Jun 032010

Some Parisian visitors coming from the U.S. have discovered the wonders of European skin and hair care.  We’ve seen the sunscreens, the moisturizers and other products on non-U.S. websites, message boards and elsewhere.  Although the Internet have made these products more available to U.S. shoppers, some are curious to go look for themselves.  You may save a little in the process.

The question is–where do you go?

Pharmacy located off the Champs Elysee

The first answer is a pharmacy, which are designated with a green cross.  These stores carry most low-to-mid priced ranges of products such as Avene, RoC, Vichy and La Roche-Posay.  Although you are free to browse, the pharmacist or sales person can assist.  Keep in mind that pharmacists in France have extensive training and knowledge, and frequently sought out as sources of advice before a doctor is consulted.  Therefore, unlike U.S. drugstores, the customer’s relationship with a French pharmacist can be more interactive.

A Neighborhood Pharmacy in the Saint-Germain

  • If you do have an ailment and don’t see what you want on the shelves in a pharmacy, do ask.  Products that Americans are used to seeing on shelves are kept behind the pharmacist’s counter.
  • Note that U.S. brand names may not be available in France, but comparable products are.  For example, I have found French versions of Dramamine, Tums, Tylenol and Neosporin through discussions with a French pharmacist.
  • In the U.S., drugstores carry everything from t-shirts to toasters.  Not so in France. Rather, pharmacies carry health-care type items.

Second, a Monoprix or other large supermarket.  These stores carry groceries, clothing, office supplies and are a lot more like a U.S. drugstore than a French pharmacy.  There is usually a good selection of low-to-mid priced European skincare.

Third, some large department stores have sections for lower-priced makeup and Euro skin care. I’ve previously discussed Le Printemps.  The Galeries Lafayette carries Revlon, L’Oreal, Art Deco, T. Le Clerc, BeguineBourjois and other lower-priced brands.  Shop carefully, some are identical–although more expensive–than in the U.S.  Also, the French Sephora carries a few lower-priced lines.

Drugstore lines in Galeries Lafayette

Fourth, there are health and beauty stores, which usually have a wonderful selection, gifts with purchases and sometimes promotions.  These are sprinkled throughout, and usually contain the word “parapharmacie”, “sante” (health) or “bien etre” (well-being) somewhere on the storefront.  The staff in these stores are usually quite knowledgeable.  Most of these stores focus on health, skin care and health.  There are usually only one or two makeup lines (such as T. LeClerc).

Fifth, many lines have brand-specific stores.  Sometimes these have no U.S. presence at all, like an all-organic line that I stumbled on in the Marais.  Others are more widely know, such as Yves Rocher. Another is Biologique Recherche, located on the Champs Elysee, reputed to have some of the best skin care in the world although this is reflected in the pricing.  I’m dying to try their P50 toner.  Your best bet for these is to look up the address on the company’s website.

Entrance to Biologique Recherche, 32 Champs Elysees

Keep in mind that some types of products are simply not available in France at all.  For example, skin lightening products that contain hydroquinone cannot be sold under French law.  Finally, keep in mind that most stores are closed on Sundays in Paris.  Although there exceptions for locations that include cultural or historical features (which seems to sweep in several stores on the Champs-Eylsees) and some essential stores (which applies to a few pharmacies), most department and other stores are not an option (except for a few weeks of the year) on Sundays.  Instead, head to a museum, the Eiffel Tower, or other incredible site.

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