McDonald’s golden arches and the Starbucks mermaid, to the pleasure or dismay depending on who you ask, seem to be as frequent in Paris as in American cities. Another symbol scattered across the City of Lights attracting French and tourists alike is a flashing green cross: the continental European icon for a pharmacy.
French Pharmacy Products in Paris
Now that we are in the dead heat of summer, especially in Paris where we all practically melted in previous weeks, these green signs are like lighthouse beams— guiding both Parisians buying their products before dashing away for summer vacation and tourists looking to pick up celebrated French products they’ve heard so much about.
I decided to hop around the French capital to find pharmacists willing to answer a few questions about their top-selling summer products, typical tourist purchases, whether French pharmacies sway with trends, and if they are another sector of the beauty industry FINALLY acknowledging consumer diversity. A few let me down easy, one or two more harshly, but you can see on the map below which pharmacists indulged me.
- 75016 – an older, wealthier and one of the least diverse parts of Paris
- 75005 – a student hang-out area
- 75003 – a hipster—what the French call “bobo” or bourgeois-bohemian—area, also an incredibly popular tourist destination
- 75010 – a rapidly gentrifying part of the city (technically this pharmacy in the 3rd arrondissement but Strasbourg Saint-Denis looks and feels more like the 10th than the 3rd)
- 75020 – in the process of gentrifying; a more economically and racially diverse part of Paris
Summertime in a city without A/C is not easy living. And according to several pharmacists, it is the heat and what comes with it that drives their summer top-sellers: sun care (specifically La Roche-Posay), anti-mosquito, and eau thermale products. ATPB is already a fan of Avène Eau Thermale. If you are interested in Evian’s version for a fraction of the price you’ll find in the States and a smidge cheaper than a pharmacy, I’d recommend popping into a Monoprix (a higher-end Target).
The Avène brand was highlighted as a top brand more than once, specifically the Hydrance Cream with SPF 20. Also noted was Sanoflore brand, the Crème Magnifica in particular. In the 16th, an older and calmer part of Paris, I was told that anti-aging products are extremely popular, especially Filorga products.
TYPICAL PURCHASES LOCALS AND VISITORS
I find French pharmacies refreshing in comparison to a Sephora, Boots or Walgreens, where product choice can be overwhelming and employees may be too crunched for time to give recommendations and answer questions. All the pharmacists I spoke to said tourists are primarily buying the same products as French customers. One said she had South American clients buying French pharmacy products and mailing them home to their families. Another said Chinese and Korean tourists come in with lists of products recommended by friends, family, and the Internet. Tourists surprised by certain prices tended to turn to the more affordable Bioderma products, one pharmacist explained.
I found that pharmacies choose to carry brands that update their classic merchandise (see Nuxe’s Huile Floral and Klorane’s anti-pollution aquatic mint collection) rather than altering the brands they sell. In fact, I only saw two non-French brands being sold… well, one-and-a-half: Korean brand Whamisa and Korean-French brand Jowaé.
FRENCH PHARMACY PRODUCT DIVERSITY?
This fits with Paris and Parisians’ reputations for being classic and setting trends that never go out of style. (I saw nothing charcoal-related.) But Paris, and France in general, has a fraught history with what constitutes bucking tradition and what it means to acknowledge and embrace diversity.
I asked pharmacists if they carried skincare and beauty products for a variety of skin tones and hair textures. All of them essentially said skin is the same regardless of color, and that their product choices were reflective of such. One pharmacist in the 10th pointed out the single line of products they had for cheveux afro/crépus hair called Phyto Specific. I saw no hair-care products in the 3rd, 5th, or 16th for women of color. In the 20th, a more racially and economically diverse part of Paris, I again saw the Phyto Specific collection and products with shea butter. In comparison, there is a multitude of hair salons and shops in the eastern (10th, 18th, 19th, & 20th) and central part of the city (near Châtelet) that recognize people of color live in Paris.
French pharmacy products are of high quality and deservingly reputable. However, if you are hoping to find the latest à la mode items or those for diverse consumers, following the path illuminated by the green sign is probably ill-advised.
Shop selling products for all types of hair near Châtelet in the 1st arrondissement at 7 Rue Coquillière 75001
Pretty Birds, I would love to hear if there are any other French products you swear by or where you can find more diverse types of products!