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Despite the fact that micellar water has been available in the US for several years now, I still get a lot of questions about the product. The most common: “Am I being scammed by purchasing something called ‘water,’ a thing I can put on my face for free in my bathroom?” After trying many brands over the years and incorporating micellar water into my daily routine, I am here to tell you it’s not a scam. But there are definitely caveats.
First though, what is it? Micellar water, also frequently called cleansing water, is a cleanser for removing gunk from your face. Unlike a typical cleanser, you don’t have to rinse it off. Micellar water has been used in France for decades, and you can buy it in any pharmacy there. A French beauty publicist once told me it’s because the tap water is terrible, so no one wants to rinse their faces with it.
The way micellar water works is that a mild surfactant, the chemical that actually gets rid of dirt and makeup, clusters up into tiny balls called micelles. Once you pour it onto a cotton round, the micelles rearrange themselves for optimal cleansing. (If you are interested in the more in-depth science on this, please go read The Lab Muffin’s explanation, which is the best thing I’ve read about micellar water.) But micellar water isn’t great for all situations. I’ll start with the cons first:
• You have to use it with cotton pads, which adds some extra expense and makes it less convenient. You can’t just splash it on your face and go. (And don’t be wooed by so-called micellar makeup wipes that say they contain micellar water. I’ve spent time reading labels, and the ingredients are different; I’ve also heard anecdotal tales of those wipes being more irritating than the micellar water out of a bottle.)
• It won’t remove a full face of makeup thoroughly, so don’t expect it to take off your waterproof eyeliner and full-coverage foundation.
• Despite that last con, it does still clean really darn well. I use it every single morning when I wake up. I’m a proponent of double cleansing (oil cleanser followed by a foamy one) at night before my skincare routine, but in the morning my face isn’t that dirty, and cleansers dry me out too much. Micellar water leaves me feeling clean enough to put my morning skincare right over it on days that I don’t shower first thing in the morning. I have also stopped using makeup wipes after a workout and instead bring a travel-sized bottle of micellar water and cottons in my gym bag.
• If you do not want to commit to a full double cleanse, swiping micellar water first and following with your regular cleanser is better than just cleanser alone.
• It’s great for when you mess up your makeup. You can put a little bit on a Q-tip and fix an eyeliner or lipstick mistake. I also use it on a damp pad to gently pat under my eyes when I get the inevitable eyeshadow powder fallout.
• Finally, it’s great for when you want to re-touch your face makeup but not your eyes. You can swipe it all over your face and then re-apply foundation without worrying about washing off your eye makeup like if you were washing in a sink.
• It’s pretty gentle. Obviously read the ingredients first, because they vary widely from product to product, but I find most to be non-irritating and non-drying. A good one will leave your skin feeling soft and clean without an obvious residue. Here are six that meet these criteria:
Simple Micellar Water ($8.99): My favorite of all the drugstore brands, and a great starter formula if you’re new to using micellar water.
La Roche-Posay Physiological Cleansing Water, $14.99: This bottle lasted me forever, and I like the very faint fragrance. (Many micellar waters have no scent.)
Bioderma Sensibio H2O ($14.90): The OG, and worth trying if you don’t mind spending a bit more.
Innisfree Hydrating Cleansing Water ($13): A good workhorse, and the bottle design — with a dispenser at the top that you press down on to get the product out — is so easy.
Son and Park Beauty Water, $30: I know the price on this one is slightly alarming, but this is hands-down the best cleansing water I’ve tried. It has a ton of extracts in it, and it also acts like a toner. It’s fantastic.
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