This past May, I had the chance to visit Paris in full spring bloom. I have very fond memories from my days studying at Sciences Po but my visit this time round had a different bent. CyberDERM, in it’s earliest days, took a lot of inspiration from the big medical based brands like La Roche-Posay, Avène, Vichy and more. They were the brands of the 90’s that had a lot of credibility and were favoured by dermatologists. We have different formulating philosophies now though since many of these larger French luxury beauty brands have been slower to listen to consumer requests for controversy free ingredients. I was interested to see on this trip what did French offerings look like today. What were French consumers wanting and how were brands delivering? I was asking these questions with the purpose of seeing whether CyberDERM would ever fit. Would it be possible for the cultural beauty exchange to go the other way with a Canadian import into a French market? There does seem to be a whisper of an opportunity, one we will continue to explore. In the meantime, here are the highlights from my trip.
The Pharmacy Culture:
All of the French brands I mentioned took root through the French Pharmacy/Parfumerie system. I capitalize it because if you have ever visited France, you’ll know theirs is a system that has its own unique flavour. I know North American devotees who flock to the French pharmacies whenever they visit in search for those elusive beauty brands they cannot find anywhere else. I feel they differ from our North American versions in being more curated. Space is always a premium in the EU I get the sense that customers feel the brands from these beauty emporiums are also effective. They also normally have the ineffable french quality of a certain understated classicism. I always find it a treat to shop the sunscreens since the EU has access to filters that we do not have like the Tinosorb M and S and ethylhexyl triazone (all of which might pair beautifully with zinc oxide for incredible protection). I also picked up a sunscreen in oil format*, which I think is very interesting. I’m up for any format of sunscreen that increases people’s compliance in actually applying it everyday. I am not a fan of aerosol sunscreens since the alcohol used as a solvent is really hard on skin (and once stripped paint off of my purse)
but a nourishing oil might be of interest. Again, we might start playing around to see if zinc oxide could be used in a similar format. *These are sunscreens with actual substantial filters in them, not tanning accelerators with a token SPF.
The status of sunscreens in the Gallic nation:
Being “the sunscreen company”, I was also of course interested to see what sunscreen use was like here. Isn’t this where sunscreen use was born? Ok, perhaps not but I’ve always considered French women especially to be early adopters of the skincare regimen that included regular sunscreen use. Certainly, there are a multitude of options in the above mentioned pharmacies. Zinc is not popular here though- I didn’t see any options other than Skinceuticals (which is an American import now owned by L’Oreal). I thought for the real scoop I should go to the best beauty experts in the ‘biz’. I stopped by Birchbox France to have a chat with two lovely BF editors. I was surprised to learn from them that they felt women of their generation still relegated sunscreen use to their beach bag. Also while there was a growing concern about ingredients in personal care products, this didn’t necessarily translate into an awareness of the controversies over certain sunscreen actives. We all agreed though that aesthetics are supremely important. No amount of fact filled education would change
consumer behaviour if not accompanied with a proverbial spoonful of sugar (i.e. a pleasant user experience). Could our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25 be just the ticket? It was a question that we all promised to consider and I continue to be a huge fan of the Birchbox FR team and concept. I even got a treat in getting their gorgeous May box.
And finally THE FACIAL:
Here is one slightly dirty little secret, in all my years in the industry and being a daughter of a dermatologist- I’ve never had a facial. I’ve had fotofacials. I’ve had medi-facials and peels. I’ve just never understood the concept of a facial. How effective can the layering of products be in one session? Is it meant to be relaxing and effective? Is this something I really need? I know facial devotees would say I am missing the point. I may not need one but most want them. I still think I would rather have a fotofacial from a qualified professional at least once a year. However, I knew I couldn’t speak with authority without trying one. I therefore went to the one of the Top Rated Spa’s (in the world), the Clarins Spa My Blend in the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Monceau. First, I will say that no one can beat a french spa for atmosphere. I’m sorry to say that I was too shy to take pictures- that would have felt rude and intrusive so you will have to rely on my description. The hotel is a beautiful concoction of panelled wood and elegant drapery. You descend to the basement and the spa beckons like a movie’s vision of heaven. It’s all white and backlit with long corridors. All of which puts you in a very calm and relaxed state of mind. I sipped fresh pressed juice and munched on a selection of nuts and fruit while waiting. I poured over Dr. Clarins musings on skincare and women’s needs. I was greeted by a sweet and down to earth facialist, who paid me the immense quality of thinking I was twenty and not
in need of an ‘anti-aging’ component to my treatment just yet. The facial itself was like being wrapped in warm, white cocoon. There were no extractions (yeah!), just repeated layerings of some of Clarins Professional products. I loved the idea that part of the facial was tailored to my needs on the spot with specialized additives through the stages of exfoliation, gommage, hydration and calming. All in all- an exceptional experience (with macarons served at the end)- I took lots of notes and inspiration in case we open another retail/spa space in the future.