You’ve heard the hype about French pharmacy skin-care brands, yeah? Well, that hype is very real—and you don't need to book a ticket to Charles de Gaulle to find out why.
Avène, which is one of the most popular drugstore brands across Europe, is readily available in the U.S. and has made reaping the benefits of affordable French skin care as easy as clicking "add to cart" on Amazon. I first discovered the line many years ago on a trip to Paris, and have since become a superfan of the skin-nourishing benefits it delivers.
The brand is named after a commune in France that's home to a mineral-rich thermal spring. Its full name—Eau Thermale Avène—refers to the water from this "fountain of youth" that makes its way into every product. The potent, clinically-tested water contains calcium bicarbonate, magnesium, and silicates, and is celebrated for its ability to calm irritation, reduce inflammation, and promote healing for conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
- Mona Gohara, MD, board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University
We'd estimate that we've tested upwards of 90 percent of Avène's products (and use many of them regularly), and have fallen in love with the miracle water the brand uses in each and every one of them. But if we had to narrow it down to the G.O.A.T., must-have products that everyone needs in their routine, there are three that seriously stand out. They're universally applicable, and can benefit everyone's skin health—regardless of their complexion type or individual goals. Shop them for yourself below to bring the French pharmacy into your bathroom.
The best Avène products
Retinol is an almost universally recommended skin-care ingredient, as it targets myriad skin health needs and complexion woes. It helps with cellular turnover, assuages acne, and can help with reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Avène’s RetrinAL is special because it uses retinaldehyde—a stronger version of retinol—and it’s an absolute masterpiece of an OTC retinoid. Thanks to the rich and soothing peptides in this gentle-yet-powerful formulation (and their inflammation-soothing thermal water), even those with sensitive skin can benefit from this rejuvenating all-in-one cream. RetrinAL for all.
I know what you must be thinking: Lip balm, really? Yes, really. This is no ordinary lip balm. When I tell you I buy these in bulk, I’m not joking. They’ve got the silkiest, meltiest, non-sticky, non-greasy, non-waxy formula I’ve ever tried… and I’ve tried a lot. The balm is made with shea butter, jojoba oil, and bisabolol, and nourishes your lips while also protecting them from damage. It’s no wonder derms love it as much as I do.
Given the miraculous properties of Avène’s spring water, it would be absurd to leave the brand’s legendary facial mist off the top three list. It’s an all-time best seller for a reason: It’s soothing, light, refreshing, delicate, and exactly what you’d want from a spray.
Packed with the spring water’s naturally-occurring pre- and pro-biotics, the formula is perfectly pH balanced and works as an anti-inflammatory to soothe redness and irritation. Whether you need to prep for your skincare routine, refresh throughout the day, add hydration while you’re traveling, assuage a sunburn, soothe skin after shaving, or you’ve just got a hankering for a cool mist of French water on your face, look no further.
Staring at the bottle, I was skeptical that a wipe-off, soap-free cleanser would work, but it actually did. To test this fragrance-free gel cleanser, I applied about a quarter-sized amount of product onto a cotton pad then swiped the round all over my face. After a long day of wearing ample sunscreen and a light layer of makeup, I ended up looking at a reflection of my day on the formerly white round. Visually, it looked like everything I was wearing got onto the cotton pad. Then, I grazed my hand over my face to feel that my skin felt just as clean as when I use a gentle face wash with water. After scanning the ingredient list I realized that there are no silicones either, which is why there’s no slippery residue feeling.
The effectiveness of this gel cleanser seriously surprised my sensitive combination skin. No irritation or burning. No sticky residue. Just clean skin. For me, it’s perfect for those night’s when I come home and want to clean my skin and plop into bed without taking a long shower. Or, in the morning to remove my night cream, in preparation for my morning sunscreen application. Plus, I can definitely see this being great for campers who want to maintain their skin care routine—even deep in the woods.
This gentle cleanser will help control acne without stripping your skin, and I turn to it any time I need to keep my hormonal breakouts at bay. Board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, calls it “a fantastic option for those with sensitive or allergic skin that is still prone to breakouts,” and notes that it isn’t just for your face (gasp!)—it works for body acne too.
This is my non-negotiable daily serum, regardless of what else I’m doing with my routine. It improves the efficacy of your other skincare products by prepping the skin with deep hydration. No stickiness, no residue—just a hydrated face that is ‘ready to receive,’ if you will. “I love this serum,” Dr. Gohara previously told Well+Good. “It not only works for [already] hydrated skin, but it also soothes the tightness and discomfort that is common with dehydrated skin, thanks to the brand’s best-in-class healing-helper: thermal spring water.”
Micellar water is one of the foremost staples of French skin care, and Avène’s version is one of the best that money can buy (I even like it better than Bioderma, which feels blasphemous to say). I came upon it by accident when I asked a French pharmacist for a gentle facial cleanser—she told me this was my best option, and she did not steer me wrong. It uses micelles (aka oil particles suspended in water) to remove dirt, grime, and makeup, leaving skin clean but never parched.
Avène repurposed its powerful retinoid into a rich eye cream, which is designed to be used on the delicate skin in the area. For under 50 bucks, it works to depuff, replenish, and smooth skin (au revoir, crows feet!), and is hands down one of the best eye creams I’ve ever used.
Whether you deal with eczema, are getting some laser facial treatments, or simply have dry and sensitive skin, this thermal water-powered “recovery cream” is a dermatologist favorite and approved by the National Eczema Association. It even comes in sterile packaging to ensure it’s entirely preservative-free and safe for hypersensitive skin.
Think of this as a staple recovery item. Meant for treating injuries, lesions, and scars, it helps your skin retain moisture to speed up the healing process. Basically, it’s skin restoration in a bottle.
Truly, this is one of the best moisturizers you can get — especially for under $40 (under $20 if you’re lucky enough to live in France). It’s intensely hydrating and barrier-repairing, yet lightweight, and offers suitable levels of protection and moisture for all skin types.
As someone who seriously needs to drink more water, my lips dry out pretty quickly. Turning to this cream, I wanted to know if it would really hydrate my lips and if the six-hour water-resistant claim was true. At first, I put this fragrance-free lip cream on in the morning to see if it would replace my daily lip balm. On me, even a little bit of this cream shows up white on my lips, so I wiped it off and re-attempted my test at night.
Post evening shower I used the included applicator to apply this product onto fresh lips. While it still appeared white, my lips felt coated with the non-sticky cream in a lip mask kind of way. I then went to drink from my bedside water bottle. The results? The cream actually stayed on, absorbing into my lips and staying put. Waking up the next morning my pout felt soft, supple, and ready to take on the day.
After reading the ingredients in this balm and trying it for the first time about a week ago, I can confirm that the cosmetic chemists who made this were all the way in their bag—meaning, they knew exactly what they were doing when formulating this. Since it’s a balm, its consistency is quite thick. Usually during my nighttime routine, I’ll seal everything in with CeraVe Healing Ointment.
Because the Avéne Retrinal Ceramide Lipid-Replenishing Balm is already super thick, I actually chose to forego the healing ointment. Initially, I hypothesized that my skin might feel a bit dry and tight, but I was wrong. In fact, my skin was more radiant and smooth than I’d noticed in the weeks before. Since this product is formulated with bakuchiol (a plant-derived alternative to retinol), niacinamide (which evens complexion), and ceramides (which maintain the skin’s barrier), my skin soaked it up and couldn’t get enough. Though the packaging says you can use it during the morning or at night, I incorporated it into both of my routines because it’s just that good.
I don’t usually use a serum in my regular routine—I keep it simple with only a toner, a moisturizer, and sunscreen with SPF 30. Most serums don’t really do much for me; some even leave my face feeling sticky and icky. I’m happy to report, however, that the serum in this 1-ounce bottle is the stuff of magic. Even after the first use, it left my skin feeling plump and looking dewy, which is likely due to the hyaluronic acid and vitamin B3 in the formula.
I will say that I noticed tiny pimples within the first few days of using it, but they were barely noticeable and weren’t painful at all. Another slight dock for this product is that the instructions say to apply two to three drops on your face, neck, and décolleté. I found that I had to use an entire dropper of the serum if I wanted it to fully cover and hydrate those areas. I applied it twice daily (in the morning and before bed) for a full week and the bottle is still more than 80 percent full, so I expect this to last me a few months even though I use a lot of it.
Ever wondered what drugstore products a dermatologist uses in her own routine? Check out the video below to find out.
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