Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
I was in a gathering of Frenchwomen the other day and noticed three things. None of the women touched the cupcakes that had been made. Almost all the women were wearing taupe wedges. And everyone had rather lovely hands.
Who knows whether this is down to genetics or slapping on loads of moisturiser, but after talking to dozens of Frenchwomen in London with baby-soft hands, I asked them to name their favourite products.
THE TOP THREE HAND CREAMS (and – shhhh – they’re not all French ….)
1. Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve (150ml), £19 from Kiehl’s
I have been using Kiehl’s for years and was surprised to discover that Frenchwomen love this New York skincare brand, confirming my belief that this is one of the richest, most effective hand creams on the market. It’s amazing largely because it does exactly what it promises, leaving severely dry hands soft for hours at a stretch. It’s made from avocado, eucalyptus and sesame seed and has a wholesome, slightly pharmaceutical smell (Kiehl’s, which was purchased by L’Oréal in 2000, started off as an apothecary in New York’s East Village 160 years ago).
A little goes a long way and although it doesn’t smell as good as Clarins it’s cheaper, pleasingly androgynous and there’s more of it. I usually stock up at Selfridges where the brand’s lab-coated staff are very generous with samples. If you’re heading north, there’s a Kiehl’s shop on the concourse of King’s Cross station.
2. Nuxe Rêve de Miel Hand and Nail Cream (75ml), £10.50 from M&S
I first came across this product with its cute little tree logo in the bathroom of one of my Paris aunts and wasn’t surprised to find that the French in London rate it highly. It has lots of natural ingredients, including honey, almond oil, avocado and shea butter, and has a wonderful, slightly floral smell. Nuxe is an award-winning French skincare line that isn’t well known here but was started by a pharmacist in France in 1957 and appears to be on the rise in the UK (M&S, which has recently revamped its once-dowdy beauty hall, is now stocking it).
The French are also mad about Nuxe’s top-selling product, Huile Prodigieuse (£17), a multi-purpose oil made up of 30% plant oils and vitamin E that’s designed for use on both skin and hair and is available in a ‘Golden Shimmer’ version that’s pure footballer’s wife. If you’re looking for a bit of TLC in Paris and have money to burn, Spa Nuxe was recently voted best overseas day spa by readers of Condé Nast Traveller.
3. Clarins Hand and Nail Treatment Cream (100ml), £21 from Boots
This top-selling cream from the French luxury skincare brand Clarins is so well-known I almost left it out on the grounds that it was just too obvious to include but the fact is it’s popular for a reason. It promises to soften hands, target age spots and strengthen nails but its real USP is that it smells divine, feels luxurious and comes in lovely packaging. It has extracts of myrrh and Japanese mulberry (please don’t ask me how that differs from bog-standard European mulberry) and is non-greasy and nicely textured. But in my view it performs less well than Kiehl’s.
Not everyone agrees with me. When I email one caramel-blonde Parisian to ask her which hand cream she uses she sends me a six-word reply: ‘The one and only is Clarins.’ Perhaps you have to be 100% French to really get it. Clarins is after all a company whose popular products include special gels and lotions for the bust, as well as dedicated creams for the neck and décolleté. There is even a body shaping cream and something rather fierce-sounding called ‘early wrinkle correction.’
My favourite Clarins product, the Beauty Flash Balm (£29), is sold once every 20 minutes worldwide. I discovered it in my mother’s bathroom cupboard aged fifteen and have lusted after it ever since.