Feb 5th, 2020, 10:41 PM

A Guide to French Versus American Makeup

By Veronica Reyes
Image Credit: Flickr/Tim Hoggarth
Image Credit: Flickr/Tim Hoggarth
Navigating the differences between makeup trends in France and America means hearing from the experts and looking into cultural beauty standards.

It’s no secret that both Americans and the French have a deep love for all things beauty. When it comes to makeup, the two cultures are set apart from one another by their unique styling trends. While it is common in the States to come across over the top looks created for social media, a "no makeup, makeup look" is more popular in France. As a New Yorker, I am all for a bold cut crease topped with glitter and a razor-sharp wing, but it’s interesting to take a step back and try a much more refined style that would be worn by women in France. So just how far do the differences between American and French makeup go? With help from French Dior makeup artist Violette, who goes only by her first name, and a look into some viral tutorials, we can find out. 

As mentioned, makeup looks created for Instagram, like NikkieTutorials' below, are all the rage in America. Usually featuring bold colors, glitter and false lashes, the extravagant looks designed by the makeup artist will often leave him or her looking unrecognizable by the end of the transformation. Although there are some who are bold enough to wear Instagram makeup out and about, most of these looks are created with the purpose of only being shared on social media. However, just because Instagram makeup is not worn by women on the daily does not mean that heavy makeup is out of the question. Style-conscious American women are known to "beat their faces," in other words applying a heavy combination of foundation, concealer, bronzer, brow filler, mascara and lipstick as a part of their routines. “Here in America, you [present] the best version of yourself," explained Violette in an interview with Brit.co. 



using @jeffreestar x @shanedawson conspiracy on the gram! 🖤 full tutorial up on YouTube!!!!!! ✨

A post shared by NikkieTutorials (@nikkietutorials) on


Conversely, French women gear towards simplicity and tend to care more about their skin than makeup, which is only lightly applied where most needed. They are often described as glamorous and minimalist, so it comes as no surprise that they prefer to wear less makeup to match their style. "The main beauty philosophy in France is to accept who you are," said Violette. "That's what makes the French look so specific. We just do a little. We want to keep it simple." Some moisturizer or serum along with touches of makeup on features you want to enhance will suffice as a morning routine. This allows the skin to breathe and lets people see your face in a more natural and beautiful light. At the end of the day, the French want to show off features that already exist rather than changing them to be something they are not.

Not only is there a difference between the amount of makeup used between the two cultures, but the technique used to apply the products differs quite a bit as well. In America, contouring, filling in eyebrows, and over-lining lips are often used to exaggerate areas of the face. If you have mastered a razor-sharp wing and chiseled cheekbones, congratulations, your makeup is perfect! However, clean-cut lines and flawless shading are not something that the French strive for. Instead, French women are more likely to try and achieve more natural looks by perhaps smudging eyeliner or smearing on a light eyeshadow. At times, having pristine makeup can come off as looking fake, so avoiding this allows the French style to appear more easy-going and effortless. 

That being said, one popular style element that goes against this general rule in France is the use of a luscious red lipstick. You can never go wrong with a head-turning pop of color at the center of an overall simple look. "Red lipstick is a fashion accessory, so we won't wear any other makeup with it," noted Violette to Vogue. There is no lip lining, over lip lining, topping gloss or ombre effect needed here, as shown in Leslie Dumeix's video below. Two swipes are all that's necessary — any additions would be taking away from the idea that even with red lipstick, makeup is supposed to be toned-down. 


The overall differences between French and American makeup trends seem to be quite stark, but when contextualized with the cultures from which they emerged, it's easy to understand why. In the States, many people like to stand out and go against the grain, often wearing bold and flashy styles to do so. America's core values of individualism, materialism and informality allow its people to experiment with their self-expression and indulge in extravagant fashion. With this also comes the pressure to be perfect and to compare oneself to others, encouraging women to always have pristine makeup. On the contrary, people in France tend to blend into the crowd and avoid risky clothing. Sophistication and modesty are highly valued in how one presents themselves, which has helped to make monotones particularly popular. The pressure to appear perfect is less intense in France, lending itself to minimal application of makeup to match an overall toned-down look.

So if you'd like a change from American beauty standards and makeup trends, how can you recreate a classic French makeup routine? Skincare is most important, so start with a face mask and moisturizer before applying anything to your skin. From there, add any other eye creams or serums that you feel would help your skin glow. Stay away from any heavy foundations and instead dab a BB cream gently under your eyes and in any other problematic areas. Remember, the goal of this look is not to hide your features, but to show them off in the most natural way possible. After blending, swipe on a touch of blush to give your cheeks a flush of color. Brush on a bit of mascara and a pop on a bright red lip, and voila! You've completed your French look.

Beauty in France and America certainly have their differences, but they both have the same overall goal: to help people look and feel beautiful. Have fun and play around with makeup and see if you like wearing a simpler or more intense look. Neither style of makeup is “the right style'' — it's up to you to experiment and figure out your niche!