The French Beauty Solution: Time-Tested Secrets to Look and Feel Beautiful Inside and Out

The French Beauty Solution: Time-Tested Secrets to Look and Feel Beautiful Inside and Out

by Mathilde Thomas


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A New York Times bestseller!

Cofounder of the international beauty company Caudalíe shares the simple, natural, time-tested beauty secrets she learned growing up in France that any woman can use to look younger, healthier, and more radiant without harsh products or drastic procedures.
When Mathilde Thomas moved from her native France to the United States to expand her skin-care company, Caudalíe, she wanted to find out what American women wanted from their beauty routines. She interviewed thousands of women and was struck by how different the French and American approaches to beauty were. American women are all about the quick fix—the elusive product or procedure that will instantly solve a nagging beauty problem, even if it hurts, is wildly expensive, or is damaging in the long term. The French, by contrast, approach beauty as an essential and pleasurable part of the day, a lifelong and active investment that makes you look and feel good.

Mathilde used these insights to turn Caudalíe into one of America’s top beauty brands. Drawing on her company’s twenty years of scientific skin-care expertise backed by the research of doctors and dermatologists—as well as the beauty secrets she learned growing up on a vineyard in Bordeaux—The French Beauty Solution covers everything from how to use natural ingredients such as oil and honey to wash your face; what foods to eat for healthier hair, skin, and nails; and the amazing properties of grapes and grapeseed oil. She also introduces an easy three-day grape cleanse that European aristocrats have been using to detox for hundreds of years. Blending stories, science, DIY recipes, and tons of savoir faire, The French Beauty Solution is the last beauty regimen you’ll ever need.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592409518
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/14/2015
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 205,350
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Mathilde Thomas cofounded the all-natural skin-care line Caudalíe with her husband after taking inspiration in the power of grapes from her parents’ Bordeaux vineyard. Her company’s products are available in more than fifteen thousand stores worldwide. Mathilde now lives in New York City with her family, where she heads Caudalíe USA.

Read an 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 vineyard 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 The French Beauty Solution.

Whether I was in Cleveland, Ohio, or Cleveland, Florida, the same issues came up time and again as the women I met candidly discussed their beauty needs and desires. Even though I was asking them specifically about what they wanted from a skincare product, without fail, the conversations always veered away from skincare alone. All my customers wanted the same things: To have wonderful skin, simply and quickly. To age with grace. To lead a healthy lifestyle. To be fit and trim. To know which diets work and which don’t. To know how to do a cleanse if they feel the need. To manage their stress. To have a flawlessly made-up face and a doable hairstyle. And to have the kind of effortless beauty and sense of savoir faire that seem to be part of a Frenchwoman’s DNA.

“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, Château 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 properties 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 anti-aging 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 childhood: 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 The 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 à la Française,” shows you how to recharge yourself 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 voilà! Let me share my secrets with you!




I feel the most beautiful when I’m happy, because only then can you let go of the fear and just exist in the moment. When people forget themselves, that’s when they are at their most beautiful.

—Juliette Binoche

Ah, the French. Love and light. Fashion and fantasy. Gastronomy and gamines. Baguettes and Bardot. Perfume and Paris. Sophistication and superiority. Vivaciousness and Versailles. And let us not forget the guillotine and the Gauloises that will put a swift end to your romantic romps on the banks of the Seine!

What is it about the French that seemingly leaves American women envious of our savoir faire? What made Edith Wharton claim that “The French woman is in nearly all respects as different as possible from the average American woman. The French woman is more grown-up. Compared with the women of France the average American woman is still in kindergarten.” Even as a proud Frenchwoman, I think Edith was being a little bit harsh. I have spent five years in America and have met thousands of women and can say that American women are often just as sophisticated and grown-up about their beauty and lifestyles as the French are. The difference lies in the way you show it.

Our love for luxe and elegance has always been the hallmark of French style. The nobility may have taxed the lower classes into revolt, with the infamous Marie Antoinette losing her once perfectly coiffed head, but they also were responsible for creating the fashion business and sumptuous style that became the envy of Europe. Compared with the bejeweled and beribboned and bewigged frippery of the French court, our modern-day beauties are positively peasants—but they still strive for that inimitably stylish elegance.

Beauty is an art de vivre (“art of living”) for Frenchwomen. It is about choosing only the best and understanding that you are entitled to have a beauty routine that makes you look and feel beautiful at the same time. At an early age, we figure out what suits us best, and we set the trends—not follow them. We know that less will always be more, there is no “right” way to be beautiful, and most of all, how you feel about yourself, no matter what your age, is even more important than how you look. It also doesn’t hurt that being witty, savvy, smart, and cultured are as essential to beauty as having great skin.

Follow these principles and you’ll be like the French in no time at all.



The Pleasure Principle is pretty simple. All it means is that your beauty routine should make you feel good at the same time it makes you look good.

Luckily, adapting this attitude into your skincare routine is incredibly easy. Once you realize that the best skincare will give you clinically tested and proven results without a clinical, medicinal feel, you’ll realize that skincare isn’t a luxury—but rather that it can and should be luxurious, enticing all your senses and making you feel good while it works.

The Pleasure Principle makes it easier for you to make better choices, because you not only have to love what you use but also use what you love. We believe that good skincare isn’t about using trendy, hyped, or absurdly expensive products, but about using the most potent and effective ingredients—the ones that have been proven to work for you. We expect them to be deliciously scented, with a texture that feels wonderful on the skin, and with ingredients that are as pure and natural as possible. If it burns or causes redness or smells like something you could shine your car with, then it’s not for us. We want all our senses to be effortlessly engaged and believe there should be a palpable pleasure in pampering your skin.

The French have a reputation for being snobbish. But what some may consider arrogance is really an extension of our conviction that we deserve the best. Because we do—and so do you. Americans often believe that the best must also be the most expensive—especially when it comes to beauty products (how many of you bought your first skincare products at the drugstore but, as soon as you had more resources, started shelling out much more for the best products or treatments you could afford?). But for the French, the best does not have to be expensive. Though it’s true that high-quality products are often pricier than what you find at the drugstore, there are lots of great products—some of which you can make using ingredients in your kitchen!—that don’t have to cost a lot. The best products are those that are best for you—what works and what fits with your lifestyle.

The Pleasure Principle is about looking good and feeling good for your own sake—not because it’s trendy or to impress other people. This is why we’ll wear sexy lingerie underneath a simple button-down shirt and a pair of our favorite jeans. Who cares if no one else will see it? No plain cotton undies for us, merci beaucoup!


My beauty routine isn’t just about what I put on my skin. It’s about all the habits that could have an effect on my skin—diet, environment, sleep, stress, work, travel, and, of course, my family and friends. Before you start to change your products and routines, you have to take a good look at how you treat your body, as it’s indelibly reflected in the quality of your skin.

For the French, skincare is all about prevention and treatment, but, because we follow the Pleasure Principle, it is not a chore. While we’d no more dream of sleeping in our makeup than we would eat our daily lunch at fast-food restaurants, the Pleasure Principle allows us to make the daily necessity of proper skincare as easy and as enticing as possible.

The keyword here is maintenance—and you’re never too young to start. When we were teenagers, my friends and I were sternly warned by our mothers not to set foot out the door without first applying an antioxidant moisturizer with SPF in the morning and to cleanse our faces particularly well at night. That set us up for a lifetime of a minimal yet effective skincare maintenance because the emphasis was on protecting the skin, not covering up flaws with pore-clogging foundation.

If we had acne, we hastened to the dermatologist and were given a range of treatment options, sometimes including birth control pills once we were sixteen or seventeen (mainly because they were such an effective weapon against pimples). In addition, because pharmacies in France are much more personalized than drugstores in America tend to be, with comprehensive skincare centers and pharmacists and other staff well trained in skin issues, we bought our products there and felt confident that they were effective.

My mother was far more obsessed with having shiny hair and smooth skin than she ever was about makeup. She loved to try new antiwrinkle creams, and her bathroom shelves looked like an apothecary, but she rarely used more makeup than a bit of mascara and a neutral lipstick. I followed her example and the first makeup product I ever bought was a super-sheer bronzer, Terracotta by Guerlain. My friends also bought it, and maybe we’d add a sheer lip gloss, a swipe of mascara on our top lashes, and a quick brush through our hair, and we were done.

When I tell this to the American women or their young daughters I meet on my travels, their eyes get wide. “Really?” they say. “That’s it?” I say yes, but I can tell they don’t believe me!

While I use a few more skincare products and my makeup bag is just a bit fuller now, this routine has barely changed two decades later. I started it so early that I prevented a lot of damage to my skin that would have happened otherwise.


Many women think that in order to be as vibrant and remain as youthful as possible, they have to be on an endless starvation diet, shuddering at the mere thought of a slice of bread and sweet cream butter; work out like a fiend with a personal trainer or shred their muscles at CrossFit; swallow twenty-six different supplements every morning; slather on ultra-expensive creams, day and night; and have their cosmetic dermatologist on speed dial as they shell out thousands for lasers or injectable fillers or other painful procedures. Trust me—that is not the French way!

When American women tell me that their French counterparts make it “look so easy,” I tell them that’s because, for us, it is, but only because we streamline our beauty routine and know that less is more. Yes, it’s always fun to try some of the crazy new products out there—and because I need to constantly test new products for my business, I am always working on new items—but basically, as you’ll see in part 3, it’s simple: cleanser, toner, eye cream, serum, and moisturizer with SPF in the morning, and ditto at night (without the SPF and always take off that eye makeup!). Exfoliate at least twice a week to remove dead skin cells. Use masks regularly for treatment and hydration. Voilà!


Diets don’t work. Chapter 2 tells you how to eat like the French, so all I’ll say here is that dieting wreaks havoc not only on your metabolism but also your skin. Who wants to starve and have an ashy and wan complexion at the same time? Pas moi! Eating good, real, natural foods consistently—and especially cooking them yourself, so you can ensure that nothing processed, chemical, or artificial is included—and making sure you get the proper nutrients are key to looking good from the inside out. The French pay attention to what they eat . . . and drink. Vive le French paradox!



Excerpted from "The French Beauty Solution"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Mathilde Thomas.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1 Lifelong Beauty The French Way 11

1 The Essence of French Beauty 13

2 Eat Like the French for a Gorgeous Glow 41

3 Relaxation À La Française 67

Part 2 Skin Basics 87

4 How Your Skin Ages 89

5 Your Guide to Skincare Ingredients 115

Part 3 The Essentials of Beautiful, Healthy Skin 143

6 Taking Care of Your Face and Neck 145

7 Taking Care of Your Body-and Don't Forget The Perfume! 165

8 My Favorite Recipes 187

Part 4 Makeup and Hair the French Way 207

9 Do Your Makeup Like the French 209

10 Do Your Hair Like the French 223

Part 5 The Essentials of the three-Day Grape Cleanse 235

11 The Grape Cleanse 237

Acknowledgments 257

Index of Recipes by Ingredient 261

Customer Reviews