For me, Parisians can do no wrong. From stunning interior decor to effortlessly chic fashion, French girls know aesthetics, and that goes for their beauty routines too. While the key to the signature French look is je ne sais quoi, it still requires some effort to achieve. When I lived in Paris (not to brag or anything), I spent basically all of my time eating croissants, drinking red wine, and searching for all the beauty secrets that give French girls that iconic glow and effortless beauty. Crank up some Edith Piaf, pour yourself a glass of Pinot Noir, and read on for seven beauty secrets I learned from French women while living in Paris.
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1. Give your hair a little extra shape and body
First lesson: Parisian beauty is more about what not to do than what to do. Their air-dried bedheads are a signature staple (hot tools need not apply), but what the rest of the world has a hard time figuring out is how they do it. I don’t know if you were blessed with flawless supermodel hair, but when I don’t blow dry, I look more like a wet Yorkshire Terrier than a street-style star.
For straight to wavy hair types, the trick is to wash hair before bed so you’re not leaving the house with wet hair (nothing less chic) and to sleep with damp hair in loose braids or a top bun to give hair gorgeous body and shape when you wake up. It gives a whole new definition to beauty sleep, doesn’t it? For coily and curly textures, use a curl-defining cream and a microfiber cloth to dry your hair as much as possible before the blow dryer to give you a lot of bounce without the extra heat.
Oh, and a great haircut with a little dry shampoo work wonders too.
2. Wash your face with water
You (yes, you!) can actually wash your face with water and improve your complexion while you’re at it. Micellar water, a French cult product, is pulled off pharmacy shelves faster than you can say La beauté, s’il vous plaît. The product is essentially special water with oil particles that hydrate, suck out dirt in clogged pores, and remove makeup (which isn’t that much for a Parisian, but more on that below). This is especially beneficial because water from the tap has a high pH that can be harsh and drying, so it’s important to add moisture whenever possible. When it comes to beauty, less is always more.
3. Keep makeup simple
Sorry, Kim Kardashian—no contour palettes are needed here. The goal of makeup for a Parisian is not to cover, hide, or fake. The goal is to highlight certain features while proving to the world that you’re comfortable in your own skin (this means not comfortable behind layers of foundation, concealer, highlighter, eyeshadow, contour sticks, mascara, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, eyebrow gel, etc.). If you do want to go a little bolder, choose one feature and focus solely on that, whether it’s red lipstick or smudgy eyeliner. Keep everything else even more minimal than you think you need (curling your eyelashes or swiping on tinted lip balm can be enough). That said, at the end of the day, makeup is about confidence for the Parisian, so applying whatever makes you feel like your best self (no matter if it’s “simple” or not), is what’s most important.
4. Never look too “perfect”
A crucial factor of Parisian beauty (and style in general) is to be polished but never look like you tried too hard or took too long. This is so crucial to the French aesthetic—I imagine Parisians repeat this to themselves in the mirror every morning as an affirmation. A Parisian once told me that makeup should be used to show a lifestyle, not just beauty. When she wears eyeliner, she smudges it so it looks like she had a late night and slept in her makeup. When she wears lipstick, she dabs some off with her finger so it looks like she might’ve just been kissed. Note to self: Use makeup to seem more interesting instead of just more beautiful.
5. Perfume is for more than your neck
Spritzing perfume is more of an art form for Parisians than a step before running out the door. Get out of your one-spritz-on-the-neck routine and be strategic on placement: A spritz on the back of your neck is extra potent when (hopefully a special) someone goes in for an embrace, and letting down a ponytail when your hair has been sprayed with perfume makes a simple act instantly refreshing, delicious, or alluring (depending on what scent you chose). Spraying into your suitcase before you travel ensures you’ll arrive at your destination with fresh-smelling clothes, and a spritz on your pillow in the morning will pleasantly wake up your senses (I know it’s cliché, but I’d give bonus points for using Chanel No. 5. It’s cliché for a reason!).
6. Skincare is more important than makeup
When considering what beauty products and tools are worth the investment, Parisians put their money and effort into keeping their skin naturally radiant and clear rather than on good foundations or top-of-the-line mascaras to cover up or accent what they naturally have. French women know that beauty is not just what you look like on your way out for the evening but how you look waking up in the morning and just after you get out of the shower. Facials and skincare investments are not indulgences, they’re rituals.
7. Your beauty routine should give you pleasure
Mathilde Thomas, the founder of international beauty brand Caudalie and an iconic Parisian, has studied the beauty habits of both her homeland and the United States. In her book, The French Beauty Solution, she notes the key principles of a French beauty routine, including how the idea of beauty is something that brings you joy and pleasure. While Americans often talk about laser treatments and invasive facials (“beauty is pain!”), French skincare and beauty routines are more centered around feeling good both in self-confidence and indulgence. In other words, they include beauty as a crucial part of their self-care routine, not in an effort to look their best but as a way to routinely pamper themselves because they know they deserve it. Seek out treatments, products, and rituals that feel luxurious rather than painful, and view your beauty routine as a way to add a little more pleasure to your day.