French women know a thing or two about enjoying life, from not rushing through their day and having a deep appreciation for good food to an uncomplicated approach to beauty that continues to mystify us over here in skin-care-junkie land.
Which is why Mathilde Thomas, co-founder of natural French skin-care brand Caudalie, decided to write a book called The French Beauty Solution, that's packed with insights into how French women get that je ne sais quoi that makes them all seem to effortlessly beautiful and elegant.
"We moved from Paris to NYC five years ago with the kids, and I was shocked to see how different French women and American women are," she says. "American women are so hard on themselves, they don't know the Pleasure Principle [more on this below!], and it's all about getting a quick fix and instant gratification," she explains. Thomas adds that she's met thousands of women who say skin care is too complicated and doesn't work fast enough. "That was one of the reasons I wanted to write this book."
Within the pages, Thomas not only simplifies complicated-sounding skin-care ingredients, the science of skin aging, and how to make effective natural at-home beauty treatments, but she also reveals the more subtle secrets of her fellow Frenchwomen.
We plucked out some of the most interesting ones, and are happy to report that many of them require little more than a simple mental shift (as opposed to a ticket to Paris). Not that the latter would be terrible...—Amy Marturana
1. Live by the Pleasure Principle. Never heard of it? Now you have! "It’s pretty simple, it means that your beauty routine should make you feel good at the same time it makes you look good," Thomas explains. Skin care can and should be luxurious, not a boring chore. Choose products because they work for you and make you feel pampered—whether it's through the scent, texture, or the glow it gives you—not because they're the trendiest or most expensive.
2. Invest in good skin care. "French women are taught by our mothers and our grandmothers that we should always apply a good SPF, always cleanse at night with a good cleanser, and if we have the money, the product you should invest in is a serum," she says. After all that comes makeup. Thomas notes that in the U.S., makeup is a bigger seller at Sephora than skin care because we want a quick fix and instant gratification, which it provides. But this can cause some women to overlook the long-term benefits of a good skin-care routine—results that you won't need to cover up with makeup. "It’s all about prevention, treatment, and maintenance, and you’re never too young to start," she says.
3. Stop trying so hard. Thanks to the no-makeup makeup trend, we've started to see more of an effortless (or at least seemingly effortless) approach to beauty in the U.S. But French women are the queens of bare-faced beauty. Other ways to radiate natural beauty? "Have a glass of red wine at dinner every day, and find a French boyfriend!" You don't have to tell us twice.
4. Show your body some love, too. We're not talking fitness—which Thomas admits Americans are much better at prioritizing than the French. But rather, your skin care below your face! "Beauty doesn't end at your chin," Thomas says. "Just as you need to exfoliate your facial skin, so should you exfoliate your body at least once a week." She recommends a sugar-based scrub to keep things gentle and avoid over-scrubbing, and follow up with a body oil before toweling off. Also, ditch the long, steamy showers. Hot water is super drying, especially in the colder months.
5. Cleanse with care. Cleansing balms and oils were big in Europe before they made their way to our overly scrubbed, moisture-stripped shores. Use gentle cleansers that embrace the skin's (and hair's) natural oils, and avoid harsh detergents (like sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate). Oh, and never go to bed with makeup on, Thomas warns.
6. Think outside the lipstick tube. It's easy to get stuck in your comfort zone. "Not only in our beauty routine, but in life, we tend to do the same things over and over without even thinking," Thomas notes. If you're enjoying beauty and not taking yourself too seriously, why not try something new? French women, although they like to find what looks best on them and stick to it, aren't afraid to try a new color. And they're also not afraid to throw it out if it doesn't work.
7. Feed your beauty from within. "Food is what shocked us most when we arrived in the U.S.," Thomas admits, referring to our overly processed food industry and pretend "low-calorie" foods. "There's no pleasure in that—you're just filling up the tanks, and French women would rather not eat than eat that. I'd rather have a macaron Ladurée, enjoy every morsel, and have very small portions," she quips. "But apart from that [the food] and the noise, I love New York."
For more information, visit us.caudalie.com
(Photos: Flickr/Rolandslakis, Mathilde Thomas via Caudalie)
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