Painless path to finding favourite remedies

At first glance a French pharmacy looks full of strange, unknown remedies, but in fact many are very familiar if you just know what to ask for.

A money-saving essential is always to ask for the generic drug using the phrase, “le générique le moins cher, svp”, which can save you up to 50%.

If you do not know the French equivalent of a UK remedy, show the pharmacist an empty package and ask them to look up a French product with the same active ingredient: “Est-ce qu’il existe un produit en France qui contient la même molécule, svp?”

Very often an equivalent is speedily found and if it is not in stock, they can usually get it in for the next morning.

One British standby is not available – TCP, which ironically is made in France. There is no single French remedy with so many uses so you will need to buy individual products.

Standard items in a French medicine box often include:

  • Mopralpro antacid tablets
  • Spasfon tabs which dissolve on the tongue for colicky, spasmodic pain
  • Exomuc powders for blocked up noses and sinuses
  • Smecta powders for diarrhoea (can also be used to treat dogs)
  • Osmo soft gel and Biafine cream for burns and sunburn
  • Eosine red liquid for cleaning superficial cuts and scratches
  • Betadine for disinfecting larger wounds (this is what they use in French hospitals, and can also be used for animals)
  • Homéoplasmine homeopathic cream for dry/rough/irritated skin
  • The range of Apaisyl creams for insect bites, infected wounds, and fungal infections. (BactéoApaisyl is a good substitute for Savlon)

Most chemists also stock a range of homeopathic remedies, veterinary medicines (often cheaper than at the vet), and Bach flower remedies whether they are on display or not. Just ask.
Some pharmacies are ‘herboristeries’ meaning they also sell alternative, plant-based remedies, tisanes etc.

Pharmacists are also trained to give basic first aid advice, which is free and can save a trip to the doctor – and, for those gathering fungi, they will also identify mushrooms/toadstools so you can always get a check done on wild mushrooms before you eat them.

Here are some French equivalents that stand in for UK remedies:

  • Nurofen (contains ‘Ibuprofène’) is sold under the same name, but the generic is at least half the price.
  • Nicorette is sold with the same name. Various medications to help you give up smoking are reimbursed if prescribed by your French GP, who can also recommend other aids.
  • Calpol (paracetamol for children) is replaced by Dafalgan (from one month to 12 years old) which contains paracetamol and is available in various formats. (The syrup has a nice caramel flavour.) After 12 years old, people use ‘Doliprane,’ it is the best-known brand of paracetamol. Ask for the generic to save money.
  • Beechams, Lemsip and Night Nurse are not available, but there are plenty of other medications with the same active ingredients, i.e paracetamol and a decongestant. Fervex powders can be dissolved in hot or cold water. Or try Dolirhume tablets and sipping hot honey and lemon.
  • Solpadeine Headache contains paracetamol and caffeine, so can be replaced by “Doliprane” and a cup of coffee, Solpadeine Plus contains paracetamol, codeine and caffeine, which can be replaced by “Codoliprane” and a coffee, Solpadeine contains paracetamol and codeine but no caffeine which can be replaced by “Codoliprane”, and Solpadeine Migraine contains ibuprofen and codeine, which is only available on prescription in France, so you will have to see your GP.
  • Optrex is not available as it contains the antibiotic chloramphenicol. Optone however, is a range of eye-washes suitable for irritated, dry and tired eyes. If you have an eye infection requiring antibiotics, before making an appointment at the GP, ask the duty pharmacist for advice.
  • Benylin cough syrups are not available under this brand name, but there is a wide range of very effective cough syrups available, drowsy or non-drowsy, for dry, wet or combination coughs, with or without other cold symptoms. Using a Codoliprane tablet at bedtime is also effective for night-time coughing.   
  • E45 cream is not sold, but Nivea handcream in flat round tins is available even in supermarkets. Pharmacies have many treatments for rough, sore or dry skin – just show your dry hands and you will be showered with advice and products. Try Caudalie products with red wine and chocolate.
  • Sudafed has been withdrawn and the most common remedies used are Dafalgan and saline nasal washes, specially formulated for each age.
  • Corsodyl antibacterial and disinfectant mouthwash is not available but the mouthwash Eludrilperio, sold in pharmacies, has the same active ingredient, chlorhexidine.
  • Bonjela for mouth ulcers and painful gums can be replaced by Hya­lugel or a variety of other oral gels. Ulcers are gener­ally called aphtes.
  • Zovirax for cold sores (bouton de fièvre) is known as Activir but can be replaced by HerpApaisyl.
  • Dettol, Ducolax, Gaviscon, Rennie, Scholl, Strepsils, and Vicks remedies are available just as in the UK.
  • Olbas Oil is available from Amazon.fr

Please note this article is aimed to help readers navigate a French pharmacy. It is not a substitute for qualified professional advice and should not be used as such.

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