Whenever I travel to France to visit my husband’s family, I always make a point of researching skin care while I’m there. I get facials, talk with estheticians, attend trade shows and visit pharmacies where an abundance of French skin care lines are sold. I’ve long been fascinated with learning how the French care for their skin because it’s part of my heritage (my father’s side of the family is French Canadian), they practically invented the facial and it’s such a big part of their beauty culture. There is no shortage of facial salons (called Institut de Beauté) and French girls begin getting facials at a young age.
So what’s it like for me, an esthetician with 25 years of hands-on experience, to have a facial from someone else? Well, on my most recent visit, I had a facial at a renowned skin institute. I have read about this place for years as giving one of the top facials in Paris so I was excited to go and experience it for myself. One of the things I had heard about their technique is a massage they do inside your mouth. They claim that by working on all joints of the face (inside and out), the lifting effect of a facelift is given.
When I emailed to inquire about an appointment, I was surprised at the price of the treatments. An appointment with the owner is the price is 1300 euros (about $1700 USD). With her first assistant, it’s 690 euros (about $900 USD) and with the second assistant, the cost is 490 euros (about $640 USD). I’ve had many facials in France but never at this high price. I decided that $640 was more than plenty to pay for a facial so I scheduled with the second esthetician. At that price, my expectations were very high. After all, I charge $450 for a skin treatment when and that’s considered high by U.S. standards. My estheticians are significantly lower. One nice part about this Paris facial salon is that no matter who you have your appointment with, it’s a two hour facial, which is longer than most.
Whenever I have a facial with someone else, I usually never tell them that I’m an esthetician. Not because it’s a big secret, estheticians get facials from other estheticians all the time, but simply because I want to truly be just a regular client and not get into a conversation about work.
My esthetician was very nice. She spoke a little English and I speak some French so we were able to communicate fairly well. I had filled out a facial intake form with details about my skin and she started the treatment by reviewing them with me briefly and asked clarifying questions. She was surprised I was age 44 and told me I looked 35. Yay! The treatment itself was very basic. It included cleansing and exfoliating with an electric rotating facial brush. The brushes are an older technique based on physical exfoliation that I personally haven’t used in over 20 years, but are still commonly used in France. Most of the American facials switched over a long time ago to using chemical exfoliants (light enzyme and acid peels), microdermabrasion, and ultrasonic exfoliation as these give better results than simply just rubbing a brush over the skin.
Extractions were performed to clean out my pores (no steam was used beforehand) which my skin always needs to control bumps and blackheads. French estheticians tend to be pretty aggressive with extractions which I appreciate but some American estheticians won’t even do them anymore. Many American estheticians feel like exfoliants (peels) and machines can clear out the pores without having to squeeze at the skin but I don’t personally agree with this philosophy. I am a believer that as long as the skin is properly softened up beforehand to avoid red marks, manual extractions is the most effective way to remove clogged pores.
The facial massage was long and thorough–about 30 minutes. French estheticians really believe in performing a long and extensive massage to increase blood flow to bring new nutrients to the skin. Many French men and women smoke and even if they don’t, they are exposed to tremendous amounts of second-hand smoke, so increasing circulation through massage is helpful to get the skin glowing. She massaged my lips a lot which was different, but nice. I never received the massage inside my mouth which they are known for. When I filled out the intake form, they had asked if I had dental surgery and I wrote that I recently had a root canal so I’m assuming this is why she didn’t do it, although I wouldn’t think this would matter. I never asked her why she didn’t do it and truthfully, I’m not sure if I really missed out on anything miraculous but who knows.
The facial concluded with a cream-based mask that was brushed on my face and neck and a tingly lip mask was applied. I loved the idea of applying a lip mask as that is part of the face. I might just incorporate that into our facials! After 15 minutes, everything was removed with a hot towel and moisturizer was applied. She told me to get changed and to meet her out front.
When I was changing, I observed my skin in the mirror and it looked pretty and glowy and felt nice. However, she did break one of my capillaries under my eye. I guess she got too close to the skin under my eye when she did extractions, but thankfully it disappeared a few days later. I never, and teach my estheticians the same, to not extract in that thin eye area.
I went out front and she proceeded to talk to me about products to use at home. I had told her that I use an acid serum (BHA Clarifying Serum) twice a week and on alternate nights I use a product with retinol (Advanced Resurfacing Serum). She told me that those were too harsh for my skin and to completely stop using them. (Wait, she said I looked ten years younger for my age, so isn’t what I’m doing working?) The French believe in minimal exfoliation and it’s usually with traditional facial scrubs so this is the philosophy she promotes. She told me “Americans can be excessive with their skin care routine” and that I should be gentler and keep it simple.
Sunscreen was never recommended. No surprise here. Wearing sunscreen daily is something I have never heard French estheticians promote as they don’t practice it themselves. Sunscreen is reserved for visits to the beach. One esthetician told me years back “You Americans are into that sunscreen thing.”So all in all, my facial was average. Truthfully, it’s hard to dazzle me as I have so much experience but I try to keep open-minded. But there just wasn’t much to it. It was a traditional facial (and a very expensive one) with no bells and whistles but my skin did look good and needed the attention after a nine hour airplane flight, so I was pleased about that.
I have talked a lot about French skin care on my blog and when I’m in the hands of a French esthetician, I’m reminded of how the American approach to skin care is better, at least in my opinion. I do believe however, that how they live and how they eat is so much better than in the U.S. and it may be one of the reasons why I rarely see French teens or adults with acne.
Every esthetician, no matter where they live, has their own personal beliefs about how the skin should be cared for and all estheticians are sincere in their quest to help others have beautiful and healthy-looking skin. It’s usually the reason they got into the skin care profession in the first place.
If you’re an esthetician, I highly encourage you to schedule a facial elsewhere. Put yourself in the shoes of being a client as there is always something to learn, and learning means growing.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”