Beauty Clinic: Decoding micellar water


Q. What are micellar cleansers and do they work?

A. Micellar water, aka micellar cleansing water (or variations on that theme), consists of ‘micelles’, tiny balls of cleansing molecules – usually oils - suspended in purified soft water.

These micelles are attracted to oil, the key component of make-up, sebum, grease and grime. So - when you drench a cotton wool pad in micellar water and swipe it over your face, it draws out the day’s grime and removes make-up. The key advantage is that the products cleanse without drying. In fact, some micellar waters claim to moisturise and hydrate skin as well as cleansing and refreshing.

Although it’s a fairly new concept in the UK, micellar water has been a beauty staple in France for many years (some say centuries), apparently because French women disliked washing their faces in the native hard water. 

‘Do they work?’ is a tricky question. Some people love them, including a bunch of beauty editors. Others just don't get what the fuss is about and much prefer to use a regular cleanser, whether that’s a lotion or wash-off product.

On balance, we would say micellar waters are great for a quick fix; for instance, if you’re out camping, at a festival, or travelling – or after a late night when you might otherwise use a cleansing wipe or, shock horror!, not cleanse at all. Micellar water is also handy for an end-of-day office cleanse if you want to refresh your make-up before going out.

Beware, however, that if you wear a lot of make-up, it may take several goes to get it off – not always totally successfully, according to reviews, particularly with eye make-up. By its chemical nature, micellar water really doesn’t cope with waterproof make-up, we’re told. (Plus the fact that some we’ve tried made our touchy eyes sting.)

Some women we talked to use micellar water with other cleansers, which, to us, kind of defeats the purpose. Also, the idea is that you don't need to rinse after using micellar water but some users said their skin felt tight if they didn’t – which again seems to defeat the whole idea.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water, £10.80 for 250 ml, was the first to launch in the UK in 2013 in London pharmacy John Bell & Croydon, and is still a firm favourite, especially for combination or oily skins. For a beauty steal, we think you would do very well with Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water for Sensitive Skin, £4.99 for 400 ml, which is really gentle. For normal and dry skin, Lancôme Eau Micellaire Douceur, £38 for 400 ml, has garnered devotees.

We are fans of the US natural brand Derma E, which offers Vitamin C Micellar Cleansing Water at a reasonable £14 for 175 ml. Just one last thing, we prefer to use organic cotton wool pads for environmental reasons, eg Soil Association-certified Simply Gentle Organic Cotton Wool Pads.

Do keep an eye on the next round of Beauty Bible Awards, as our diligent tester panels are trialling lots of micellar waters at the moment and the winners will be published then.

Photo by Chema Photo on Unsplash

Beauty Clinic, FeatureTania Smith