The French Skin Care Secret to Radiant Skin

Photo: Stocksy/Jose Coello
Okay but seriously, how is it French women always look très chic? It seems they've mastered the art of the perfectly undone hairstyle, can rock their activewear like its couture, and heck, can even make eating a croissant look cool.

Another reason to be envious? Despite a laissez-faire attitude towards beauty (many top shelf staples are purchased from the local pharmacies) French women seem to always have glowy skin. The secret, I've learned, is in how they wash their faces.

"Cleansing makes a huge difference," says Tova Hanifin, founder and president of French beauty brand Atoi Skincare. (Full disclosure: After seeing her team completely makeup-free at the recent Indie Beauty Expo, I had to know how they kept their complexions so clear). "Even if you're so wiped out at night, you must cleanse before you go to bed—it's so important."

Hanifin also points out that this nightly ritual is a great way to center yourself before you turn in. "It can be a sort of meditation to unwind at the end of the day," she says. A necessity when a jam-packed schedule can leave you feeling zonked.

Keep reading for Hanifin's 3 key rules for crafting a cleansing routine.

french girls secret to clear skin
Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

1. Use the proper materials

Hanifin always uses an old-fashioned roll of cotton sprayed with distilled water to wash her face—never a towel. "Your towels have been through the rinse cycle mixed with detergent," she says. "So when you put it on your face, you're patting on detergent. And if you use fabric softener, it's like putting your clothes in perfume—it's too strong and irritating for the skin." With her signature method, however, Hanifin says she's helped her clients clear their rosacea and acne. "It calms the skin right down," she says.

When I meet with Hanifin, I see firsthand how effective these simple tools can be. Hanifin applies some of her milk cleanser to my face, then wipes it off with a cotton square. I'll admit, I'm impressed when I looked in the mirror: My complexion is even and hydrated. Bonus: Using the cloud-like cotton feels amazing.

french girls secret to clear skin
Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma

2. Be gentle

"I can tell you have a kind hand," Hanifin tells me as she examines my complexion (she can also tell I don't eat red meat and that I eat plenty of greens). "I know when someone's dragged too much pressure all over their face," a habit that can cause small bumps or inflammation, she says. "Sometimes people get too angry and frustrated with their skin when it's irritated or breaking out. But it's key to have a nice hand."

french girls secret to clear skin
Photo: Stocksy/Daxiao Productions

3. Make it a double (or triple!)

Double cleansing (typically, starting with an oil and then using a more standard cleanser) is a K-beauty staple. But, according to Hanifin, it's a practice French girls love, too. "At night, it's good to do two to three cleanses with a milk cleanser," she says. "Every time you do it, it unclogs your pores."

During my visit to her office, she probably cleaned my face a good 10 times (I'm not exaggerating). And it's true: My complexion looked better with each wash. Of course, she's not saying you need to cleanse-rinse-repeat a dozen times every night, but at least a double cleanse is beneficial when it comes to clearing gunk from your pores. Yes, it takes some time, but c'est la vie.

Originally published September 29, 2017; updated May 25, 2018.

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