A313’s Retinol Cream Is France’s Best-Kept Beauty Secret

It’s worth the hype.

Originally Published: 
An honest review of the famous A313 retinol cream, one of France's best-kept beauty secrets.
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I cannot stop watching French pharmacy hauls on TikTok. As a skin care aficionado, I love watching someone dig through a bag of must-have beauty products from France — especially since they’re totally different than what we have available at our local drugstores.

One of the most popular French pharmacy products is definitely the A313 Vitamin A Pommade, a retinol that’s featured in hundreds of BeautyTok videos with just as many rave reviews. It comes in an iconic blue and white tube, and everyone who uses it has the glowiest skin.

On TikTok, creator @glowwithava showed it off as part of a haul following a Parisian vacation. She mentioned that it contains a retinol ester, which is one of the gentlest forms of retinol, and thus ideal for people with sensitive skin. With that, me and my dry, flaky face were sold.

Even though I didn’t fly to Paris, I was still able to get my hands on a tube. There are French pharmacies popping up in major cities like New York, and it’s also (thankfully) increasingly easy to find these types of products online. I’ve officially been using A313 cream for a month, and it’s honestly everything my Francophile heart could have wanted.

Fast Facts

  • Price: $32.40
  • Best for: Acne, fine lines, dewy skin
  • Your rating: 4.5/5
  • Brand: Pharma Developpement
  • What we love: Effective, easy to use, no harsh side effects
  • What we don’t love: Slightly greasy

The A313 Retinol

The A313 cream is a retinol that’s sold over-the-counter in France as a cure-all for countless skin issues. Because it’s so effective, it’s considered one of the country’s best beauty secrets.

Specifically, the formula uses a retinol ester to improve the overall appearance of your skin’s texture and tone, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD. This is a form of vitamin A that requires three steps to convert to retinoic acid in the skin, making it extra gentle in the world of retinoids. And retinoids, in general, are one of the most effective and science-backed ingredients you can incorporate into your skin care routine.

“Retinol helps to regulate skin cell turnover helping to prevent clogged pores, boost collagen production, and improve overall appearance of texture and tone,” Garshick tells me. This key ingredient also plumps up fine lines so that your skin looks dewy and fresh, and it helps with hyperpigmentation and acne.

As with all retinols, you’re supposed to use A313 at night, since it can make your skin sensitive to sunlight. All you have to do is apply a small amount all over your face.

My Skin

I’m knocking on wood while writing this, but my skin seems to be past its acne era. While I used to get pimples on my cheeks, my skin seems to have calmed down, and now I just have some flecks of hyperpigmentation left behind.

In an attempt to get rid of these dark spots, I’ve tried retinol in the past, but it’s always seemed too harsh for my sensitive skin. Even when I would try to slowly add it to my beauty regimen, I’d inevitably end up with redness, irritation, and an excessive amount of peeling.

Since A313 is supposed to be extra gentle, I figured it would be a good way to finally add a retinol into my skin care routine.

First Impression

When I first squeezed out a dollop of A313, I noticed that it wasn’t creamy but greasy, almost like Aquaphor or Vaseline. According to Garshick, this consistency is supposed to help enhance penetration into your skin. It also works as a protective layer to moisturize your face and reduce irritation from the vitamin A.

I smoothed some onto my cheeks, forehead, chin, and nose, avoiding the extra sensitive eye and lip areas. The grease was greasing, for sure, but I kind of liked how it felt medicinal and moisturizing.

There was some slight itching the first few times I used it, but nothing unbearable, and nothing compared to the irritation I experienced in the past with other retinols. I decided to apply it every couple of nights to slowly build up a tolerance, and the process went smoothly.

Results & Final Verdict

You know a skin care product is working when you don’t recognize your shiny self in the mirror. Usually, my skin is pretty dull and uneven, but after a week of use my cheeks started to develop a natural sheen that’s tough to replicate with moisturizer alone. This, I thought, was the magical retinol effect that everyone gushes about on social media.

When I asked Garshick how long it would take to see full results, she said it’s best to keep your expectations in check until the six week mark, and that more improvements will pop up over the course of three to six months. Yet there I was, after week one, double-taking every time I caught a glimpse of my glowing reflection.

In fact, my skin felt plumper and more moisturized the first time I used A313, and it’s only gotten better since. Now that it’s been four weeks, I’ve noticed that my hyperpigmentation is starting to fade, and that my skin looks better and more refreshed overall.

My take? There’s definitely a reason A313 makes it into every French pharmacy haul.

Studies referenced:

Bjerke, DL. (2021). The vitamin A ester retinyl propionate has a unique metabolic profile and higher retinoid-related bioactivity over retinol and retinyl palmitate in human skin models. Exp Dermatol. doi: 10.1111/exd.14219.

Callender, VD. (2022). Effects of Topical Retinoids on Acne and Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation in Patients with Skin of Color: A Clinical Review and Implications for Practice. Am J Clin Dermatol. doi: 10.1007/s40257-021-00643-2.

Kafi, R. (2007). Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin A (retinol). Arch Dermatol. doi: 10.1001/archderm.143.5.606.

Leyden, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). doi: 10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2.

O'Byrne, SM. (2013). Retinol and retinyl esters: biochemistry and physiology. J Lipid Res. doi: 10.1194/jlr.R037648. Epub 2013 Apr 26. PMID: 23625372; PMCID: PMC3679378.

Zasada, M. (2019). Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. doi: 10.5114/ada.2019.87443.


Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, board-certified dermatologist

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