a bit of this stuff on. I’m not sure that is one of the vaunted “multi-usage” uses the bottle proclaims (I have no idea what you are supposed to do with it in your hair either), but it has a nice shimmer and a smell so gorgeously summery they sell it as a fragrance now. Makes you feel a bit like Brigitte Bardot on the beach in St Tropez, but without the cats and the dodgy pronouncements about immigrants.
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse OR, £19

 

We’ll Always Have Paris by Emma Beddington is published by Macmillan, £12.99.

 

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