I noticed the past two years an extraordinary growth spurt in organic/green micellar waters. Since conventional micellar waters can contain a larger amount of preservatives, allergens and synthetic components, I’m glad to see the choice in organic/green options widen. I’ve been accustomed to micellar waters for a long time, because the French women (including my mama and aunties), – might be even more of a Parisian thing – swear by micellar water. A micellar water looks like water, feels like water upon touch, yet doesn’t have the function of water once in contact with your skin. My dear Audrey from Mademoiselle Nature, if you’re reading this, let me know if, from a biologist perspective, this makes sense 😉
For those still unfamiliar or on the fence about it, I’ve tried to break this whole micellar water thing down. Is it just a marketing claim or a real asset to your skincare routine?
What is micellar water?
Micellar water is a water-like substance filled with micelles, tiny cleansing molecules suspended in water. A complex structure, these molecules have both hydrophilic (water-soluble) and hydrophobic (=lipophilic- attract dirt/grime) qualities. Micellar water, unlike water, has the ability to trap dirt on your skin like a magnet because of its lipophilic qualities. Micellar water is thus able to remove makeup and pollution-related impurities.
Where does it come from?
Bioderma claims to have come up with the first micellar water in 1991. It is said that every 3 seconds, their signature Crealine H20 is sold somewhere in the world. They might have been the first to launch this product and coin it as “micellar”, but nothing says that this way of cleansing did not already exist in other countries. That being said, micellar water has become quintessentially French. If you step into a French pharmacy and they don’t stock micellar water, then you can’t call it a French pharmacy 😉
Why is it popular?
I’ll break it into points because there are multiple reasons.
1. it’s a soap-free washing solution. Certain soap cleansers can strip the good oils from your skin and cause irritation. Micellar water is supposed to be pH balanced and meant to be suitable for sensitive skin. It leaves the skin soft and hydrated, without disrupting skin’s acid mantle.
2. the rinse-free formula. French women use it to avoid applying tap water on their face (hard water can contribute to dry skin and clogged pores).
3. the minimalistic aspect of it. Micellar waters simplify my mornings because I don’t reach for proper cleansers and toners, I soak some micellar water in a cotton pad and I refresh my face this way.
4. it doubles as a makeup remover at night and is super convenient for traveling. If you’re too tired or too sick to go through your whole cleansing routine at night, using micellar water will come to the rescue and get rid of makeup reside and gunky buildup.
What is in it?
Originally, a micellar water is made of purified water with a tested pH, with specific fatty acid esters (respectful of our skin’s hydrolipidic barrier), glycerol (= glycerin). Today, you’ll find formulas using plant-based surfactants such as coco glucoside, enriched with vitamins, minerals, hyaluronic acid and a myriad of other goodness. There is a formula for every type of skin. A micellar water should first and foremost be hypoallergenic and paraben-free.
Difference between micellar water and toner.
Unlike toners/tonics, micellar waters have the ability to remove makeup, including mascara – except waterproof ones. It is commonly used as a makeup remover in France, and more popular than oil cleansing. However, the boundary gets looser because some toners (especially those that are alcohol-free and glycerin-based) can potentially serve as micellar waters.
Do organic/eco micellar waters contain alcohol?
Some don’t and some do. Some I’ve encountered contain benzyl alcohol. BA is commonly used as a preservative. It is allowed in organic cosmetics but has to come from a natural origin (for instance from essential oils such as ylang-ylang, teas, fruits etc.). It goes without saying that it should not be used for children as their skin remains particularly sensitive. That being said, certain alcohols in benign form are absolutely fine to use and even necessary in some cases. Truth in Aging did a detailed post on alcohol in cosmetics (here). I’ve had no issues with the ones I used because the quantity of alcohol was very low. However, if you know that you are sensitive/reactive to alcohol or that your skin is very dry, there are alcohol-free options available. I put next to the product which ones contain alcohol in brackets to make it easier for you.
Should you use micellar water?
I personally use it every morning. For oily, problematic or sensitive skin, micellar waters have the ability to remove dirt while respecting skin’s natural pH. However, each skin reacts differently and not all micellar waters are created equal. If you find the one that works for you, chances are that you have just found a new staple in your beauty routine. Don’t see it as a ground-breaking product that will transform your skin, but rather as a great asset to simplify and quicken your beauty routine that won’t harm your skin. Also, some formulas are packed with nutrients to help replenish your skin. If you lack time to remove your makeup/cleanse your face, micellar waters are better than sleeping with a face full of makeup.
Is micellar water expensive?
By definition, micellar waters are budget-friendly, yet you do see brands come up with more “luxe” versions and highly sophisticated formula. Some will even use cutting-edge technologies. However, a good micellar water is not defined by its price. It should be less expensive than a balm or a gel cleanser, an oil or moisturizer for it does not have the same function.
How to use it?
Soak a cotton pad with micellar water, and let it stay a few seconds on your face before gently wiping over it. No pulling or excessive rubbing needed. A good micellar water will seamlessly get rid of excess dirt and gunk. One to two pads should be more than enough to remove everything.
My experience with micellar water.
I use micellar water in the morning to refresh my skin and prep it for oil/moisturizer and SPF. I resort to it in the evening if it’s super late and I can barely muster up the strength to do anything before going to bed.
The ones I loved (#greenspiritapproved)
All of them have a gentle formula and feel superbly hydrating.
Sante refreshing toner organic aloe vera and chia seed oil. (reviewed in my top 2017 post)
In English, it is labeled as a toner, but it has all the ingredients you can find in a micellar water and I had no issues using at such. Affordable and alcohol-free, it is formulated with soothing aloe vera, rose water, chia seed, glycerin and lactic acids. It is pure bliss to use in the morning, my skin feels soothed and soft after each use.
Cîme Rosée de roses cleansing and tonifying lotion (reviewed here) (contains benzyl alcohol)
The one for rose lovers. A 3-in-1 product that removes make-up, cleanses and hydrates. It is made with rose floral water and rose extract, which has numerous beauty benefits: including astringent, antibacterial and collagen-stimulating properties. Cîme has amazing products and the Rosée de roses is one of them.
Karmameju star micellar water 02 (contains benzyl alcohol)
I adore this one because it is superbly soothing and refreshing. My face feels silky smooth afterward. Formulated with bitter orange, aloe vera and rose of Jericho. The latter is the star product. Rose of Jericho has protective, moisture-retentive, and reparative benefits and the story of the plant itself is remarkable (here).
Madara multi-action micellar water (reviewed here) (contains benzyl alcohol)
Madara’s take on micellar waters is outstanding. Formulated with aloe vera, witch-hazel, rose, peony root, lactic acids, and hyaluronic acid, there’s something for every skin type. This one’s a great morning pick-me-up to replenish dull skin.
Derma E Probiotic & rooibos micellar water
I’m currently using this one and so far I’m very pleased with it. Formulated with stable vitamin C, probiotic, rooibos, yacon root, it has outstanding brightening effects. It works great for oily skin but it might not feel hydrating enough for dry skin types. I’d recommend this one for summer instead.
Simple as that cleanser & S.W Basics cleanser.
Both are not marketed as micellar waters, but they can be used as such. I featured the Simple as That toner in my top 2017 (here) The cleanser is equally amazing. It has orange blossom water, tea tree oil, vegetable glycerine and May Chang. That’s literally all you need for a glowing, fresh-faced complexion. Same applies for S.W Basics, which has rosewater, vegetable glycerin and tea tree oil. Adina Grigore, founder of SW. Basics even shares a simple D.I.Y micellar water recipe (here).
Others I tried which were, unfortunately, a miss:
Cattier and Fun’Ethic are two great brands in their genre. FunEthic’s budget-friendly line has good cream masks, but the micellar water had a pronounced sticky feeling to it and was not as gentle as it should be. Same for Cattier, I love their clay masks but the micellar water was a miss. The texture was better than Fun’Ethic’s but the scent was a repeller for me: too strong, almost artificial. That being said, they have released a micellar gel and I do am curious to try it. Hence why I included it in the list below.
Other green/organic micellar waters, but not personally tested yet.