If you thought we hit peak Frenchness, you thought wrong. Thus far, we’ve analyzed the je ne se quoi of French women’s hair washing, facial cleansing, classic pharmacy products, decor, and much more. But we still have so many questions, like what about their mornings? Breakfast, coffee, skincare routines—is there a French way to perfect your AM, even if you live in the middle of America? Turns out, yeah, the French seem to know how to get joy out of every situation, including that early morn.
We chatted with a handful of our favorite French women to discover their secrets to doing it all, while looking impossibly and effortlessly chic, even if it’s 7 am.
Get Up Early (Usually) & Take It Easy
When I think of French women, I think of them enjoying every moment out of life, and that, to me, means a leisurely morning—i.e. they never wake up late and scramble out the door. After interviewing our experts, we can confirm, that yeah, they enjoy their mornings, but they are also working women, with busy schedules. Getting up early to take time for yourself is the trick to a great day.
“I love waking up early to take a long breakfast with my daughter before bringing her to school,” says Barbara Sablon, Director of Communications at Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris. She also tries to make time for an hour-long walk along the Seine River at least twice a week.
That’s not to say sleeping in isn’t coveted, but sometimes having that extra time, even if it’s just 15 minutes, to get ready is just as important. “I definitely like to sleep as much as I can, but I cannot leave home without a minimum of preparation either,” says Clémence von Mueffling, who was born and raised in Paris, but is now a New Yorker, and recently published the incredible (and very informative) Ageless Beauty the French Way. She’s also the founder of the site Beauty and Wellbeing.
“Actually my best days are the ones when I wake up early, see the sunrise, have time for yoga or a slow-paced exercise, (like a walk on the beach, for example) have brekkie, and then go back home for a nap—that’s life,” exclaims Clementine Desseaux, model, entrepreneur, and blogger of Bonjour Clem.
Even taking time to stretch can make all the difference—a practice Nastasia Chevallier, PR & Communication Manager of Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris, swears by: “When I’m not too tired, I like to wake up early and do some stretching or pilates at home, then check my emails and the news on my Le Monde app while having breakfast.”
Classic French Cleansing
We’ve previously learned that almost all French women use micellar water, and we’re happy to report that every women interviewed in this piece lists it as a morning staple. (And three out of our four Frenchies listed Bioderma as their go-to.) Most of them follow up with simple moisturizers for the daytime.
“I tone my skin with a micellar water or toner (such as Filorga or Bioderma), then I spritz some thermal water (from Avène) before applying my moisturizer,” says von Mueffling, who interestingly has a family history in French beauty: both her grandmother and mother were French Vogue beauty directors.
Micellar, that gentle cleansing water, is a morning staple for French model Desseaux, too. “I start with cleaning my face with organic unbleached cotton pads and Bioderma or Tromborg cleanser,” she says. “I add a couple of drops of Odiele dry almond oil for hydration, and voila!”
(Ed note: I’ve been using Odiele oil for a month every morning, and it’s a true delight. It absorbs into the skin like a dream and leaves skin glowing.)
Even for American, but now Frenchie (she’s lived in Paris for 12 years now, and is married to a Parisian) Lindsey Tramuta, author of bestselling The New Paris: the People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement (stay tuned for the follow-up about Parisian women, slated for a 2020 release). “I don’t wash my face in the morning. I only use a toner or eau micellaire, then moisturize with SPF,” she says.
But Parisian Chevallier does use a gentle, energizing cleansing gel in the AM, which she follows with her trusty micellar water. “Cleaning with the gel nettoyant éclat du jour from Clarins, then some eau micellaire from La Roche Posay on a cotton to take off the hard water,” says Chevallier. “Then a day cream, which at the moment, because it’s summer, and I need something light on my skin, is the Sorbet Jeunesse from Dior (and I always tap with two fingers around my eyes).”
Minimal Makeup Makes for Maximum Effect
The trick to French beauty is minimalism. While many things in their regimens appear effortless but actually have some complexity, their makeup routines really are pretty minimal.
That being said, a simplified routine is also an opportunity for self expression. “I know that for many women, the act of putting on makeup is increasingly a way of taking the time for oneself,” says Tramuta. “Makeup is still a major source of personal expression, of self satisfaction.”
“I apply a light makeup, just enough to look feminine but not overdone,” says von Mueffling, who literally wrote the book on French beauty. “I like to put on just a light foundation, a touch of color on my cheeks, a few strokes of black mascara, and my perfume, et voilà!”
“I do VERY minimal makeup if I’m going out,” says Tramuta. She list Bare Minerals matte powder, Benefit under eye concealer, and Dior Lip Glow as her daily musts (Chevallier also swears by Dior Lip Glow—BRB, running to Sephora for our own tube). “I wear more, if and when the mood strikes, and when I have formal events to attend but at the moment, I end up feeling better and freer with less,” says Tramuta.
Even for busy director and mom Sablon, she relies on those classic French musts, like a moisturizing cream by Clarins, a BB cream, blush, and mascara.
Don’t Forget to Eat (Maybe Indulge, Too)
No matter how busy in the morning, they all make time for a quick (or leisurely) bite to eat.
For von Mueffling, she swears by 14 hours of intermittent fasting (meaning if she eats dinner at 6 pm, she won’t eat breakfast until 8 am), so sometimes she eats when she gets to her office in New York. But when breakfast does come around, she takes it pretty simple. “Usually I have oatmeal and add a little dark chocolate in it,” she says. “But I also love a whole wheat croissant or, as a special treat, a pain au chocolat.”
For Tramuta, breakfast is classically French: “I’m a plain yogurt and granola or unsweetened cereal girl… I almost always add fruit—banana or berries, if in season,” says Tramuta. Speaking of classic French, Chevallier usually has a bowl of muesli with dry fruits and soy milk, or a toasted baguette with homemade jam (from her mom, of course).
Model Desseaux mixes it up a bit, eating warming and protein-rich meals in the morning. “After my tea (English Breakfast with French organic honey and almond milk), if I have an at-home morning, I will cook breakfast,” she says. “Fried brown rice and vegetables, veggie burger, half an avo or a GF toast with smashed avo and Greek olive oil—depends on the mood.”
Hair: Less Is More
Ahhh, the French and their bouncy, glossy, perfectly imperfect hair. Well, turns out, their secret is pretty darn attainable. While we have less unison on how often to wash your hair—for some daily, others every two days, and others even less so—the trick to an easy morning is nighttime washing.
“I wash it in the evening every two days because my hair is long, and I wear a braid every night,” says Chevallier. But try this hack at home: “Every morning I put some orange blossom spray I brought from Morocco to comb and detangle, and every two days the L’Oreal Mythic Oil to nourish.”
Von Mueffling is also a nighttime showerer. “Ideally I always prefer to wash my hair at night so that I do not have to spend that extra time in the morning washing and drying my hair,” she says. “In the morning on weekdays, I use my favorite hairbrush from Mason Pearson to give volume to my hair, and I use some clips to hold them back. However, I have a great trick for my bad hair days: I have a headband that looks like a braid made from my own hair, so it gives a false impression of volume!” (Okay, finding this headband ASAP to mimic this look!)
Beyond the time of day, frequency is also important. “French girls don’t wash their hair everyday,” says Desseaux. “The least I wash it the better it gets. I wash it maximum three times a week. Unless I have a shoot that requires fresh hair. I kind of like starting fresh in the morning and wash it then, but I never dry my hair or comb it.”
But, that being said, if you are a daily or morning showerer, you are not alone. “I wash my hair every morning—I know, it is not good, but for me, it is the best way to feel fresh all day,” says Sablon. “Then I brush it once or twice a day, just to put in it order after wearing my motorbike helmet.”
For Tramuta, it’s a mix of both. “I think my hair looks better when I wash it during the morning or daytime,” she says. “But 80 percent of the time, I wash it at night and then sleep on it and wake up with wild waves. In the morning, I used a brush, meant to get out knots, that makes my hair smooth but keeps its movement and flow.”
Embrace Your Age
“In France, women don’t fight their age, but rather try to become the best possible version of themselves,” says von Mueffling. “Instead of trying to look younger, they take measures to look their best for where they are in life. French women are not looking for perfect skin—just great skin—so in the morning their routine is simple but efficient. It is not about hiding lines, but creating an effect of healthy and glowing skin.”
Basically, von Mueffling notes that French women just want to enhance their best features, and embrace their best selves and the whole package—they’re not on a quest for perfection, which is often the unattainable ideal in America.
Tramuta adds that it’s hard to speak for all women in Paris (and she adds the rest of France’s beauty ideals are very different from Paris), but she assures us maybe we aren’t that far off from that French ideal: “Even if they do less to their hair and to their faces, I’m not sure it necessarily takes less time,” she says. “What I will say is every Parisian woman I’ve known has preferred to get extra sleep in the morning than extra time to put on makeup or extra time to do something that is perceived to perfect them. As much as I groan at platitudes like ‘less is more,’ it seems a more apt description of the approach Parisian women take to makeup or fashion than American women in general.”