Monica Ainley De La Villardière notices the difference most when she’s back in Toronto. “I’m like, ‘Wow, my nails are a mess and my teeth are kind of yellow,’” she tells me with a laugh. “But I don’t feel like that in Paris.”

The writer and content creator moved to the French capital in 2016 to join her now husband, whom she met while studying abroad. Instantly, she was struck by the distinct way Frenchwomen approach beauty. “I feel like they’re allergic to looking like they’ve tried too hard, whereas where I grew up—and by the way, there are some incredibly glamorous women in Toronto—there’s this kind of blow-dried, somewhat primped look that’s more prevalent.”

Ah, yes, that much eulogized French insouciance. It seems the country’s motto should really be “Liberté, égalité, effortlessness.” It’s an attitude that has rubbed off on de La Villardière, who admits she probably does less in the beauty department now compared to when she lived in Canada. (Hence why she feels like the only mani-less woman whenever she returns to the 6ix.)

But don’t let the unbrushed hair fool you, says the transplant; Frenchwomen take very good care of themselves, regularly getting facials and other treatments and investing in top-quality products. So, is the whole effortless thing actually a lie? Well, not exactly. Allow some of Paris’ most sought-after beauty experts to explain.


HairLaunchmetrics Spotlight

Of all the hallmarks of French beauty, none is perhaps more coveted than the Gallic mane: sexy, slightly messy and seemingly contingent on having a Parisian postal code. “I think everyone is obsessed with that perfectly imperfect aesthetic,” says hairstylist Delphine Courteille, whose regulars include Jeanne Damas, Inès de La Fressange and Sophie Fontanel. “It’s hair that’s sort of falsely neglected.” The emphasis here is on “falsely,” as it turns out much care can go into achieving the look.

For instance, half of Courteille’s salon, wedged between the Tuileries Garden and the Place Vendôme, is dedicated to a “hair spa,” where clients routinely come in for services such as a “rehab scalp detox and shiatsu massage” or an “ultrasound regenerating treatment.”

“For Frenchwomen, the idea is to really take care of themselves so they have the most beautiful hair in the long term and don’t need to do too much in terms of styling,” explains Shokooh Ossareh, general manager of Paris-based hair brand Christophe Robin. “I’m always impressed when I go to the U.S.—the hair is so done with the perfect waves. You feel like everyone’s just come [from] the hairdresser.”

While Frenchwomen rarely reach for a curling iron or straightener, they devote a lot of time to their hair-care routine. For example, Ossareh notes that conditioner isn’t really a thing in France as it’s largely viewed as a quick fix. Instead, women prefer to apply a mask, taking the extra five to 10 minutes in the shower to allow the product to work its magic. Once a week, many will use a pre-shampoo treatment or scalp scrub. The result is hair that is softer and shinier and doesn’t require high heat or heavy-duty products to be coaxed into submission. “When you follow your regimen meticulously, then the hair looks fabulous on its own,” says Ossareh.

A great cut is also key to having hair that looks fab on its own. When snipping a client’s locks, Courteille will carefully consider their natural texture, facial features and personal style, making the finished product entirely bespoke. She starts by cutting the hair while it’s dry to get a better sense of how it behaves and favours a technique called piquetage, a.k.a. “point cutting,” where the scissors are held vertically to enhance the hair’s movement, soften edges and help layers blend together. “You want to remove bulk but not too much,” she says. “Americans have a tendency to over-layer hair.”

Debating getting bangs? The trick to not regretting them later is choosing the right ones for your face, says the pro. “For example, Jeanne [Damas] has a small forehead and eyes that are quite round, so I cut her fringe shorter in the middle and longer on the sides, whereas Caroline de Maigret has much longer bangs because she has a larger forehead, almond-shaped eyes and a strong nose.” If you’re not sure which style would suit you best, ask your hairstylist (the French are big believers in deferring to the experts) or search for examples of women with a similar bone structure to yours.

Now for how to style your hair. While a successful cut should largely fall into place on its own, not all Frenchwomen are the wash-and-go type, Courteille assures me. That’s why she teaches her clients to blow-dry their hair in a manner that won’t make it look overly coiffed. It can be as simple as twirling some pieces around their finger and setting them with a shot of cold air or putting their hair in a loose bun or braid afterwards for a few minutes to impart some slight bends. “You want to create a nice base and then sort of break it up and introduce imperfections,” she says. A blast of texturizing spray is another surefire way to do this.

Last but not least is colour. The French technique par excellence is, of course, balayage—which means “to sweep”—where highlights are hand-painted onto the hair, keeping much of the base intact. “The effect is much softer compared to foils, which can make highlights look stripey,” says Rémy Faure. “Plus, it requires less maintenance because you don’t get that strong demarcation at the roots,” adds his colleague Louis Trautwein. The Kérastase ambassadors form a duo of in-demand colourists, tending to the strands of many a French cool girl, including a trifecta of Camilles: model Rowe, influencer Charrière and actor Razat, who stars in Emily in Paris. “When we tell American clients they’ll only be due for a touch-up in three months, they can’t believe it; they’re used to going to the salon every five to six weeks,” says Trautwein.

They use a similar technique to cover greys: Rather than applying colour all over, they go in with a brush and only target the parts that need it. “That way, instead of having to return every four weeks, you’ll only need three sessions a year and you’ll get to keep your natural colour,” says Faure. It’s a philosophy that definitely appeals to their local clientele. “As soon as you tell a Frenchwoman that something will require a lot of upkeep, she’s not into it,” says Trautwein with a chuckle.

Kérastase Chroma Absolu Masque Chroma Filler Hair Mask ($85)


Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt ($71)



SkinLaunchmetrics Spotlight

When in the City of Light, art aficionados hit up the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, while hard-core beauty enthusiasts make a pilgrimage to l’Ambassade, Biologique Recherche’s flagship spa on the Champs-Élysées.

The treatment rooms look like Haussmannian apartments, complete with a marble fireplace and mouldings galore, and the facials (now available at many Canadian spas) employ various massage techniques to deeply work the muscles. (If you go for one, don’t be surprised if your cheekbones seem several centimetres higher once you’re done.) Customers are advised to come in monthly for best results, which might seem excessive, but de La Villardière says many Frenchwomen do this kind of thing “all the time.”

Before you lie down and have the jet lag kneaded out of your face, the therapist will ask you a host of questions (such as how you’d rate your stress level, how much sleep you’re getting and what products you use) and analyze your complexion in detail with an arsenal of high-tech instruments. That’s because the cult-favourite brand, launched in the ’70s by biologist Yvan Allouche and his physiotherapist wife, Josette, was built on personalization and the idea of meeting skin in its many possible “instances,” as the couple believed that one’s epidermal needs are constantly changing depending on factors like weather, health and lifestyle.

Biologique Recherche has since become famous for its no-frills skin solutions. Think bare-bones packaging and formulas that can smell kind of funky because no fragrance is used to disguise the sometimes pungent actives. The less-is-more approach feels distinctly French, like Jane Birkin in a T-shirt and jeans.

No product better exemplifies this than the fabled Lotion P50, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The liquid exfoliant—which is brown and smells like vinegar—was the first of its kind: a blend of fruit acids meant to be used daily to even out skin’s tone and texture. “It really brings the skin back to life,” says Pierre-Louis Delapalme, co-chairman of the brand. “That’s why it’s so addictive.” The glow it yields more than makes up for the scent.

Want to see for yourself? To purchase a BR product, you’ll have to make your way to one of its spa partners in your area and undergo a consultation. (It’s another of the brand’s quirks.) Though you can buy the products online, it’s not as simple as clicking “add to cart.” Authorized e-tailers require you to first create an account and then usually answer a few questions about your skin. “One of the biggest mistakes people make [with skincare] is using products without understanding exactly what their skin needs,” explains Delapalme. “It’s a little like choosing a medicine without any advice.” And if there’s one thing to know about Frenchwomen, it’s that they love seeking out professional advice.

I witness this first-hand at Citypharma in Saint-Germain- des-Prés. In Paris’ most famous pharmacie, a multi-storey temple devoted to all things French beauty, one can easily tell the locals from the tourists. The out-of-towners clutch a list of must-buy items they’ve read about online and go about their shopping like they’re on a solitary mission. (Although I do overhear a few inquiring about where to find Embryolisse’s Lait-Crème Concentré—the storied moisturizer happens to be sold out on this particular day.)

The true-blue Parisiennes, on the other hand, are the ones asking the lab-coated attendees questions about what this cream does and which serum would be best for this skin concern. That’s how I spot Julie, a bobbed brunette with a clear complexion and crimson lips. Once she’s done chatting with a saleswoman, I introduce myself and explain that I’m on an anthropological quest to uncover the secrets of French beauty. I ask her about her personal philosophy on the matter. “I’d say as natural as possible,” she replies. “I have my daily rituals. I double-cleanse and moisturize a lot. I also take a supplement for my skin and hair.”

Julie has a five-year-old daughter in whom she’s instilling the importance of self-care, just like her mother did with her. “It’s like anything when raising a child: You set the example,” she says. “She sees me and sees that it’s a pleasure to look after yourself. Some days, you feel like dressing up and putting on lipstick; other days, you don’t, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s no pressure; it’s all about feeling good.”

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré ($45)


Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Pigm 400 ($103)



MakeupLaunchmetrics Spotlight

When Paris-based makeup artist Leslie Dumeix is getting a French client ready, she usually receives the same requests: no heavy foundation, no dark eyeshadow and not too much lipstick. “They’re really into that no-makeup makeup look,” says the pro, who’s worked on many famous faces, including those of Damas and Charrière. “Frenchwomen are very put together and wear makeup,” she clarifies. “They just don’t like it to show too much.”

When it comes to their complexion, for instance, they’ll generally opt for a few dabs of strategically placed concealer rather than an all-over base. Heavy contouring tends to be frowned upon, but a sweep of Guerlain’s Terracotta powder—a product so popular that its name has come to stand in for any bronzer, much the way Kleenex has for tissues—is a staple in many women’s routine.

Take Valérie, an impossibly chic sixty-something I meet in Citypharma. “I do my makeup every day,” she tells me, though she looks like she’s hardly wearing any. “I apply concealer and some Terracotta for a little glow. I fill in my brows a bit and put some colour on my lips, and that’s it.”

Launchmetrics Spotlight

Part of the reason for this less-is-more take is that, as we’ve seen, Frenchwomen are fastidious about caring for their skin. “In France, skincare has always been more important than makeup,” says Dumeix. “Your skin regimen comes first, and makeup is just an add-on.” As such, she always allots a lot of time for skin prep, deeply hydrating and massaging a client’s face before she picks up the first brush.

It seems that—much like if you’re diligent about preserving your hair’s health, you won’t need as many styling tools or products to make it look good—if you really take care of your skin, you won’t feel the need to cover it up. And then makeup becomes just a fun accessory—a way to complete the overall look.

For instance, de La Villardière says one of the best beauty tips she’s learned from her Parisian pals is to always carry a red lipstick in your bag for unforeseen situations. “Maybe you weren’t planning on going to dinner or whatever, but you put on your lipstick and no matter what you’re wearing, you look really elegant.”

Feel free to pat on your lip colour with your finger for a blurred, bouche mordue (“just bitten”) effect, says Dumeix. “It doesn’t need to be pristine.” Another of the artist’s tricks is to wipe her mascara brush before applying the formula. “That way, it’s not as heavy on the lashes,” she explains. “You get definition and length, but it doesn’t really look like you’re wearing mascara.” As the French say, moins c’est mieux (“less is best”).

Guerlain Terracotta the Bronzing Powder ($68)


Les Filles en Rouje la Palette Madame ($69)



NailsLaunchmetrics Spotlight

“When I was a teenager growing up in Toronto, we spent a lot of time at the nail bar,” recalls de La Villardière. “It was fun, but I never get my nails done anymore.” While she has noticed an uptick in nail art on the streets of Paris in recent years, the dominant approach, she says, remains a more subdued one. “France doesn’t have the same culture around manicures as, say, Canada or the U.S., but that’s starting to change,” says Elise Khettat, founder of Le Rouge à Ongles, a line of polishes mostly made of natural, sustainable ingredients.

Khettat’s passion for manis originated in her childhood. Every Wednesday, she and her grandmother would paint their nails together. “It’s always been really meditative for me,” she says. In 2022, she opened a salon, Griffe Paris, in Place de la Madeleine, with the goal of providing employment opportunities for deaf women. She developed a gentle, supremely pampering protocol incorporating ultra-luxe products like Chanel hand cream and Augustinus Bader body oil.

It proved a hit, with Vogue France naming Griffe the number one nail bar in Paris. But when Khettat’s partner got a job in Montreal, she shuttered her studio and packed her bags. Now, residents of la métropole are the lucky ones who get to experience Paris’ best mani. (Khettat still sees devotees, including a slew of celebrities, in her appartement whenever she’s back home.)

Chanel la Crème Main ($80)


Le Rouge à Ongles Nail Polish in Montmartre ($29)


Clients come to her for a classic look, she says: Think reds (from coral to bordeaux) and pinks (blush to raspberry) along with the occasional aubergine, chocolate or black in the colder months. But she’s perhaps become best known for creating extra-glossy “naked” nails: short, rounded and topped with a sheer nude. “I like to keep things as minimal as possible, which is what women often prefer in France,” she says.

Khettat’s main priority, always, is safeguarding the health of the nails, which is why she doesn’t use any gritty buffing blocks or rotary tools or do extensions or acrylics. That way, nails become stronger and more naturally beautiful with every appointment instead of getting increasingly damaged, which can happen with more traditional, abrasive services.

It goes back to that now familiar French tenet: If you care well for something—your nails, your hair, your skin—you won’t have to rely as much on artifice to make it look good. See, it’s not that Frenchwomen don’t make any efforts, insists Ossareh; it’s just that those efforts are usually directed more upstream. “It looks effortless, but it’s actually not at all,” she says, debunking the myth. “It’s just pointing the cursor a bit differently.”