Beauty Squad member Julia Coney is on a journey to uncover women's beauty secrets from around the world. For this edition of the series, she travels to Paris to find out from a good friend what keeps her looking her best.
I have been traveling to Paris for years and have always been fascinated by that French je ne sais quoi. Parisian women have an unparalleled confidence that is admired and envied throughout the world. But what I've learned over time is that mystique is a result of a belief that beauty takes work. "Taking care of yourself is the most important Parisian beauty lesson," explains my French friend, Maite Penna.
Makeup Mantra: Flawless Skin
At the center of Parisian beauty is healthy and clear skin. "Regular visits to the institute for deep cleaning and skin-pampering facials are part of the French woman’s beauty routine,” Penna says. French institutes are similar to American day spas, but Parisian women see a visit to them as part of their skin-care maintenance rather than purely as a relaxing treat.
Between visits, they frequent pharmacies to stock up on various moisturizers, anti-aging potions and plumping creams that are used to enhance the skin. In the course of my travels, I've learned a technique for making face creams better penetrate the epidermis. French institutes believe in slightly pinching the face in an upward motion after applying a moisturizer. They say this helps ensure their ever-popular products, like Lancôme Absolue L'Extrait Regenerating Ultimate Elixir, will be worth every scoop out of the jar.
With all this preventive skin care, young women typically eschew face makeup. Older women might use a product with lightweight coverage. A good option for everyday wear is La Roche-Posay Hydreane BB Cream, if you can get your hands on it (it is currently only available in France). Still, Parisians often let their natural skin shine through.
Beauty Buster: Time
As for many women, a main beauty concern for Parisian women is dialing back the clock and slowing down the natural aging process. Their philosophy, however, is to age gracefully. At the root of this philosophy is a systematic anti-aging routine that starts in their early 20s. One product that is essential to their anti-aging arsenal is a serum. The serums that Parisian women flock to are ones that are chock-full of highly concentrated anti-aging ingredients, protect the skin and offer antioxidants. They apply them religiously day and night to thwart future lines and wrinkles, rather than to fight existing signs of aging.
Facial Focus: The Red Lip
A statement lip is a must in every French girl’s daily routine and red rouge is always en vogue. “We love color and a red lip is what we do well,” Penna says. Rouge Baisir lipsticks are a cult favorite among beauty circles. The lipsticks are highly pigmented, come in a variety of shades and are long-lasting. Rouge Baisir's reds are what the line is most known for, and the brand offers a scarlet hue to match virtually every woman's skin tone. This lipstick is exclusive to Monoprix stores in Paris, but a good alternative is L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Lipcolour in British Red.
The Crucial Cosmetic: Fragrance
Scent is more than a love affair in Paris; it’s a way of life. The smell of fragrance is everywhere in the City of Light. “Every woman has various scents for each of her moods," Penna says. "You don’t wear the same clothing every day, so why would you wear the same scent?” There are many fragrances exclusive to Paris, including Le Labo Vanille 44, a sexy warm scent with amber and vanilla bourbon accords. YSL has also bottled the scents of the famed city with its Paris and Parisienne fragrances. Paris is a mature option with its rich and emphatic florals, while Parisienne is decidedly more wistful and youthful with its powdery rose-violet notes. Perhaps the most quintessential of French fragrance is the ladylike Chanel No. 5. With its signature notes of rose, iris and aldehydes, it's a timeless classic (and also happens to be the world's best-selling perfume).
Unlike the overly coiffed aesthetic in many other parts of the world, Parisian women have hair that stays in place while still embracing movement. There are no helmet heads or super-structured styles here. Their secret to touchable softness is L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Hairspray, which has one of the best combinations for hold and manageability on the market. For years I would stockpile Elnett for my friends and myself because it wasn’t available in the United States. Today I'm happy to report that this iconic hair spray is now readily available nationwide.
Photo: Thinkstock (map); courtesy of Maite Penna (portrait); courtesy of the brands (products)