There are many facets of French culture that we, over here in America, tend to idolize. There’s the world-class fashion, the truly unparalleled pastries, the picturesque art and design, and of course, the abundance of l’amour.
Thanks to globalization (and online shopping), most of these things have made their way stateside, yet there’s one trait our Gallic counterparts possess that none of us have ever really been able to master, and that’s their legendary natural beauty. The French beauty aesthetic has always encompassed a sort of “I just rolled out of bed and still look this gorgeous” attitude, but in reality, the “effortless” look is anything but facile.
Soft, dewy skin is made possible with the help Paris’s top facialists, tussled hair is courtesy of skilled hairstylists, and derrieres are sculpted and toned through stimulating massage and regular sweat sessions in centuries-old Hammams. The secret treatments and rituals behind the French ways are finally public knowledge, and, although we might still be missing the sparkling lights of the Tour Eiffel and the 35-hour work week, it turns out that many of these beauty favorites are even available on this side of the pond.
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With so many leading skin-care experts and brands calling the streets of Paris home, it should come as no surprise that France boasts some the best facials in the world. While cosmetic offerings in the U.S. are all about the newest technology to smooth, lift, and zap away the signs of aging, the French still opt for the traditional techniques that have been passed down for generations.
Cult facialists provide proprietary treatments that focus on surface issues, like acne, wrinkles, and skin texture, but also address the deeper stresses and tension found in the face, really getting to the root of the problem. Acclaimed “epidermologist” Joëlle Ciocco is known for her Le Grand Soin Facial, an indulgent offering that promises to repair sensitive and dehydrated skin over the course of two and a half hours. At $600, the facial doesn’t come cheap, but clients say the forceful massage and natural product line deliver plumper, more radiant skin, improved circulation, and stress relief.
Other providers, including beauty coach Herve Herau, seem to perpetuate the hush-hush attitudes towards cosmetic treatments. Herau, whose eponymous skin-care brand is stocked by top retailers around the world, does not publicize his dermatology practice at all, and the entirely personalized restorative treatments are available only through at-home appointments and almost completely on a word-of-mouth basis.
Although the French are still getting significantly fewer injectables than Americans (227,307 and 1,857,042 total injections, respectively, in 2016), they are indeed getting them. In fact, dermatologists and plastic surgeons in France are offering more or less the same services available in the U.S., but the techniques used in each country tend to differ pretty drastically.
Patients in France are seeking a “super-extra natural look,” says Dr. Nelly Gauthier, one of Paris’s top cosmetic surgeons. “No one wants to look like they’ve had ‘help,’ so they want it to look as if they have great genes.” In order to achieve this “untouched” effect, Dr. Gauthier, ironic as it may be, has to do the exact opposite, injecting small amounts of Botox Cosmetic and Juvéderm on most—but few actually admit it. “In the States, [cosmetic enhancement] is being well-kept and wealthy; everybody talks freely about it,” the surgeon explains. “That’s not at all the case in France. Women here are keeping it as much a secret as possible, even from their husbands.”
Dr. Gauthier believes there’s a stronger sense of identity and originality among her patients, so when using injectable wrinkle-reducers, she uses less to avoid a frozen look, and when injecting filler, she opts for a more naturally plump look rather than overdone. In spite of this, though, she says, “ultimately, we live in an era dominated by the image of oneself, so of course more and more people are concerned about their look.”
Phytotherapy and Aromatherapy
On the other spectrum of anti-aging practices favored in France is phytotherapy. While you’re probably familiar with aromatherapy, the use of scented essential oils to help improve health and well-being, what you might not know is that the holistic treatment is actually a subset of phytotherapy. Like most great things, it all started with plants, but while aromatherapy opted for the processed oils made from plants, phytotherapy (also known as herbalism) sticks with the whole thing.
At Hôtel de Crillon’s Sense spa, though, the two healing approaches join forces once again in the beloved Sisley Phyto-Aromatic Treatment. The exclusive 90-minute facial is offered in two iterations to address differing skin-care needs. “With option one, The Supreme Anti-Aging Phyto-Aromatic Treatment, the skin is deeply cleaned and an exfoliation and detoxifying treatment follows in preparation for the face massage, concluding with a mask application to immediately boost the skin’s vitality,” explains Spa Director Marlene Belvalette. “Option two, The Youth Re-Plumping Black Rose Phyto-Aromatic Treatment, offers a gentle olfactory immersion experience that revitalizes the skin and restore its glow. Both experiences are wonderful and result in a more refined appearance with smooth lines, toned skin, and an overall fresher complexion.”
There might be a SoulCycle and Equinox on every corner of New York City, but France has stayed pretty true to its exercise-shy tendencies. With the country’s abundance of cheese, wine, bread, and basically all things delicious, however, the French have had to find some sweat-free solutions to staying trim. While lymphatic drainage massage has taken off in the states in recent years, there’s one woman who’s been using similar techniques to keep Parisians in tip-top shape for decades.
Martine de Richeville, who now boasts locations in Brussels, London, Geneva, and New York, alongside her two Paris hubs, is known for her signature “Remodelage” treatment, and it’s earned her a cult following of devoted clients. Like lymphatic drainage, de Richeville’s massages focus on clearing the lymphatic and circulatory systems of toxins, but the roll-and-release pinching technique actually goes even further. By targeting the skin—and the issues just below it—the motion utilized in Remodelage helps to reshape the body and even destroy cellulite, as well as the tension found in fascia. The treatment can feel less than pleasant, and the most transformative results will really only appear after multiple sessions, but an overwhelming number of French (and British, Belgian, Swiss, and American) clients absolutely swear by the powers of Remodelage.
Hair Hydration and Regular Haircuts
At the center of the effortless French beauty ideal is perfectly unperfect hair—whether it’s embracing natural curls, touting naturally sun-kissed highlights, or flaunting Brigitte-Bardot-level volume. But in order to achieve unkempt hair that falls just into place, French women turn to the country’s top hairstylists, who flawlessly cut, color, and hydrate their clients’ locks.
At the top of the Gallic hair world is Christophe Robin, master colorist and the genius who created Claudia Schiffer’s signature icy blonde, Elle Macpherson’s beachy balayage, and Stephanie Seymour’s chestnut waves. He and his team are experts at creating natural-looking hair that works with eye color and skin tone, and the salon attracts a range of clientele.
Then, of course, there’s Australian stylist David Mallett who’s triumphed on the rues of Paris and is now taking on the streets of SoHo in New York. Mallett is known for his precise and masterful cuts, but he’s all about hair that looks just as good in the real world as it does in the salon. If it’s just a little maintenance you’re after, head to Leonor Greyl for the 90-minute Les Soin sur Mesure treatment, which coats hair in oil-based masks, all from the salon’s natural haircare line, and includes a steam infusion and indulgent scalp, neck, and shoulder massage.
The practice may date back thousands of years, but acupuncture has really taken off in the age of wellness, with claims that it can help clients with illness, physical pain, insomnia, stress, and even appearance. While acupuncture is undoubtedly having a moment worldwide, there’s a clear master in Paris, whose name and phone number have famously been passed around Paris’s elite circles for years. Her name? Elaine Huntzinger.
The acupuncturist and holistic guru hosts clients in her own home and uses her training in traditional Chinese medicine to cure clients of their many woes, from stress to bloating to stinted collagen production. Unlike other acupuncture treatments, though, each of Huntzinger’s 45-minute sessions is entirely customized to the client, using a variety of techniques and even needles.
Finally, when French women and men are seeking a quick beauty and wellness boost that doesn’t have such a profound impact on their bank accounts, they turn to the age-hold Turkish rituals at Hammams. Traditionally known as a place to help the body rest and relax, where visitors are cleansed of both physical and spiritual dirt, Hammams soften skin using heat and exfoliate dead skin, traditionally with a kessa glove. Turkish baths also often include massage, but the ritual has been embraced in France for their profound abilities to help folks sweat and steam out toxins. Venues there include the more conventional, like Grand Mosquée, where generations of bathers meet to chat and gossip, as well as more modern and private spaces, like the impossibly chic Charme D’Orient, and similar structures can be found all over the globe.