Navigating a French Pharmacy

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentre
Bioderma Créaline

My favorite store in Paris is not Céline, Isabel Marant, or Chanel, but Citypharma on Rue du Four (conveniently located a stone's throw from Café de Flore). French pharmacies probably feel like CVS to French people, but to me they feel like a real-life version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Why, you might ask? Because they are 100% dedicated to skin care (and medicinal) products of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

There are no photos of Citypharma in this story because the ratio of stern, lab-coated sales ladies to customers in that store is nearly 1-1 and they do not allow photographs. Which leads us to rule #1 of navigating a French pharmacy:

1. Respect Authority: The guardians of French pharmacies—the lab-coated salespeople—are busy, serious, and probably know more about your face than you do. Therefore, don’t interrupt them, and if they ask you if they can help you, for God’s sake, let them. They will not steer you wrong.

At this point you’re probably asking, “What’s so great about the product selection in French pharmacies?” Everything. Everything is great. But especially when you remember to…

2. Stay Basic: The old-fashioned ‘cold cream’-style formulas of lotions and creams are, in a word, beautiful. Perhaps the most famous face product is the Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentre, a self-described “moisturizing and nourishing care product for a smooth and elastic, supple and soft skin.” Who doesn’t want smooth and elastic, supple soft skin?! That is literally all I want. For body, I’ve gone through an entire bottle of Topicrem, and am on the last drop of Carlyne Cerf du Dudzeele’s beloved Biafine. And let’s not forget lips: the French pharmacy’s answer to Chapstick? It’s Homéoplasmine, a waxy Aquaphor-like balm traditionally used to soothe nursing mothers’ chafed nipples and other skin irritations—now used as lip balm by makeup artists and models worldwide.

Also to file in the “Huh, imagine that!” folder…

3. Rethink Cleanser: Show me one French woman who hasn’t used eau micellaire—cleansing water—and I’ll show you…an American disguised as a French woman (and even then she’d have at least tried it). Bioderma Créaline is a clear, odorless fluid that you soak a cotton round with, sweeping it over your eyes, face, wherever, to remove makeup and debris. I much prefer it to oil-based makeup removers and even most traditional H2O-activated “face washes,” even if it doesn’t always get the job done quite as well. At least it’s gentle.

And on that note…

4. Treat Your Face Like Silk: Do not subject it to pushing, pulling, and prodding. Coddle it. Better yet: mist it. Mist it like the precious garden it is, with rose water and/or “Thermal Spring Water” from Avène, La Roche Posay, or Uriage (the latter recommended to me by the creator of this very rule, Isabelle Bellis). My favorite rose water is by Sanoflore, but there are many and they each have subtly different scents. Go to town.

Other fun aisles to explore? Feminine hygiene, and baby. But don’t linger! I had to be asked three times to leave at 6:57 PM so that they could pull the gates down when the clock struck 19:00. Back to Rule #1…

—Emily Weiss

Photographed by Emily Weiss. 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Nina R.

    City Pharma! My idea of heaven! It's so insane there- always crowded, crazed tourists who speak neither French nor English buying baskets and baskets of skincare. The lab-coated shop assistants are extremely helpful, as you said. They know everything. How about the wall of lip balms??? 2 questions for you, Emily. Which Topicream product do you like, and what exactly do you like to use Biafine for? I have it but don't know what I should do with it - it's supposed to be for burns.

    • Steph

      Biafine is often used to repare the skin when you get sunburnt

    • La semaine d’une gourmette

      Biafine is not an everyday beauty product. It's very useful on burns (soothes the pain too), sunburns (same), and if you ever break a leg or arm, after the cast comes off, use a very thick layer of Biafine on the dry scaly skin where the cast was, wrap it in something (pajamas and socks work very well for the leg), sleep on it, and lo and behold, in the morning you'll have skin which actually looks pretty normal!

  • Alice

    really great post

  • katkorb

    coucou there is a new kid on the blog in french pharmacies: try onagrine, it might be the new better embryolisse
    and i am not a testimonial

  • Lauren

    I have just hopped on the Embryolisse train - life changed!

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    When I was in Paris, I think I went into every pharmacy I saw!

  • Inès

    Great guide!! Even if I live on the other side of the city, I prefer to take the subway and go to City Pharma and I always try to get there at the opening, best moment of the day. My last discovery is Melvita's Hazelnut Oil, I love it!

  • charmystique

    I do count pharmacies as one of the best places to waste time away.

  • Emily Knott

    I have noted a handful of these down, in the hope that I soon will jump on a train and head to Paris!

  • Kassandra Fairhall

    Heard that the french pharmacies are stocked to the bridges with amazing skincare products, skincare heaven some call it. To bad I live in Canada and no where near a french pharmacy.

    • oh_lolcats

      They now have quite a bit at Shoppers Drug Mart and Jean Coutu! Avene, La Roche Posay, Bioderma and Vichy

    • keely

      you arent looking hard enough. half of these brands are available at shoppers drug mart, along with many other imports.

    • Victoria

      You can always get Embryolisse on Amazon!

  • Annelie

    French pharmacies are the best! Unless you need actual medicines, then they are unfortunately less great. But for creams and even makeup, amazing! Thank you for sharing your favourites!

  • Soph –

    I'm French, and I completely agree with all these! :) I'd also add Caudalie products, another great pharmacy brand!

  • Meredith

    Le sigh. Until I go on a beauty pilgrimage to Paris, I'll continue to buy my Bioderma micellar water on Amazon.

  • bijoux

    I also enjoyed Monoprix in N Africa... some intriguing French products as well as small dishes, etc.

  • Ragini

    There is too much people on this CityPharma (rue du four). Try the famous one just outside the metro "Place Monge" (line 7/purple). It's big, with amazing prices!
    As a French beauty addict, my favorite "pharmacie" products are:
    - "Hydreane" from La Roche Posay (daily cream)
    - The Best MakeUp Remover Ever: "Pureté Thermale 3 en 1" by Vichy... in 300ml. This milk/lotion is amazing. One day I will write a novel about this miracle!
    - Ducray shampoo (the most famous one is the green bottle, for every day use.)
    - La Roche Posay mascara
    - Masque apaisant Avène (gentle face mask)

  • Claire McCormack

    Biafine is the dream cream. I horde it.

  • Sally F.

    She really is! This is my favourite interview of hers ever - she seems so down to earth.

    • Neelam

      This joss
      box website looks really good. Thanks!

  • Katy

    And it's muuuuuuuuch cheaper at the drug store in Paris :( I went to buy more Beauty Elixir at Sephora and I'm pretty sure I spit out my coffee when I saw the price.

  • Sheila

    I have absolutely obsessed over this topic since a January trip to Paris. Brought back all the usual suspects- Bioderma, Homeoplasmine, Nuxe Reve de Miel lip balm, Avene Thermale, plus others- Nuxe Reve de Miel hand creme, Avene Clean-AC, Caudalie Scrub, La Roche-Posay Effaclar K, and a substitute for Avibon. Since returning, I've ordered replenishments for many of these, plus am trying some new products from La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Avene, and Caudalie.

    What lives up to the hype? Everything except the Caudalie Scrub and Avene Thermale Spray. Bought La Roche-Posay's micellar water at CVS recently, but don't like it nearly as much as Bioderma. I'm in my mid-40's and my skin has truly never looked better. Plus it's just fun to have these lovely products and enjoy the rituals of really taking care of your skin- I always look forward to using them. Just seeing the hand cream in my purse makes me feel pretty :) and OMG the scent is heaven.

  • lemonpie

    Embryolisse is mostly mineral oil: it cannot be absorbed by the skin so it builds a thin film on top of the skin -> this creates that certain glow everyone wants. However, since it cannot be absorbed, it clogs pores- your skin cannot breathe!! Embryolisse is makeup, it's for special occasions and it is definitely not skin "care" or healthy!

    • Inkygrl

      Disagree. Have been using it for a year or so and my skin has never looked better. If anything less clogged up then it used to be.

    • sara

      mineral oil is non-comedogenic, just fyi. it's an occlusive agent that reduces transepidermal water loss i.e. it creates a barrier that prevents water leaving your skin. it's not unhealthy, and your skin doesn't breathe. it may cause you to break out, because people react differently to all sorts of ingredients. coconut oil makes me break out.

  • Mademoiselle nature

    I am french and write a beauty blog, so if you have any questions, don't hesitate :-)
    French pharmacies are huge :-) many products available....:-)

    • Amanda

      What's the best pharmacy to visit if you can only go to one? Is there one in the 17th arr.?

      Also, what are some great products that get overlooked? I know about Avene and La Roche Posay already, I want something more!

    • Michele

      Would you be able to recommend a skin care routine for a 45 yo woman who has just used water, cetaphil and an organic moisturizer? I don't want multiple steps, I want to keep it simple, but I want to take care of my aging skin. I travel to Paris 2x a year-want only French brands recommended to me. Thank you!

  • Aubrey Green

    Her voice is so soothing too. I literally fall asleep every time I watch her videos (not because they are boring), cause I need sleep ;).

  • lyvemm

    My fiance is French and upon going through this list of French must-haves I must finally admit that I have crossed over completely without realizing it- I own everything on this list.

  • Inkygrl

    I want to go to there......

  • Dejana S

    I am just a bit iffy on the Lait-creme, it's basically glorified mineral oil being that is it's first ingredient.

  • casey23

    LRP Effaclar K (or another substitute is Avene Cleanance K)

  • Amanda Raponi

    Citypharma is amazing! My husband must have waited outside for me for about 30 mins while I got pushed around and grabbed what I could. Don't forget to stock up on pots of Reve de Miel lip balm!

  • Sheila

    I have read lots of posts about Avibon and it
    being either backordered or no longer in production, but all I know is when I asked the pharmacist, he said it was no longer available and went in the back and brought out another product as a substitute. I don't recall the name at the moment but it was in a blue tube, and the Vitamin A concentration was less. But I love it- the tiniest dab more than covers my eye area at night, and it smells like lemons.

    • Nina R.

      Sheila - Thank you so much. I treasure my old tube of Avibon! Casey23 - Thank you , but LRP Effaclar K is an acne product (I have it) and nothing like Avibon. Avibon is pas par tout!

      • Sheila

        You are welcome! And the name of the product is Fletagex ('Pommade Fletagex'). I'll keep my eyes open for Avibon, I would love to try it, people are big fans!

        • Jaded28

          Two different friends whom I had been lamenting the disappearance of Avibon to tried to see if they could find some while on their trip to France. They figured as they were going to very small villages and towns they might find a few remaining on the shelves here and there. No joy. But they did bring me home 2 products that I am learning to accept. One is Derméol it's more of a cream, kind of smells like Vanilla Play•Do (it goes away) and dries to a matte finish. It's fantastic as a day cream under my makeup plus when I take my makeup off in the evening my skin looks better than when I put it on in the morning. The other is A313. More of the Avibon pomade consistency but less Vitamin A. Strangely, unlike Avibon, my face will sometime decide it doesn't like it. I won't have a reaction per se, but it will start itching like crazy. Since I use it at night this requires me to get up and wash my face and use one of the other tubes of goodness for the night. I actually started putting Embryolisse on top and the itchy problem hasn't reoccurred. I think I might have been to dry for it. The third wonder tube came from a friend returning from Japan. She brought me Yube. Which is another pomade and kind of smells like Carmex when you first out it on (it goes away as well), but I wake up with glorious face.
          Also I recently received a tube of Ialuset (it's hyaluronic acid) and it is lovely. Some people don't like it as it pulls the water to the top of your skin plumping it up a bit.

  • adamalpha

    Avignone on Bleecker Street is sort of doing a good impression of a Parisian pharmacy, even if it is obviously WAY MORE expensive.

    I've been looking through all your comments, and I'm very grateful for them - but I still can't figure out what the simplest, healthiest, most anti-aging and hydrating and least comedogenic night creams are for the face. Any thoughts?

  • kate

    When I studied abroad in Paris, I was hit by a bike and sent careening into the sidewalk. I had a large scrape on my cheekbone, and other smaller scarpes on my chin. I also knocked out my two front teeth, but that's a minor detail to this story. After regaining my composure, I visited the nearest pharmacy and was immediately attended to by two Parisienne pharmacists. They gather a variety of products and gave me very specific instructions on how to clean and care for the wounds. I was sure that I would be left with some major scars but the blend of wonder products that they championed worked miracles. Vive la pharmacie!

  • Christinii

    So what are the best tiny products to buy when you're not checking your luggage and you only get three ounces at a time?

    • Bells

      Nuxe Reve de Miel, Bioderma Créaline H2O (there are travel-sized bottles too), Toleriane Ultra Moisturizer, Avene Hydrance Optimale (Riche/Legere), etc.

  • The Beauty Break

    after all, french women are known not only for their beautiful fashion sense and perfectly messy hair, but for their flawless skin as well

    • Mademoiselle nature

      merci ;-))))

  • Bells

    I have to say, after having chapped lips all my life no matter the weather, my search is over with Nuxe Reve de Miel lip balm. Songs should be written about this balm.

  • Julia

    Biafine isn't a body cream, its for sunburn. Its way too greasy for daily wear eww

  • Margaret

    I love Avene, I found it when I was in Switzerland last summer! Do you mind doing a post sometime about at-home peels? I heard O.R.G. Mineral Peel is amazing!

  • Kasia Lichota

    Im coming to Paris 30.04 for few days during the long weekend Poland has and want to get some beauty items at pharmacy like LRP Serozinc :) I visited pharmacy in Lyon last year and loved the help I got from a sales person - very nice and informative lady i was! xx

  • Diana Est

    A few French products that I believe have not been mentioned and are truly amazing are:
    Avene Cicalfate - I use it instead of a lip balm (which I believe that, if overused, can actually make your lips more cracked), once a week, overnight, and they're perfect by the morning! Also works amazing on breakouts.
    LRP Kerium DS - 6 weeks of this cream and youre dry paches free for at least a year!
    Avene Cold Cream hand cream - because of my job I am constantly exposed to harsh medical cleansers and this is the only hand cream that prevents my skin from getting dry.
    A-Derma Exomega body cleansing oil - another fantastic product for sensitive skin.
    Vichy Normaderm foundation - if you're lucky to have a skin color that matches one of their very few shades you might find this amazing. It neutralises redness, minimizes pores, and gives an overall healthy look.
    My family owns pharmacies in Europe that stock most of the products mentioned in this article and comments and I've had a chance to try literally everything

  • A Karina Zatarain

    Has anyone's eyes ever felt super sensitive after removing make-up with Bioderma Crealine? I feel like my right eye is overdosing

  • Christine

    Embryolisse made me break out terribly... I believe it is because the first active ingredient is mineral oil.

  • Neelam

    I have never been to a French pharmacy, but live in England and visit Boots every few days. The problem with Boots is that most of the staff are plain old salespeople who don't have any specialist knowledge. I've heard that most of the French pharmacy workers know their stuff

  • Camille

    A word of caution- I went here first thing on a Saturday morning (yes it was busy already) and I was expecting one of the lab-coated assistants to be very helpful with specific recommendations. She deluged me in French (I suppose I looked like I was following the convo decently) and sequentially handed me 7 items all from the same line, which was much more expensive that the usual LaRoche Posay, Embryolisse. I hid everything I didn't want upstairs on a shelf and the one face oil cost more than 4 sunscreens! And there are no returns..... So beware and don't take them too seriously.

  • Comfynchic

    I picked up some skincare from the parapharmacie section of Monoprix as they all had some offer....I love using them...

  • La semaine d’une gourmette

    Well, I love Italy, but Italian pharmacies are the worst. Very little choice, very expensive.

  • bygabriela

    I was at city pharma last week, such a good tip! it was incredibly crowded though, but I found a lot of great products! check out my revew of french pharmacy products on my blog!

  • Mad

    I don't see why Homoplasmine is so good, it's a lot of vaseline and the calendula ingredient can be found in lots of other cheap creams.. The best similar product I can think of that you can find in French Pharmacies is VEA Olio ! Especially the gel... Pure vitamin E and nothing else! You can use it on your skin or eat it :))

  • Liveshoptravel

    I love french pharmacies. Blogged about products I love here a while ago. I'm glad NUXE oils have made it into Australia :)


Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrè
Bioderma Crealine Travel Size
Avene Thermal Spring Water
La Roche-Posay
La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water
Uriage Thermal Water Spray