Why French Women Never Look Old

Their secret? Diligent skin care, says Tish Jett, an American who has lived in France for nearly 30 years. Here, Jett’s best tips from women who make aging well look easy

by Tish Jett
tish jett image
Photograph: Marianne Rosenstiehl/Sygma/Corbis

3. Baby your skin
All the French doctors and aestheticians I’ve consulted emphasize the importance of being gentle with your skin. Why? Some say harsh treatments may trigger inflammation, and inflammation can make skin age faster. (Note: Chemical peels and lasers are generally less popular in France than in the States, partly because of this philosophy.) “It doesn’t matter whether a woman has sensitive skin or not,” says Gallais. “She must never use harsh products or too much pressure when cleansing. And for the face, exfoliating once a week is plenty.”Marie Serre, MD, a leading French dermatologist, concurs. She even took me into her bathroom to show me her favorite cleanser: Bioderma ABCDerm H20 Solution Micellaire ($25 to $33; amazon.com), a gentle wash specifically made for babies and young children.

4. Don’t stop at the décolletage
For the French, beauty treatments do not end at the neck. They apply the same rigor and discipline to keeping their body skin soft as they do to preserving their faces. Gentle sloughing (I’ve noticed that many women make their own scrub by adding coarse salt to their face cleanser), followed by a body cream, is part of the daily ritual. Then, every couple of weeks in the winter, a French woman designates a night during which she will sleep slathered in lotion. When she wakes, her skin is soft and smooth. Here’s the routine: Slather your body with shea butter or argan oil, paying special attention to elbows and heels. Now slip on a pair of old sweat bottoms, a tee and cozy socks. (And if you are really committed to doing things the French way, don’t ever wear this getup outside your home.)

5. Get your beauty sleep
Though Americans often pride themselves on functioning well on only four to five hours of sleep, for the French, starting your day before the birds is a big beauty mistake. Jean-Louis Sebagh, one of France’s most prominent cosmetic doctors, says sleep repairs the body and minimizes the aging effects of stress.

The French sleep about 8.5 hours a night, according to a 2011 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while Americans get closer to 6.5 hours, a 2013 National Sleep Foundation survey shows. For good skin, shut-eye is clearly important—but if insomnia is an issue (and it is for many women of a certain age), my pharmacist friend Christine Salort likes this natural approach to the problem: “When I can’t sleep, I put three drops of Roman chamomile or neroli oil on a cube of sugar. Trust me, you need the sugar; these oils taste awful. But they do the trick, and I have no trouble falling—or staying—asleep.”  

Tish Jett writes the blog A Femme d’Un Certain Age and is the author of the new book Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance.

Next: 3 Ways to Get Radiant Skin In Seconds

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First published in the November 2013 issue

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