French Beauty Secrets Explained: Skin Care Expert Shares Advice, Tips in New Book

Mathilde Thomas shares French-inspired beauty tips and advice in her new book.

The books covers skin care science – including which ingredients work, which don't and which could be harmful, makeup, hair care and advice on relaxation and living a happy life.

Go to the end of this excerpt to see Thomas' recipes for an egg yolk and rum hair mask, healthy nails potion, a crushed Cabernet body scrub and an avocado and honey face mask (which may also be used on your hair).

Book Excerpt


I grew up in Grenoble, a French village nestled at the foot of the French Alps where the air was pure and clean and the mountain water icy crisp. My parents, Daniel and Florence Cathiard, my younger sister, Alice, and I lived on a farm with my maternal grandparents, Yvonne and Maurice, where we tended a vegetable garden and raised chickens and bees. My grandfather took me hiking all over the mountains, pointing out which plants were edible and which mushrooms were toxic, which herbs could cure a tummy ache and which would staunch a wound, which smelled intoxicatingly minty and which were so pungent they made my nose run.

I was lucky to have grown up in that magical place. Even though my grandparents were teachers and spent much of their time correcting papers and reading, they understood how to be one with nature, and they infused my childhood with their knowledge of plants and all growing things.

This was also the place where I learned my first beauty secrets.

Even though we lived far from the high-end commercial fashion world of Paris, we had access to dozens of the best beauty regimens right in our own backyard. My grandmother would make a luscious facial mask from the honey in the beehive at the corner of our garden and would always be certain to gently pat some on my cheeks whenever she applied it to her own, because she knew how soothing and clarifying it was. She'd whip up a super-moisturizing and nourishing hair mask from fresh, green, pungent olive oil and rum and we'd sit together, giggling at the scent, till our hair was saturated. She recognized early on how much I loved different fragrances-we would do blind tastings of different herbs, like tarragon, thyme, basil, sage, and mint, and I could always differentiate them, even as a very small child-and wasn't surprised at all when I told her I wanted to work in the beauty business.

As I grew older my grandmother and mother started teaching me their time-tested secrets to looking and feeling beautiful, inside and out—secrets they had learned from their own mothers. I was taught that beauty is not something you turn to in a panic when a wrinkle or pimple appears, but that it's far more important to see it as a ritual, figuring out what routine works best and carrying that with us through our lives. I used those lessons as well as my love for the natural world when my husband, Bertrand, and I founded our skincare company, Caudalie, in 1995, and they were reinforced whenever I returned to the Alps, or went to the vine­ yard in Bordeaux that my parents bought in 1990.

But it wasn't until Bertrand and I moved with our children from Paris to New York City to grow Caudalie USA in 2010 that I realized that the French attitude toward beauty was not the same as the American one. Learning about and understanding these nuances was absolutely fascinating to me, and as I traveled all over the country, visiting many of the 350-plus Sephora, Nordstrom, and Blue Mercury stores that carry Caudalie products, meeting personally with thousands of customers that year alone, I realized that American women could benefit from a little of my French beauty wisdom. That while millions of them consider beauty a priority in their daily routine, many of their habits are either too complicated, too expensive, too painful, or simply not effective. That is what inspired me to write 7he French Beauty Solution.

"How do you do it?" these lovely women would ask. "How can I be more, you know, like the French?" I'd laugh and say it really wasn't all that complicated, only to be met with skeptical smiles.

The women I spoke with would tell me how in awe they were of French stylishness, and I'd tell them how much we envied their beautiful teeth and gorgeous hair.

The more I talked to consumers, the more easily I could clarify what precisely differentiated the French beauty philosophies and habits from the American ones. I learned, of course, that one was not necessarily better than the other, but they were indeed different, and those differences, I believed, were causing the dissatisfaction among the Americans I spoke to. For the French, our beauty routine is predicated on prevention and upkeep and is regarded as an essential, ongoing investment. What I saw here, however, was much more of a tendency toward the quick solution. I was astonished at the inventiveness of ads extolling the next miracle in a jar — which, because these miracles are nonexistent, often lead women to spend a lot of money on a product only to give up on it when it doesn't solve their problem immediately. And this is precisely what causes so many of the skincare issues women come to talk to me about in the first place-because even the best products need time to work!

Many of these women confessed that they made their beauty choices based on the erroneous notion of no pain/no gain, a deeply American concept that sometimes seems to be conquering the world. They'd tell me about shoes that pinch, crash diets that left them light-headed, and skincare products that irritate their skin­ because they felt they had to suffer to be beautiful!

Mon Dieu! I say to that, because the French notion of beauty is quite the opposite. We believe beauty is something to give you pleasure. Because when you feel good, you always look good. And what could be more pleasurable than a sinfully rich homemade honey face mask that costs pennies and takes one minute to whip up before leaving your skin shining, smelling delicious, and feeling like velvet? Or how about a glass of delicious red wine with your dinner to help you relax and fill your body with antioxidants that keep aging at bay? The notion of beauty should be, well, beautiful and pleasing to you above all. This is the biggest difference between the American and French approaches to beauty solutions.

I've spent the past two decades engrossed in the study of beauty and wellness, continually studying and testing (I've tested some products more than two hundred times!), educating myself on which ingredients pack the most punch while being affordable and as natural and safe as possible-a testament to the lessons I learned growing up.

Even with my upbringing and early lessons in beauty, I would not be writing this book if it weren't for an unexpected encounter I had on a lovely cloudless October day in 1993. My then boyfriend, Bertrand, and I were staying with my parents at their vineyard, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, to help them with the harvest when a group of scientists from the University of Bordeaux paid us a visit-the vineyard is only a fifteen-minute drive from the center of Bordeaux and is a lovely place to visit, especially in the fall. These scientists were studying the chemical molecules and proper­ ties of grapes and grapevines, so it made sense for them to come to the place where some of the best grapes in the world are grown in order to make the best wines.

I was twenty-two and very curious to find out what aspects of the grapes had piqued the interest of university researchers, and my father connected the dots for me-he knew that one of the scientists, Professor Joseph Vercauteren, was researching grapes and the vines leftover after the harvest (and he also knew, of course, of my interest in the beauty business and that Bertrand wanted to create his own company). Bertrand and I met them among the grapes, and one of the scientists picked up a few of the grape stalks and a handful of grapes that had fallen on the ground and smiled.

"Do you know that you are throwing away treasures?" he said, meaning the grape seeds that are sent to the distillery after the harvest, once the grapes are pressed.

That was my introduction to Professor Vercauteren, the head of the Pharmacognosy (the study of medicine derived from plants) Laboratory at Bordeaux University of Pharmacy. Nor did I know he was one of the world's leading experts on polyphenols, an anti­aging compound found in grapes and grapevines. (I didn't even know what a polyphenol was!) Or that this simple concept would lead to my life's calling: an all-natural beauty revolution based on the luscious, gorgeously ripe purple fruit hanging from the twisting vines that surrounded us.

Professor Vercauteren told Bertrand and me that he had recently discovered that grape polyphenols were the most potent natural antioxidants produced by nature, especially resveratrol, the polyphenol found in grape skins, seeds, and stalks. He believed resveratrol could enhance the life span of cells and help people live longer, healthier lives, which is why he was visiting vineyards. He was on a quest to harness these polyphenols so they could be put to their maximum use.

We chatted some more and ended up discussing what is known as the French paradox. This was all the rage at the time thanks to a recent episode of 60 Minutes featuring scientist Serge Renaud (from Professor Vercauteren's alma mater), who had discussed the fact that although the French drink more red wine than practically anyone else (Italians are a distant second!) and consume a diet replete with rich food like cheese, butter, and beef, they nevertheless have the lowest level of cardiovascular disease in the Western world. What could account for it? The answer was all around us: the regular, moderate consumption of red wine. Professor Vercauteren explained that many of the health benefits of the French diet were found in the antioxidant polyphenols in red wine-the very same compound he was studying.

As soon as we heard that, Bertrand and I threw each other a glance. Bertrand had always had an entrepreneurial edge to him, and I had been studying near Grasse with different "noses" (the term for a fragrance expert) in the hopes of pursuing a career in the fragrance and skincare business. The conversation with Professor Vercauteren got us thinking. Here we were, with all these resveratrol-rich grapes at our fingertips-why not explore what polyphenols might be capable of doing for something beauty-related?

So we set up a second meeting with Professor Vercauteren for the very next day. We continued to discuss the French paradox, and he elaborated on his research. He told us that he'd been working on a medication called Endothelon, designed to improve blood circulation, that was made from grape-seed polyphenols and had been doing the scientific work necessary to receive the French equivalent of FDA approval for the drug. He took the research a step further by stabilizing the polyphenols with a fatty acid, making them more bioavailable. Before Professor Vercauteren's patented discoveries, the only way to use polyphenols was to ingest them, but he had figured out a way to use them topically. Not only that, but he was also able to stabilize the polyphenols so that they would stay potent and to patent his process-this patent was vitally important because it was the only way that polyphenols could effectively be used as anti-aging wrinkle fighters in skincare products.

Something about our youthful eagerness and determination must have intrigued this brilliant scientist, because we somehow managed to convince him to work with us. In 1994, Bertrand and I quit the jobs we loved, and from that unassuming day in the sun, a global skincare empire — our life's work, Caudalie — was born.

From day one, I wanted Caudalie to be based on the same principles that surrounded me in the Alpine village of my child­ hood: the best of nature, eating well and breathing in pure clean air, being comfortable in your own skin as you hiked up a mountain trail, and studying hard to understand the power of science and the world around us. We launched our company in 1995 with two creams and a dietary supplement produced in very small quantities. From these humble roots to today's boutiques and spas, we have worked incredibly hard to build a globally successful business.

I hope you will see 7he French Beauty Solution as the very best of the French attitude toward beauty and skincare filtered through my experiences of learning what American women truly want. I have dedicated my life to discovering and harnessing the most potent ingredients from nature, and this book is infused with that knowledge as well as incredibly useful tips from some of the best beauty scientists, estheticians, and professionals around the world.


This book is divided into five parts. The first is about how your lifestyle affects your beauty, and the remaining four include practical tips so you can easily apply the French beauty philosophy to your daily routine.

Part 1 is loaded with advice on how to live a happy and healthy life the French way. Chapter 1, "The Essence of French Beauty," is an overview of my philosophy and the Pleasure Principle, and in it I discuss iconic French beauties and how we feel about aging with grace. Chapter 2, "Eat Like the French for a Gorgeous Glow," discusses our attitude toward food and explains how what you put in your body affects the outside as well. I eat tasty and nourishing food that energizes instead of drains-and these meals provide just what my skin needs, too. You'll learn not so much what to eat, but how to eat, not only to improve your skin from the inside out, but also to gain optimal nutrition without gaining weight. Chapter 3, "Relaxation ala Française," shows you how to recharge your­ self while improving your health at the same time. We require a lot of energy to manage everything we need to do-get to work, take care of the kids, run the household-and I know I need to take care of myself if I want to stay healthy and be the best possible mom, wife, and entrepreneur I can be. Have you ever looked at someone who was tired and frazzled and thought, "She's beautiful!" I think non.

Part 2 tackles the science behind skincare. Chapter 4, "How Your Skin Ages," gives you the basic facts on how the largest organ of your body works. Chapter 5, "Your Guide to Skincare Ingredients," will teach you which ingredients work, which don't, and which may even be dangerous to your health. This way, you can treat all your skincare concerns without succumbing to false advertising or shelling out money for useless products.

In Part 3, I show you how to adopt an effective skincare routine, and I provide recommendations designed to streamline your approach to meet your unique needs. Chapter 6 is about your face and neck, and chapter 7 deals with your body (including hands, feet, and nails) as well as the importance-and luxury-of fragrance. In chapter 8, you'll find a variety of homemade recipes for your skin, many based on treatments that have been tested and are favorites both in our Caudalie spas as well as throughout France. Chapter 9 in part 4 will teach you everything you need to know about how the French do their makeup, and chapter 10 is devoted to haircare. I share my favorite tips and those of professionals so that you can use makeup to enhance rather than mask your innate beauty, and you'll be able to streamline your hairstyling, too.

Finally, chapter 11 in part 5 shows you how a simple three­ day grape detox can be revitalizing and therapeutic. Many people have no idea how to do a cleanse properly and too many are trying to do so in dangerous ways. I teach you how to reap the most benefits with a few days of targeted eating. All the information shared in this book has been tested at our Caudalie Vinotherapie Spas since 1999-and our clients have been enjoying the effects of our Grape Cleanse long before the recent liquid detox craze began.

Et voila! Let me share my secrets with you!


Healthy Nails Potion

This potion will nourish and repair your nails.

1 tablespoon Argan oil

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 to 2 drops lemon essential oil

1 to 2 drops geranium essential oil

1 tablespoon honey

1. Mix all ingredients together.

2. Apply to nails as needed, and rub it in well.


This amazing recipe was handed down to me from my grandmother. It's not the most elegant mixture in the world, but it is very effective. It will leave your hair incredibly nourished, super shiny, silky, and with loads of body.

Egg Yolk and Rum Mask

2 beaten egg yolks

5 tablespoons dark or light rum

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup grape-seed oil


Crushed Cabernet Scrub

The great thing about this scrub is that you can customize it to your liking. Adding more sugar means more buffing power; adding more grape seeds (which give it its name) means more scrubbing power. It smells wonderful as is, or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil for its therapeutic properties and luscious scent. Try lemon, geranium, rose, lavender, rosemary, or sandalwood.

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

2 tablespoons grape seeds (You can buy grape seeds online, unless you're friendly with a local vineyard!)

At least 1/3 cup grape-seed oil (add more if needed)

1/4 cup raw organic honey

A few drops of essential oil (optional)

1. Place the sugar and grape seeds in a microwavable bowl.2. Pour on grape-seed oil until the sugar and seeds are fully saturated, then add the honey and essential oil, if using, and mix well.3. Warm the mixture in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. (This step isoptional.)4. Massage into your skin before stepping into the shower, focusing on areas like the elbows, knees, and the backs of your thighs, and then rinse it off.5. Apply a nourishing body cream when your skin is still damp.


Avocado Honey Yogurt Mask

1/2 avocado, pit removed

1 teaspoon honey

4 ounces plain yogurt

1. Mix all ingredients well.

2. Apply to your entire face.

3. Leave on for 20 minutes.

4. Rinse with warm water.

*This can also be used as a hair mask. It'll leave your hair super shiny.Reprinted from "The French Beauty Solution" by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2015, Mathilde Thomas