Just when we think we’ve figured out that je ne sais quoi that makes French women so unapologetically chic, we hear another tip that makes us obsessed all over again. (And makes us question why we don’t just drop everything and move to France?) There’s no denying: French girls got it figured out when it comes to their skincare and beauty regimens.
While chatting with Bordeaux native and Caudalie skin care specialist Melissa Sarps (at Caudalie’s chic Meatpacking spa), she divulged the simple, gentle way most French women exfoliate. (Keyword being “gentle.”)
“A lot of French women are going to use chemical exfoliation, but very light ones,” says Sarps. We all know that exfoliation is great, but how to do so responsibly is a challenge for many women. So what kinds of chemical exfoliants does Sarps recommend? “Like glycolic acid, but a low concentration, so it’s just going to help get rid of the excess of dead skin cells, and help to brighten the skin—that’s it. We don’t want to get rid of the top layer of skin.”
Glycolic acid is a great place to start, as it’s the smallest molecule of the alpha hydroxy acid family (which also includes salicylic and lactic acids). On top of being gentle, glycolic is also especially great at improving skin’s appearance and building collagen. When used correctly, this form of exfoliation can dramatically improve skin tone, texture, firmness, and radiance, while also minimizing the appearance of pores and reducing sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and old acne scars.
This gentle chemical POV is vastly different from the traditional way most Americans exfoliate, which is basically the belief of “kill it with acid.” Sarps says Americans tend to be a lot harsher when exfoliating, but it’s important to note that irritation doesn’t mean it’s working. Irritation and inflammation are actually two of the biggest causes of aging to skin, so let’s take a page from the French and be more gentle.
Best practice for usage is to use it at least once a week, depending on your skin type. For dry skin, Sarps recommends just once a week, and someone with oily skin should use it twice a week. Here are a few of our very favorite ways to exfoliate via chemical formulations.
The Beginner’s One
Perfect for beginners, it’s basically a 101 intro to exfoliation. It’s gentle, quick, efficient, and cost-effective (that tube will last at least a year).
The Overnight One
This exfoliating serum has a 10-percent lactic and glycolic blend, making it still gentle but a step up. Let’s call it Exfoliation 201. This is different than a mask, too, as you leave it on overnight—using for three nights consecutively, then three nights off.
The Intermediate One
This baby has got a potent blend of four alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid from pineapples, lactic acid from passion fruits, citric acid from lemons, and tartaric acid from grapes) to gently dissolve dead skin cells and boost your natural collagen production. This one tingles a bit, but is still gentle while being highly effective.
The Potent, K-Beauty One
The cult-classic blue-tinted mask somehow toes the line between wildly effective yet completely non-irritating—in other words, it’s magic. The formula has the maximum allowance for at-home glycolic products (10 percent), yet is balanced with super-soothing and hydrating ingredients like aloe, so it exfoliates but doesn’t strip skin. It majorly tingles, but just know it’s hard at work de-gunking pores and dead skin cells.
Keep on French’ing:
This story was originally published in March 2018 and has since been updated with new information.