As if being the best at making wine, cheese, croissants and month-long summer vacation plans weren’t enough bragging rights for the French, we have perhaps another one to add to their kudos list: aging gracefully.There’s no denying that American women today are binging on dermal fillers, laser treatments and chemical peels in an effort to turn back the clock, and while many of these non-invasive treatments can do a lot of good, they’re often overused. Nowadays you can barely get through a night on the town without noticing a woman whose lips are a bit too big, cheeks a little too puffed up or skin texture too smooth and plastic-like, think Barbie at age 45.
Signs are pointing to a backlash, with the 20- and 30-somethings of today recoiling in horror at the thought of having a frozen face, preferring a more natural look and becoming incredibly savvy about using skincare and treatments to prevent issues before they start. In other words, they’re coming around to what the French have known all along about having great skin for life.
So, what’s happening across the pond? “French women place a greater emphasis on preventative skincare to avoid heavy makeup and invasive or non-invasive treatments,” says Mathilde Thomas, founder of Caudalie, a French skincare company based on the anti-aging benefits of grape seed polyphenols. And it starts at a very young age. “We are taught in our teenage years that washing our face every day is very important, and to not use soap because it dries out your skin. We’re introduced to cleansing milk followed by toner right away. The education and culture of good skincare starts right then,” says Parisienne Marie-Laure Fournier, founder of Fournier Communications, a New York City-based firm that represents French beauty brands such as Orlane, Talika and Leonor Greyl. ”
A good skincare regimen is the best kept secret that all French mothers give to their daughters,” agrees Virginie Courtin-Clarins, Director of Development, Communications and Marketing for Mugler fashion and Groupe Clarins Supervisory Board member.
Along with this early awareness of good skin health comes a more regular commitment to spa services throughout each decade. “We do it with more regularity because we believe in maintaining our natural beauty in perpetuity, not just once or twice a year as a splurge,” Shirley Madhère, M.D., P.C., a holistic plastic surgeon whose Haitian mother taught her the French way of skincare savoir faire. While Americans focus on the spa experience primarily to de-stress, French women are more results-oriented skin-wise, getting treatments like thalassotherapy, hydrotherapy, lymphatic drainage, wraps, masks and European facials.”
The Palpé Roulé Treatment is one of the most requested services at our signature Vinothérapie Spa in Bordeaux. It involves kneading the tissue to break up trouble spots and lymphatic drainage to eliminates toxins,” says Thomas, who says the treatment is also available at the Caudalie Spa in The Plaza Hotel. Another popular treatment: VitaGlow, which Dr. Madhère offers in her New York City practice. “It’s based on a technique the French have been using for decades, called mesotherapy, and I was blown away by the simplicity and results. Vitalglow involves administering superficial injections into the skin to infuse it with a multivitamin cocktail. The microneedling creates tiny micropunctures in the skin, without any pain or bruising, to stimulate collagen production. Over time your skin is getting this vital infusion of natural nutrients and vitamins, improved circulation and increased firmness and tone. It’s simple, non-toxic and it’s a French staple,” says Madhère.
Shopping for skincare is also more thought out. Many women go to the pharmacie to buy their products, as opposed to browsing endless aisles in the drugstore or department store à la the American way. “A pharmacienne has a training similar to a doctor’s and really knows what she’s talking about, so when we shop for skincare, we’re getting real one-on-one advice,” says Fournier. As for popular anti-aging ingredients, there’s always been a huge focus on natural plant extracts. “We spend our vacations by the Mediterranean or in the mountains where we are surrounded by nature, fresh air, clean water and plants. We really believe in their natural curing powers,” says Fournier. “Beauty comes from nature so we prefer to stay natural and learn to embrace our beauty at every age,” say Courtin-Clarins, whose family skincare company, Clarins, is based on natural plant extracts. “There’s also a mindfulness of how to apply beauty creams, using an upward massage technique which aids in absorption and creates that rosy, coup d’éclat,” adds Madhère.
So how often do the French go for their cures? “As often as we can, but keep in mind that it’s not as expensive to go to a spa in France and there are a lot of therapists who actually go to your home,” adds Fournier. Yet another telltale sign that pampering your skin is a way of life en France.
Of course, exercise and diet also play a key role in skin health, and while you’d never catch a Française pumping iron at the gym, they do manage to sneak it into their day. “We don’t exercise like we’re in a boot camp, but we’ll take our bike to work or walk everywhere,” says Fournier. “We’re also very conscious about keeping a healthy diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit and drinking lots of water. We know a balanced diet helps with the quality of your skin,” says Anne-Cécile Brilland, General Manager of French-based skincare brand Le Couvent des Minimes.
But arguably most important, aging gracefully is a mindset. “French women are very self-approved, or you could say confident. Rather than try to chase someone else’s ideal of beauty, it’s about what fits them and how they choose to present themselves. They embody this sense of joie de vivre—that life can be challenging, and stressful, but you’re here and there’s a lot to enjoy,” explains Madhère.Another take: “We don’t have the same negative perceptions on age that many Americans do, so we are more accepting of the process. French women are brought up to believe in the idea of aging gracefully. This is why Botox and other non-invasive treatments are not an immediate thought as we age. Instead, we go to the pharmacie and stock up on more products!” says Brilland.