Long before K-beauty became a global phenomenon, there was the French pharmacy skin care hype. Back when beauty YouTube was still in its infant shoes, “French pharmacy hauls” were probably one of the most popular videos on the platform, and Americans especially would strongly covet the tubes, jars, and spray bottles with their minimalist white packaging and consciously simple formulas.
One of the amazing things about French pharmacy brands is that they usually have a long and fascinating history of origin, often connected to rural towns with naturally occurring thermal springs said to have amazing skin-healing properties: La Roche-Posay, Uriage, Vichy, and Avène are some of the best-known French pharmacy brands with connections to ancient healing waters.
It All Started With a Miracle
The history of Avène, one of the big giants in French pharmacy, sounds almost like a fairy tale, featuring magical healing rivers, a French marquis whose favorite animal companion gets struck by an incurable skin ailment, and a small rural village seemingly frozen in time where a miraculous healing takes place.
The village of Avène is situated in southern France in the Orb Valley, close to the gorgeous Cévennes National Park, a mountainous region of supreme natural beauty that I love deeply, despite my parents once making me and my sisters hike there in the worst heat wave ever. The Mediterranean Sea is also not far away, making it a popular vacation spot.
Avène’s brand story begins in 1736, when the Marquis de Rocozel’s beloved horse is unexpectedly healed of a painful skin disease after bathing in the Orb river for a week. The marquis was so amazed by this recovery that he decided to purchase the spring feeding the Orb River near Avène, naming it Sainte-Odile Spring. The Avène Hydrotherapy Center soon became a prime destination for those seeking healing from a variety of skin diseases. In 1871, bottles of the Sainte-Odile Spring water were even shipped all the way to the U.S. to help treat burn victims of the Great Chicago Fire.
In 1871, bottles of Avène’s Sainte-Odile Spring water were shipped all the way to the U.S. to help treat burn victims of the Great Chicago Fire.
The Best of Avène Skin Care
Today the brand Avène offers a wide selection of skin care enriched with the same mythical healing water that once saved the marquis’s favorite horse. Their best-known product is, no doubt, the Thermal Spring Water Spray, which is sold at French pharmacies in massively sized bottles, often in packs of two or three, especially beloved during the scorching French summers. Bottled directly at the source to guarantee ultimate freshness, this multi-purpose spray can be used not just to refresh overheated faces, its anti-inflammatory mix of minerals also keeps skin plump and deeply hydrated all year round. Unlike regular water sprays, this doesn’t further dry out skin and can even be used to soothe sunburns or itchy mosquito bites. I also love using it as a makeup fixing spray and keep it in my fridge for an extra kick of freshness in hot weather.
Apart from the Thermal Spring Water Spray, Avène is probably best-known for their Cold Cream range, which I consider to be superior to its luxury rival, the Elizabeth Arden Cold Cream. Especially the Avène Cold Cream Lip Balm is fantastic for very dry, cracked lips, while the original Cold Cream works as an all over body salve, a face cream in extreme weather conditions, or for any areas of the body that need an extra dose of thick occlusion, including reddened winter noses.
I also have a particular soft spot for the Avène Hydrance skin care range, which is formulated with dehydrated, sensitive skin in mind. My dehydrated combo skin is extra fond of the Hydrance Light Hydrating Emulsion, a milky lotion rich in humectants such as glycerin and squalane. I’ve also had a long-term love affair with the Hydrance Intense Rehydrating Serum, which is a lifesaver when my skin is troubled or extremely sensitized.
The Best of Avène Body Care
In terms of body care, the Avène Xeracalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Balm for itchy, very dry, and reddened skin is one of the best product discoveries I’ve made from the brand. I dislike thick, greasy body balms, but the Xeracalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Balm is none of that—it has the texture of a milky lotion and seems to instantly soothe areas of my skin that can get dry and red from the winter cold and indoor air. The Xeracalm Balm takes a tiny bit to sink into skin due to being an intensely nourishing formula, but once it’s fully absorbed, you can almost hear your skin heave a sigh of relief—it just feels more relaxed and comforted, even when taut from dehydration and dryness. A true star product especially for winter care!
The Avène Very High Protection Mineral Lotion SPF50+ is another product I swear by, though I won’t lie to you, it does leave a pretty strong white cast due to its mineral filters. The reason I nevertheless love this sunscreen is that with my sun-sensitive skin and double whammy allergies against both the sun itself and certain sunscreen ingredients that cause rashes all over my skin in strong sunlight, I need to be extra careful what I use when outside for prolonged hours, e.g. when hiking. And, well, once the Avène Very High Protection is on my skin, it basically doesn’t budge, thanks to a strong water resistant and sweat-proof formula. So, this is the number one sunscreen for me whenever I need extra strong but also gentle and sun allergy friendly protection for the harsh outdoors.