The Allure of French Pharmacies

One of the memorable things I learned from my friend Tara of Chronicles of Vanity is this:

When you’re a makeup artist or beauty enthusiast visiting France for the first time, make sure you explore the French pharmacie culture. It occupies a special status, or better yet, a cult following in the world of beauty.

Kate was here in Paris. Agenda: Explore the pharmacies!

Technically, a pharmacie is a drugstore, a place where you may purchase medication, toiletries, and first aid products, or consult pharmacists about basic ailments that have over-the-counter remedies—lest it’s a graver situation that needs a doctor’s prescription.

But in France, a pharmacie is more than that. It’s where the makeup- and skincare-obsessed explore beauty brands. It’s where people with sensitive skin look for alternatives if their usual products no longer deliver. Best of all, it’s where you get discounts and bundle deals, sometimes even better than buying from the brand’s website or standalone store.

I’ve heard and read about French beauty before, but actually seeing these beautiful women in the streets of Paris is a testament to why the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Marion Cotillard, and Audrey Tautou are considered iconic figures in the industry. Parisian women stand out just by walking down the street during their lunch breaks, even with dishelved hair and a hurried smokey eye. What is it about French women? Observing their pharmacie culture can give us a glimpse into their beauty secrets.

Inside a small pharmacie in Paris. Recognize any of the brands?

My beauty editor days are behind me (although I still write the occasional beauty article), but I will always have an appreciation for this industry. When I went to Paris for the first time a few months ago, I made sure to look for that telling green cross signage.

Not all pharmacies are created equal. Some occupy little spaces inside malls and corner streets, while others have multiple floors with a plethora of brands. One particular pharmacie in Paris was packed with so many people that I was afraid they would break into a stampede. I could hardly squeeze through the mix of locals and foreign tourists hoarding discounted bottles of micellar water and buying stocks of their favorite makeup.

Looking for a pharmacie in France? Just find that green cross.
My jaw dropped when I first stepped into Galeries Lafayette in Paris. The ground floor is dedicated to skincare and makeup brands.

Claustrophobic ambience aside, I had a ball exploring shelves upon shelves of beauty products—from brands I recognize to others that needed Google translate for me to understand. I watched as each pharmacist catered to every customer, giving them advice about their skincare woes as if they were the personal dermatologist. Magnifique!

But I went beyond just pharmacies. I met up with my makeup artist friend, Barbi Chan (who is a resident of both Paris and Manila), as she took me to her favorite spots in Galeries La Fayette, an upscale French department store chain. Merci beaucoup, Barbi!

She helped me purchase my first The Ordinary product, which at the time was just beginning to gain traction in the Asian market. (Months later, we all heard the sad news about founder Brandon Truaxe’s tragic death. Rest in peace, sir.)

With makeup artist, Barbi Chan, who is now also a Phibrows Royal Artist for Microblading. Check out her page here.

I finally understand why there is so much hype around The Ordinary.

I also explored the Sephora and standalone stores of my favorite French skincare brands (like Nuxe and L’Occitane) in Champs-Élysées, just to see how it compares with the price tags of pharmacies. True enough, the pharmacies did give a better deal for certain brands! But how could I resist not buying from the other upscale stores? I ended up with a heavier backpack that week. I was hoping to find the mother of all L’Oréal stores in Paris, but to no avail.

Now that I’m back in the Philippines and female travelers are asking me what they should do in Paris, this is my reply: Do you love beauty products? If yes, check out the pharmacies!

February 18, 2019