Citypharma is legendary at this point. Not even a cult secret, it is a straight-up legend among beauty addicts. Having gone there, I can confirm that it’s all that and more and completely worth the visit if you’re into skincare.
It’s not uncommon to find products 50% or more off of the prices you’d pay here in the U.S. It’s also cheaper than Charles De Gaulle Airport’s duty-free pharmacy–even though Citypharma’s prices include the “duty” (i.e., the VAT, basically a 20% sales tax). (The only things cheaper at the airport were items heavily discounted for a special promo or clearance.)
Aaaand just to tie this all into Asian beauty, Citypharma has some of the products that Refinery29 claims are popular in Korea.
- About Citypharma
- My Experience
- LES HAULLES–and How Much I Saved
- Before Your Visit
- VAT Refund for Non-E.U. Residents
- Sample Shopping List for France
Located at 26 rue du Four in the St. Germain neighborhood (6th arr.), Citypharma’s easily accessible by bus and Metro (about two blocks from the Metro). It lists the closest stops here, and I found Google Maps’ public transit instructions to be on point most of the time in Paris.
Unfortunately, Citypharma doesn’t have a list of brands on its site, but I recall tons of La Roche Posay, Ducray, Embryolisse, Avene, Bioderma, Rene Furturer, Sachajuan, Erborian, Biafine, Auriga, Uriage, Melvita, Biotherm, Roger & Gallet, Lierac, Nuxe, Caudalie, Klorane, Vichy, Filorga. (I only had time to take pics of the Erborian, which was the rare brand that wasn’t much cheaper than regular retail.)
The downstairs contains all the brands mentioned above. I didn’t shop upstairs, but from what I saw while standing in the upstairs checkout line, the upstairs is tiny and offers the usual pharmacy stuff (aspirin, bandages, etc.).
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I arrived 15 mins. after opening on a Tuesday morning, grabbed a hand-basket, and spent 40 mins. shopping (entirely downstairs). Most of the time was spent reading ingredient labels and looking up products on my phone. I explored most every nook of the first floor, including an area with travel-sized items that yielded some cheap Nuxe trial kits and Caudalie hand cream minis. I had to stop shopping before exploring the regular Nuxe and Caudalie aisles though. Ugh, soooo much good stuff.
The aisles are somewhat narrow, and I had to make room several times for employees and other customers to get around–but it was hardly the claustrophobia-inducing crowds that some have encountered.
When it came time to check out, I went to the upstairs checkout–although I don’t think it was really shorter than the downstairs line. It took surprisingly long–20 mins.–even though there were only 6 people in front of me (heh, can you tell I’m used to American speediness?).
Once I got to the cashier though, everything went smoothly. When I asked the cashier for the tax refund form, she knew exactly what to do. She took my passport and disappeared for a few minutes, and then returned with duplicate receipts and a form printed on receipt paper in a Global Blue envelope.
LES HAULLES–and How Much I Saved
A few items were purchased at the duty-free pharmacy at the airport, when I first landed. I’m including them anyway because they’re cheaper at Citypharma (but I didn’t note the prices, sorry!).
Prices are in the captions and in the spreadsheet at the end of this section–with a comparison to how much more they would have been outside of Citypharma.
First up: face products. Adoredee recommended that I try the Avene Eau Thermale mist and at €2.49, why not. The Auriga Flavo-C items were requested by Kelly. I’d never even heard of the brand before, but the Forte serum is intriguing: 15% L-ascorbic acid and 30% gingko biloba.
Ingredients of the Flavo-C cream and Forte serum (click to enlarge):
These next items are meant to fade brown marks. (I actually bought these at the airport.) I picked out the Ducray Melascreen Depigmentant because it has azelaic acid, an ingredient that’s not available OTC in the U.S. (I use azelaic acid in my PocketDerm/Curology prescription cream.) The cashier at the airport recommended Bioderma White Objective Lightening Pen as more effective than Ducray (but of course the Bioderma is more $$$ per ml), soooo I just got both.
Ingredients and applicator closeups:
The Biafine Emulsion is the one cult French product that I bought. It’s described as a lotion to soothe and heal skin that’s burned or irritated (see MakeupAlley reviews). The Ducray Melascreen UV Rich Cream for dry skin–with all-chemical filters but unstated PPD levels–was inspired by (the much-missed) Drivel Without Frivol’s legendary post on how she faded her freckles and sunspots. She layered a Ducray emulsion sunscreen underneath a physical sunblock.
I picked up quite a few body lotions. (The universally justifiable product: who couldn’t use more body lotion??) There was a 20%-off-Lierac promo going on, but I’ve listed the regular price here.
Got some donkey milk things for Renee. And I grabbed a bunch of mini Caudalie Hand and Nail Creams when I saw how reasonably priced they were: €1.99 when a lot of similar minis are $5-10.
They say the more you spend, the more you save. Oh what, no one says that?
Well maybe they should. I tallied up what it would have cost if I paid the American or European MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) or ordered it online (an imperfect exercise b/c it doesn’t account for shipping costs ::sigh::). What is clear: Citypharma is way cheaper. I spent about $205 for about $370’s worth of products.
That saved 44%, actually an underestimate because (1) it doesn’t reflect the approximately 8% VAT refund I received; (2) sales tax in the U.S., which can run from 5-10%, was not included in the comparison price; and (3) shipping costs were not included in the comparison price.
Click on the chart to enlarge (::crossing fingers really hard that I did the math correctly::).
Before Your Visit
- Check the hours. As of this writing, it’s open from 8:30am-8pm from Mon.-Fri., from 9am-8pm on Sat., and is closed on Sun.
- Set aside a good chunk of time. Seriously. I raced through it on my last day in Paris, but ideally, I would have allotted at least 2 hours so that I could take time to read reviews of the many products that were new to me.
- If you live outside the E.U. and want to request a refund of the VAT, bring your passport. One blog said that Citypharma accepts a photocopy, but I didn’t personally confirm and brought the real thing. See the VAT Refund section below for more info.
- If paying by credit card, use one without any foreign transaction fees (standard is 3%, but check with your card company). Wouldn’t want to offset your savings.
- Read the latest reviews on Yelp and Google “citypharma.” You get some good intel, such as the fact that there are cashier lines both upstairs and downstairs and that the upstairs line is divided into purchases with a prescription (on the left) and purchases without (on the right).
- Everyone says to do your research, but don’t stress it because you’ll still have only a tiny idea of what Citypharma sells. Before I went, I read some blogs and had a list that Kelly kindly sent me (see Sample Shopping List below). But there were entire brands and product lines that I didn’t even know to research because they’re not sold in the U.S. and infrequently mentioned. Do what you can ahead of time (e.g., Google “french pharmacy” and “citypharma,” check out brands’ French websites), but if you allot enough shopping time, you can look up products on your phone in the store. (Thank you, international data plan!)
- If you’re organized, bring a list of products (and maybe product photos) and their U.S. prices if you want to fill your luggage with only the most discounted items. I had a general idea of what things went for in the U.S., but I didn’t bother to write down prices or compare them while shopping. That turned out fine because my post-haul price comparisons confirmed that 99% of everything is much cheaper at Citypharma.
VAT Refund for Non-E.U. Residents
- To obtain a VAT refund in general in France, you must spend over €175 at a single store in a single day (shockingly easy to meet at Citypharma if you’re fulfilling requests from friends).
- At Citypharma, ask the cashier for the tax refund form and have your passport ready. They get lots of tourists and will know what you’re talking about. When you get the form, check that the cashier typed your name and passport number in correctly. Read the instructions on the envelope (including instructions for what to do at the airport when leaving the E.U.), and fill in the form printed on receipt paper (the cashier left my address blank).
- The 20% VAT is already included in the prices. When you get your VAT refunded, expect around 8-12% back depending on what fees are deducted by the processing company and whether you choose a cash or credit card refund. You won’t get the full VAT back.
- Get to the airport an extra 45-60 minutes earlier than usual to get your refund forms processed. I departed the E.U. at Heathrow Airport in London. Outside of my terminal (Terminal 3), there was a special entrance to an office dedicated to VAT refunds and run by Travelex. The employees at the entrance are very helpful and will even check your forms to make sure they’re filled out correctly. I stood in line for 30 minutes, handed over the paperwork, and received my VAT refund on the spot in U.S. cash. Cash is immediate but a bit more in fees compared to waiting for a credit card refund.
- If the items you’re seeking a refund for are being carried onto the plane (i.e., not being checked), then you can actually get your form stamped by Customs (and possibly even processed; not sure because I didn’t do this) at Heathrow after going through security and checking bags. Because I was checking my Citypharma purchases (you all saw how much I bought!), I had to go through the process before checking my bags and going through security.
- The items should appear unopened and unused. ::shifts eyes:: The Travelex employee didn’t ask to see my items, but Customs has the right to see them before stamping your form.
Sample Shopping List for France
Kelly sent me the following list of items to check out in France (with a couple of additions from me). A lot of cult products, local favorites, France exclusives…that type of stuff. Note that many of these products are NOT at Citypharma. But if you’re in Paris, this list might interest you.
- Lidl Cien Q10 anti wrinkle day cream–a 3-euro cream from a grocery store that beat out Sisley and Chanel in a blind test on a French TV show!
- Cattier clay masks–Argile (Rose) Masque
- Sanaflore Eau de Bleuet (cornflower water)—for puffy eyes
- Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler day and night creams
- Auriga Flavo-C serum and Moisturizing Anti-aging Cream
- Uriage Hyseac no-rinse cleanser
- Mixa Confort Visage facial cleanser
- Nivea no-rinse eau micillaire makeup remover
- Dr. Pierre Ricaud line: Peeling éclat (an exfoliant), Regard Jeunesse (an eye cream), Matin Radieux (a day serum), Collagenes 9 (a day cream)
- Lotus Baby Coton maxi carré (cotton pads infused with aloe vera for makeup removal)
- Mixa and Labello lip balms
- Huygens (skin, hair, and body products mixed with essential oils on the spot)
Hair & Body:
- Topicrem Ultra-Hydratant body lotion
- Mixa Bébé Lait de Toilette Très Doux
- A-Derma Exomega Baume Emollient Visage et Corps
- Mixa bébé crème hydratante protectrice
- Ictyane shower gel
- Le Petit Marseillais: Après-shampooing reflets bruns cheveux châtains à bruns (a one-minute masque for brown hair); Masque nutrition cheveux secs, abîmés et cassants (regular deep conditioning masque with shea butter and honey); bar soaps (almond and argan oil ones)
- Provencal bar soaps in big rectangular blocks
- Laino Shampooing Douche (shower gel)—Tahitian Monoi (blue tube) and agrumes (citrus fruits) (orange tube)
- Akileine crème pour les pieds tres seches (foot crème for dry skin)
- Bourjois—Healthy Mix Serum Liquid Foundation, Crème Blush, Blush/Rose Exclusifs, powder shadows and blush, eye crayons (available in the UK too)
- Caron loose powder
- Chanel Nail Polish in #18 Rouge Noir (cream finish that differs from the version sold in the U.S., #18 Vamp, which has silver sparkles)
- Serge Lutens line
- Lingerie from Princesse Tam Tam and Monoprix
- Maison de Chocolat chocolates
- Fins Gourmets Mustard from Maille
- Laduree for sweets, makeup, and the most amazing umbrellas
- Pierre Herme for macarons (recommended by two friends as the best in Paris and better than Laduree)
- La Tisanière Nuit Calme—herbal tea packets with orange blossom, linden blossom, and chamomile
- Carte Noir—French coffee beans. Available at Monoprix and cheap
- sel de Guérande aux legumes bio—fancy sea salt with organic vegetables