With the popularity of the beauty world having soared to Burj Khalifa heights, French pharma hauls in the loved-up capital have become as common an activity as taking a selfie with the Mona Lisa or settling down for a picnic in the Jardin de Luxembourg.
Bags full and euros expended, you can skip around the city’s cobblestone streets singing “Avene, La Roche Posay, Vichy!” with the glow of twenty thermal waters. But it’s not always si romantic. The adventure can quickly feel like a chore when faced with dense crowds of fellow tourists and a team of sales consultants who can be… less than warm and welcoming when their ears prick up at your English or Spanish or Korean. A certain famous destination in the 7th arrondissement can resemble the Louvre at peak hours, which is, quite frankly, anytime up until the hour before it closes and the shelves are almost bare anyway. There are a few pharmacies where your stress and confusion can end up costing more than their famous deals would otherwise save you.
So I spent a morning checking out one of Pharmacie Monge’s (yes, named after the original iconic derma destination at Place Monge) locations at the foot of Montmartre’s hills, a delightful view of the Sacré Coeur just to the side of its front doors. Word on the street was that this store was taking the snobbery out of skincare and stepping into the 21st century with a multilingual team, and all with the same deals as those other famous heavyweights. It all sounded very Shut Up and Go-esque; I had high hopes.
I soon met one of the raved-about multilingual staff members for a little skincare consultation session. As someone who had begged my mother to take me to the dermatologist as a teenager, only to be told it was “too expensive,” “money doesn’t grow on trees,” “a pimple isn’t the end of the world” etc. etc., I’ve really never had any idea what skin type I am, except that ‘sensitive’ forms a big part of it (ya girl gets itchy.)
I first told the consultant that I had “super dry skin,” because it had been getting flaky by 3 p.m. on the daily. But she took one look at me and said “nope. Not dry. Dehydrated.” Right right right. Then she said I had tiny pores – “teeny skin,” to quote her directly (I had always thought my pores were huge for some reason??) and told me I used too much water in my routine. But how, I thought, will I ever feel clean? Clearly, I had a lot to learn.
My pharma fairy godmother took me on a tour of the shelves, showing me everything from high-end serums to simple milk cleansers that were pas cher. I stocked up on some 5 euro organic rose water for a gentle natural toner (the pharmacy’s bio section is a godsend,) a cleansing milk from Thalgo (I’d never heard of the brand before but their products smell like some sort of seaside spa and that was enough to get my wallet out). I also purchased my now-staple rehydrating serum from Avène, and couldn’t help throwing in another box of my all-time fave, the trusty La Roche Posay Anthelios XL 50+ Fluid, which I’ve used as my daily SPF for maybe five years. I’ve been following my new skincare routine for about five weeks now, and so far, no breakouts. No flaking!
It was so nice to have the option of a quick consultation – which is completely free for everyone – and a patient, welcoming, bubbly energy from a Parisian resident. Who woulda thought I could ask questions in a French pharmacy without someone looking at the floor and telling me to “demander à ma collègue” (“ask my colleague.”)
I’m still on a journey to find my dream daytime moisturiser, because I still tend to get itchy and red when I go for hydrating products and dry and taut when I go for a lighter ‘sensitive’ option, so let me know if you have any recs for sensitive skin that gets thirsty fast and drinks up product even faster.
If you’d also like to have your own French pharma experience without the high price tags, crazy crowds and brow-furrowing staff, the Pharmacie Monge group has a growing collection of pharmacies situated at prime locations throughout the city. From a five minute walk to the Champ de Mars to a soon-to-be-opened spot right on Rue de Rivoli, check them all out here.
For now, the crowds aren’t overly crazy, so go wild and get skin savvy while it’s still (mostly) our little secret. And comment below to let us know your French pharma staples!!
What are your favorite skincare products?