When it comes to beauty (and diet, and fashion – damn them!) French women are known the world over for looking gorgeous all day, every day. How do they achieve this? By figuring out that less is fabulously more. Which means they spend more effort taking care of the basics – like the health of their skin– rather than slathering on pounds of foundation and concealers to fake a glow. And how do they do this? On my last visit to France, I convinced mademoiselles from Paris to Provence to tell me their secret stories, which have been handed down through the centuries.
1. The French love their grapes and not just poured into a bottle of wine. These juicy fruits contain loads of antioxidants, vitamins, oligo-elements and essential oils to improve circulation and step up hydration. And nothing could be simpler: Just slice a few grapes in half and rub the fleshy part over your face for a few minutes. Let the juice dry, then rinse off thoroughly.
2. French women stick to a scrupulous and preventive skin and body care routine – this means regular facials and massages. Don’t have time for a spa visit? Do like the Gallics: Mash a handful of cherries and pomegranate seeds, then apply them as a face pack for 10 minutes. Rinse off with warm water. Their natural enzymes will help brighten and firm the skin.
3. Harsh cleansers are an absolute French no-no. Instead swab off eye makeup with sweet almond oil, which will gently remove residue while also softening the skin.
4. French woman know that hydration is important. So, in addition to drinking water throughout the day, they advise downing a glass as you get up and another before you go to bed. Why? It keeps skin and hair hydrated, flushes out toxins from the body and curbs appetite.
5. These radiant-skinned mademoiselles know that circulation is integral to beauty as it makes the skin glow. And for this, they religiously splash ice cold water on their face every morning. This gives the complexion an icy boost, making it glow and feel super-fresh.
6. Another way to bring home the je ne sais quoi? Splash breasts with cold water to improve circulation in this fragile area as well!
Illustration by Izak Zenou
7. Since centuries, French women (and men!) have known that the essential oils of lavender, geranium, neroli, rosemary and rose are unbeatable anti-aging ingredients. Similarly, they also know that jasmine, frankincense, myrrh and carrot seed rejuvenate the skin by encouraging new cell growth. And the simplest way to use them? Add 50 to 60 drops of one or two of these oils – my favourites are jasmine and lavender – to 4 oz jojoba oil and store in a pretty glass bottle. Massage this fragrant concoction into your skin every day (or night) for a gorgeously youthful appearance.
8. Then there are tomatoes, which are chock-full with anti-oxidants such as lycopene. Women in the South of France wipe the juice from fresh tomatoes on to their skin to cool down during the long hot summers. Sounds divine, doesn’t it?
9. The Parisian Beauty Editor of Marie Claire – my former workplace – has super-smooth hands with glossy nails and not a dark spot in sight. So I pestered and pestered and pestered her for the secret, which turned out to be a traditional French hand-bath made from cold water, coarse sea salt granules and a little olive oil. Scrub your hands in this for 5-10 minutes, then dab some almond oil on the nails – I have been doing this for the past two months and my hands have never looked softer or lovelier!
10. Finally, for something truly luxe and historic, try this historic French recipe that dates way back to the 1600s: Take 4 ounces almond oil, 3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil, 1 ounce of shaved candle wax (preferably beeswax), two tablespoons of onion juice and 10 drops of vanilla essential oil. Put the almond oil, olive oil and wax in a heavy bottomed pan and warm just enough to melt the wax. Then add the onion juice and vanilla essential oil. You will have to keep stirring the mixture to keep the ingredients from separating; and be especially careful about the onion juice because it will start lumping if the mixture gets too hot. Cool this creamy concoction and massage it into your face, neck, arms and feet at bedtime. Leave on overnight, then use a gentle face wash, toner or moisturiser in the morning. The result? Buttery soft skin like you wouldn’t believe!