Paris beauty: the city’s treasure troves

Beauty CheckYourParis

I was ready to get all creative to justify this girly article to the powers that be at CheckYourRoom. Turns out, there was no convincing needed – these are some real gentlemen in charge, and good humor abounds in their offices. Of course, they also couldn’t argue with my city expertise 😉 So here’s my topic of the day, fluff, puff and all: let’s talk international beauty, and let’s talk about Paris’ strengths.

You know how it is: in beauty as in food, each city has its specialties and rarities and its iconic products – those you beg your friends to bring you back in their suitcase. Like every coy actress who claims she only wears perfume from Santa Maria Novella, the antique pharmacy tucked away in Florence. Like the recent global fad for authentic Aleppo soap, made from pure olive oil in a Syrian town. Like my embarrassing raids at Duane Reade in New York. They last way too long, because there’s always way too much to choose from: Carmex lip balm and a million cheap Chapsticks, fun drugstore makeup, and O.P.I. nail polish in every shade under the sun (full disclosure: ok, and gossip magazines, and peanut butter M&Ms)…

Well Paris has more than enough to defend itself in that battle. If you were thinking Sephora, think again. There’s another, less obvious place that’ll be a one-stop shop for beauty products:

Your neighborhood pharmacy

Beauty CheckYourParis

If you only drop in for the occasional bottle of cough medicine, you’re missing out! It’s simply stockpiled with top-notch creams and lotions. Whether you’re looking for sunscreen, face cream, eye cream, hand cream, day cream or night cream or body lotion, it’s all in there. French labs produce some no-nonsense beauty brands that really go the distance: La Roche-Posay, Avene and Bioderma are safe bets all around, especially for the most sensitive skins. The same goes for makeup remover, with some of the gentlest and most efficient formulas out there. Parisian women – and makeup artists – swear by Bioderma’s Créaline lotion to get every last speck of makeup off. For delicate eyes, you’ll also find extra-soothing oil-based makeup removers, like La Roche-Posay’s Respectissime. Lately, many shops have been carrying bottles of rose water and orange blossom water: a beauty secret from the Middle East, they both make for fantastic skin toners. If you’re looking for a touch more extravagance, you’ll find it there as well: brands like Nuxe or Caudalie have some more indulgent little bottles on offer, including sparkly oils, honey balms and grape-based masks (because our vineyards don’t just make you deliciously drunk: they can make you beautiful, too!). Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir (Eau de Beauté) is a fantastic freshener to liven up your skin mid-day, or before applying makeup.

So this is not Dior or La Prairie – the creams are not infused with caviar or gold, and they’re not packaged in heavy pots, but I love that they’re high-quality without the hype. They’re also eminently affordable, with hardly a thing above twenty euros.

It’s more about skincare than makeup in there, but don’t overlook this one glam standard: the pastel powders – loose or pressed, or in blusher form – of T. LeClerc. They come in lovely metal tins and compacts that just scream old-school France.

Beauty CheckYourParis

Footnotes –

Some pharmacies, usually called parapharmacies, have even more choice than your standard neighborhood place. Larger ones will include a choice of organic beauty products. Fancy ones will propose those quaint Mason Pearson hairbrushes, handmade in England, with their delightful retro packaging.

And one, just one, will have unbeatable prices if you can beat the crowds: it’s at 26 rue du Four in the 6th, and that’s a true Paris shopping tip if I ever saw one.

Your local Monoprix

Beauty CheckYourParis

Because Monoprix has unexpectedly morphed, over the past years, from square supermarket to hip singles central. Ask any Parisian about Monop’ and he or she will complain that they always end up spending more than they intended in that store. It’s not just the prepared meals in pretty boxes, the Monop’ wines and the sushi trays that are so convenient after a day of work. It’s not just the cashmeres in the men’s clothing section (a story for next winter). It’s also the beauty products. That holds true in all Monoprix stores, but most lethally in the Beauty Monop’s: four stores in Paris dedicated to preening and pampering, for both men and women. All of the main pharmacy brands are there, plus the organics and colorful newbies from all over the world, in cute pots and tubes. But to me, it’s mostly the nail polish. Because you can’t always get them flown over from Manhattan, Monoprix has the best selection of O.P.I. polishes up until the latest shades. Yes, the markup is scandalous… But 13 euros is still a baby luxury – and we’re in a lipstick economy!

Footnotes –

Beauty Monop’ – 64 rue Oberkampf in the 11th, 28 rue des Abbesses in the 18th, 55 avenue d’Italie in the 13th, and 118 rue Saint-Charles in the 15th.


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