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More than prescriptions: 11 things you can do at a French pharmacy

The Local France
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More than prescriptions: 11 things you can do at a French pharmacy
The logo of a pharmacy in Quimper, western of France. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

From getting first aid and medical advice to taking tests, buying cosmetics and getting your mushrooms checked - there's a surprising amount you can do in a French pharmacy.


Pharmacies are common place in France, with their bright green signs that illuminate many of country's street corners - and some American visitors are so impressed that 'French pharmacy' has become a trending topic on social media.

But what's often not appreciated is how multi-functional they are. While you won't be able to buy snacks or sandwiches at the pharmacy (French pharmacies are not akin to corner shops as some are in the US and UK), they are not just for picking up your latest prescription or getting a box of over-the-counter painkillers.


France is home to about 21,000 pharmacies, according to data from 2017, with about 33 pharmacies per 100,000 people.

The pharmacists who run these establishments are highly-qualified medical professionals, who are able to provide a wide range of services besides simply giving you your medicine. Most have done around six to seven years of training, and pharmacies are often the best place to start if you are looking for some routine medical assistance.

By law, all French pharmacies must have at least one fully qualified pharmacist on the premises.  

Here are all the things you can do there;

Get your wild mushrooms checked

If you are out foraging for mushrooms, and you want to err on the side of caution, then simply take your haul to the pharmacy. All pharmacists in France receive training in mycology - or the study of fungi - so they are qualified to tell you whether a mushroom is toxic or not. This will certainly help prevent any unforeseen disasters when cooking your next "gratin de champignons."

Get your latest vaccination (not just a flu or Covid shot)

Previously, getting a regularly scheduled vaccination in France could be time consuming as you needed to visit your doctor for a prescription, get the prescription from the pharmacy and then take it back to the doctor who would actually administer the injection.

However since 2019 pharmacists have been able to administer seasonal flu shots without the need for a prescription - meaning you can just walk in and get your vaccine - and are also able to offer Covid vaccines and booster shots without prescription. 

Since August 2023 they can also offer the following vaccines without prescription to over 11s; Diphtheria, Tetanus
Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chickenpox and Human papillomavirus (HPV - the vaccination that prevents the infection that is the most common cause of cervical cancer).

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why does France have so many pharmacies?

Receive medical advice 

Picked up a stomach bug? Got a cough that just won't go away? The pharmacy might be the best place to visit first. French pharmacists are all trained professionals, and they are qualified enough to let you know whether you are suffering from something that will require further medical attention, or whether your treatment can be found in the pharmacy itself. 

So, if you have any confusion around whether you should see a doctor, go to a hospital, or simply take some paracetamol and rest, the French pharmacist is a great person to ask. 


While pharmacy hours vary, there will always be at least one "pharmacie de garde" open all day near you. Simply Google pharmacie de garde along with your location to see where it can be found.

Get antibiotics

From autumn 2023, pharmacists have been licensed to give antibiotics without a doctor's prescription for certain common infections.

If you think you have either cystitis or tonsilitis/strep throat (angines in French) you can go to the pharmacy and get a rapid test. If it is positive, the pharmacist can give you antibiotics without a doctor's prescription.

Get over-the-counter medicines

In France over-the-counter medications such as indigestion medicines, cold and flu remedies and general painkillers like Tylenol or Nurofen (usually sold under the brand name Doliprane in France) are only available in pharmacies.

Supermarkets and other general stores are banned from selling them. 

Buy cosmetics

When walking into the pharmacy, you might also notice a giant wall of skincare items. From face washes to lotions and serums, you will be able to pick through many different hygiene items. Next you might turn to the perfume section, where several fancy-looking glass bottles line the shelves. If you are out of mascara or eye-liner, you can find that at the pharmacy too. 


Don't be afraid to ask the pharmacist's advice too - if you are worried a certain face wash would be bad for dry skin, the pharmacist will likely be able to point you in the right direction.

Receive care

Many pharmacists across France are able to carry out basic first aid. If you need help bandaging a cut or scrape, have a nasty burn that needs dressing or assistance with your blood pressure monitoring, then you can always walk into a pharmacy and ask for help.

Additionally, if you are looking for help with how to take the medication prescribed - for instance with administering your own insulin injection - pharmacists are trained to help.

If it's beyond their level of expertise, they will also be able to direct you to the best place to go. 

Buy homeopathic medicines

French pharmacies do not only contain conventional medicines - most have a wide variety of vitamins and homeopathic remedies as well. From vitamins and supplements like cod liver oil to essential oils to neti pots to help clear your nose, French pharmacies carry plenty of alternative, natural treatments too. 

You could also find a remedy for the distinctly French malady of 'heavy legs'

Prescribe (some) medications

In France, pharmacists are able to prescribe medications for a few specific conditions. First, pharmacists are permitted to issue renewals for medication against seasonal allergies, in patients aged 15 to 50 years old.


Next, they can perform short consultations and prescribe medicine for cold sores, eczema, and conjunctivitis.

If you are a woman aged 16 to 65 and you are experiencing a urinary tract infection, then the pharmacist can also prescribe treatment for you, under certain conditions. As long as the UTI is not recurrent and you do not have a fever or lumbar pain, then the pharmacist may be able to provide you with an antibiotic treatment.

READ MORE: Why do the French love medication so much?

Finally, depending on a patient's pain and how well they are recovering from an illness or procedure, pharmacists are also authorised to adjust the dosage of some treatments, such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

Perform certain tests

As of January 1st, 2022, pharmacists in France have been able to perform strep throat (angine in French) tests. This consists of a small swab of the throat to verify whether the illness is viral or bacterial, in an effort to avoid the over-prescription of antibiotics. However, you will want to ask your pharmacist if they have the materials to perform the test, because not all pharmacies keep them on hand. 


You can also get a Covid-19 test at French pharmacies, usually without having to make an appointment.

Return extra medications you have lying around

Expired or unused medicines can be returned to your nearest pharmacy - all pharmacies in France are required to take back this medication. You can either give the medicine directly to your pharmacist, or in some cases you can drop them in the dedicated box for these purposes. 

This is actually a recommended practice, as most medicines should be disposed of in a specific manner.

You don't need to bring back the packaging or instructions along with the medication - simply take the treatment itself.

Keep in mind you won't be able to return used syringes and needs, or aerosols and sprays, or cosmetic products.


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Jane Grey 2023/08/17 17:35
Prior to the 1990s, another thing you could do at most French pharmacies was to weigh yourself, at no charge. Some pharmacies have a water-testing service. It's not done on the spot; they send the water sample to a lab. For example, you could have your water tested for lead or nitrate content.

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