French Pharmacy is such a thing—like, so intriguing and so coveted, yet so overwhelming, especially if you’re committed to mostly natural products. Our readers have been asking for Julie’s thoughts on this subject for a long time, so on the tails of our In Fiore Voyages: Paris story, we thought we’d give you exactly what you want (with some herboristeries thrown in for good measure—because, naturally). So, let’s get right into it.
The Parisian pharmacy with the most extensive collection and best pricing is City Pharma. But be warned: shopping here is a bit of a shit-show. It’s always packed—in a wall-to-wall-shoppers kind of way—so it's important to go prepared with a general sense of what you’re looking for and an emergency hit of CBD, if needed. (If crowds are definitely not your thing, there are pharmacies every few blocks across Paris, so you have many alternatives.)
One thing to be aware of when shopping is that most of the famous French pharmacy products aren’t natural and tend to include minuscule amounts of parabens. In Europe, they believe that not all parabens are harmful to you and still use some in their products—it’s a very different mentality than the US.
Here’s my strategy: The first floor of City Pharma is all French pharmacy skincare brands, so upon arrival, I walk up the stairs to the “pharmacy" where the naturals live—minerals, essential oil-based products, wellness, teas, supplements, and the like. I suggest taking your time combing the shelves. I’m obsessed with ampoules—or what they call “Granions.” Research the minerals you are interested in and bring a list. My favorites are Sulphur, Zinc, Selenium, and D’Or.
Most of the time these ampoules are not on the floor, so you’ll have to go to the pharmacy counter and request them. This is because they’re considered medicinal and intended for internal use, but in France, women also use them topically “to teach their skin to drink” and to replenish essential minerals to correct and restore imbalances in the skin. Ampoules are my main pharmacy purchase, along with a few tubes of Ialuset, a high-potency hyaluronic acid crème. (You also have to ask for this at the pharmacy counter.) While the cream is not 100% natural, I love it. Kristina Holey introduced it to me—she uses it as a thick mask for fast healing.
I’m also a fan of herboristeries or natural “bio” beauty shops (reference Voyages: Paris for my favorites). One of the best I’ve found is a chain called La Vie Claire—which has the most comprehensive assortment in France. Some are more food-focused than product-focused, so you’ll want to do your research for the best selection.
Honestly, my favorite bio-focused shops are in the South of France. I tend to only shop the natural beauty stores in Aix En Provence, and have to say—if you feel so inclined and have the time, it's a very worthwhile day trip from Paris (around three hours by train). Aim to arrive at 10 am, explore, shop, and eat to your heart’s desire, and you’ll be back in Paris by evening. Plus, the train ride is beautiful—get a seat on the upper level for views of the countryside and the wildflowers, depending on the time of year.
The center of Aix has several natural beauty stores. I’ve found the staff in all of them to be amiable and extremely helpful, so I suggest lining up with a salesperson and having them tour you through the store. You will want to focus on infused oils—beta-carotene, calendula, comfrey, arnica, and silica, to name just a few. (You’ll quickly realize how In Fiore is very “French.” They go crazy for our Botanical Solutions.)
Herboristeries are an excellent place to shop for herbal and homeopathic remedies. If available, I love essential oil blends by Docteur Valnet (Jean Valnet), a medical doctor and practitioner of aromatherapy for more than 30 years, regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on essential oil therapy. I’ve been using his alg-essence bath for decades. And French beauty tip: be sure to pick up some rosemary tea. Apparently, it’s a French secret for beautiful skin—due to rosemary’s high antioxidant properties and gently cleansing action on the liver. (If you’re not traveling anytime soon, you can buy it in the U.S. here.) And, by the way, that tip came from Violette. So yeah, we’ll have what she’s having.