Perfume shops, chocolate stores, lingerie boutiques, pâtisseries… When I’m in Paris, I can’t resist any of them, especially since the fine-tuned French sense of design extends as much to the products as to the window displays. But I will tell you honestly that if I had to pick my favorite shopping ground, it would be a pharmacy. It’s a treasure trove of finds for anyone who loves scented products and skincare, or simply enjoys searching for affordable and interesting brands.
Of course, pharmacies are not a Parisian phenomenon. If you travel in Europe, you will quickly notice stores with a neon green cross. Within two blocks of my apartment building in Brussels there are about 5 or 6 pharmacies. It’s more than a store where you get your medicine. It’s the place where you go to complain about your illnesses, the weather and the lack of government (although in my observation, Belgians don’t complain much about the latter; in fact, they can go for months without electing one). You can also buy skin and hair care products, perfume, soaps, vitamins, and an array of bizarre slimming supplements advertised by close ups of perfectly tanned behinds.
If you’re a skincare junkie, you will enter the pharmacy and feel as if you’re in heaven. Of course, selecting best products is a highly individual decision, as everyone’s skin has different needs and quirks. I can only mention what I personally love for my sensitive combination skin. The dermatologists usually recommend La Roche-Posay, Avène, Auriga, Bioderma, and Louis Widmer, and these happen to be my favorites. They are reasonably priced (€12 to €30) and are formulated to be non-comedogenic and fragrance free. If you’re not sure which product would suit you best, you can always ask the pharmacist. They generally know their lines well enough to offer helpful advice.
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Solution Micellaire (formerly known as Créaline) is an absolute must-have for me. It removes even the most stubborn water-proof makeup, sunscreen, and even perfume easily, and the unscented, gentle formula leaves skin soft and glowing.
I can’t say enough good things about La Roche-Posay products. They have several lines formulated for different skin needs: Toleriane for sensitive skin, Effaclar for problem skin, Cicaplast for flaking, chapped skin, etc. When I first moved to Brussels, my ordinarily well-behaved skin started displaying all of the above. The dermatologist’s advice to use Toleriane cleansing gel, Effaclar K Daily Renovating Treatment (and Louis Widmer Skin Appeal Soin Hydratant moisturizer) improved things within days.
La Roche-Posay’s Redermic is another range that dermatologists frequently recommended. Redermic R contains retinol, while Redermic C includes Vitamin C, important ingredients for rebuilding collagen and minimizing the effects of sun damage. My favorite Vitamin C product is Auriga Flavo C Serum (€32.50), which contains a stable form of Vitamin C. Flavo C has to be stored in a dark, cool place, therefore if you don’t see it on the shelf, you have to ask the pharmacist to fetch it for you. Be warned that it has a strong herbal scent of wet leaves and hay.
Avène is a competitor brand to La Roche-Posay, and many of their products are similar (and similarly good). Professional makeup artists swear by Avène Eau Thermale Water Spray. I use their Eau Thermale Clean-Ac Cream, an oil-free moisturizer, which doesn’t bother my finicky skin. A similar light moisturizer is available from Louis Widmer, a Swiss brand which is slightly more expensive than Avène and La Roche-Posay, but has some elegantly formulated products.
When it comes to sunscreens, I’m once again partial to La Roche-Posay Anthelios range and Louis Widmer moisturizer with sunscreen for the winter. Anthelios is available in a range of SPF protection and formulations suitable for different skin types.
Other Interesting Beauty Products
Lierac, Garancia, and Caudalie Vichy are other pharmacy mainstays, and you will see large displays of these products. Caudalie Eau de Beauté and Embryolisse Eau de Beauté Rosamélis often end up as editor favorites in French magazines. I haven’t used them, but I’ve spotted these 2-in-1 toner and serum products in professional makeup kits.
Another cult favorite is Nuxe Rêve de Miel Honey Lip Balm, a delicately scented balm that leaves lips soft and plump.
Those who love unscented body lotions and creams will find many great choices at the pharmacy. For flaky skin, Biotherm Anti-Drying Body Milk and La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP Lipid Replenishing Body Balm are perfect, and Avène likewise has several excellent options.
The pharmacy is also where you find orange blossom and rose water. Occasionally, you may even see unusual floral waters and hydrosols like linden blossom and lavender.
Every time I visit the pharmacy I walk away with another package of Roger & Gallet soaps. Who can resist the beautiful packaging and impressive collection of scents: rose, linden flower, honey and almond, orange blossom, and verbena? The bars are triple milled and hold their shape well. The scent is rich enough to perfume not only your skin, but also your bathroom. I use sandalwood soap to scent my sweater and linen drawers.
Compagnie de Provence Savon Extra pure vegetal soaps also deserve a special mention. Orange blossom and violet are my favorite scents, and the anticipation of using them makes me more of a morning person than I am.
You willso find a selection of interesting hair care brands at the pharmacy, such as René Furterer and Klorane. Many of my French friends love the scent of Klorane Chamomile Shampoo which they remember using as children. Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk is another beauty editors’ favorite product and an ideal travel companion.
Perfume and Fragrant Oils
My favorite scented pharmacy treat is the oils. I’ve already written about some of the stars such as Caudalie Divine Oil, Klorane Monoi Beauty Oil For Body and Hair, Vichy Nutriextra Extraordinary Oil, Payot Élixir, Les Fermes de Marie Pure Altitude Beauty Oil for Body and Hair, and Roger & Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus Beauty Oil (for more details and descriptions, please see my Perfumed Oils article).
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse is another classic multi-purpose oil, and if you love its monoi-coconut scent, you should try Nuxe Prodigieux Le Parfum. It’s a sweet tiare fragrance, with a creamy musk finish.
Roger & Gallet offers a wide selection of inexpensive and nice fragrances called Eau Fraîche Parfumée. They are available in many different scents such as orange blossom, osmanthus, lavender, ginger, and the classical citrus cologne. Rose Imaginaire is a bubbly fruity-floral that for once tells the truth about its composition–it doesn’t contain any rose, but instead promises to recreate its scent by using jasmine, violet leaves, mandarin and sandalwood. Hence, the name Imaginary Rose. At €38.50, it beats the more expensive and considerably cheaper smelling fruity florals from the luxury department store brands.
Another pharmacy must-have for me is Bien-être L’Eau Parfumée des Familles, a light fragrance with citrus, musk and iris that feels comforting and makes the best cologne bath. At €6 for a 250ml bottle, it’s just too good to pass up.
Most pharmacies are little neighborhood stores, and they don’t carry the full stock of all the products I mentioned. You can either shop around or ask the pharmacist if they can order your desired items. Usually, they are able to obtain them within 6-24 hours. Otherwise, you can visit the large pharmacies City Pharma in Saint Germain, Bailly Pharmacie on Rue de Rome in the 8th arrondisement, or the pharmacy located inside Galerie Lafayette.
What to do if you’re dying to try these products, but a trip to Paris is not in the cards? Check Amazon.com and Ebay. European Ebay sites often carry a large selection of the famous pharmacy brands. New York’s New London Pharmacy also has an excellent selection of the brands I mentioned, along with interesting perfume lines like Parfums de Nicolaï.
More on shopping in Paris: Paris Shopping Guide
Pharmacie Saint Dominique
Address: 88 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France
Tel.:+33 147 05 58 54
Transit: Pont de l’Alma
A great neighborhood pharmacy within walking distance to Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. It has an impressive selection of dried herbs, including black currant leaves (excellent for tea), orris root (available by pre-order) and orange blossom petals. Le Moulin de la Vierge patisserie on the other side of the street is worth a visit for its charming interior and excellent croissants. While you’re in the area, Lemoine is a must-stop for its nougat treats and some of the best cannelés de Bordeaux in Paris, caramelized cakes with a decadent, rum flavored custard interior.
Address: 26 Rue du Four, 75006 Paris, France
Tel.:+33 146 33 20 81
Nearest Transit Stations: Saint-Germain-des-Prés/Mabillon/Saint-Sulpice
One of the larger pharmacies in Paris, where you can find most of the brands I mentioned. One disadvantage is that it can get very crowded.
Address: 15 rue de rome 75008 Paris
Tel. : +33 153 42 10 10
Another pharmacy with a good selection of brands located near Gare Saint-Lazare.
Address: 74 rue Monge 75005 Paris
Tel.: +33 143 31 39 44
Nearest Transit Stations: Place Monge/Censier – Daubenton/Jussieu
This area of the Latin Quarter has plenty to recommend itself: the low-key, relaxed atmosphere, serene Jardin des Plantes, Rue Mouffetard Market sprawling on the oldest street in Paris, and much more. Great selection and friendly, helpful staff are the reasons to check out this wonderful pharmacy.
Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
Address: 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris, France
Tel.:+33 142 82 34 56
Transit: Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette
If you’re in a rush and can only make a couple of shopping stops, Galeries Lafayette is a good option. Its beauty floor has everything, from luxury lines to pharmacy brands. Be prepared for the crowds though, especially if you visit during the high season.
Added July 2013: another great discovery.
Pharmacie des Archives
Address: 2 Rue des Archives, 75004
Tel.: +33 142 78 45 56
Transit: Hôtel de Ville, Saint-Paul
A fantastic pharmacy with some of the most competitive prices around. It’s small but well-stocked, and it’s open on Sunday (a rarity in Paris).
Do you have any pharmacy favorites, in France or elsewhere?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin