Micellar waters are not a new skincare product. They have been used in Europe, from what I can gather mainly in France, for quite some time. In the last two years or so they became a hit States side, and more and more companies (both large and small) have come out with their version of this cleansing product. When I first heard about micellar waters I was very intrigued, and when I saw this Garnier one on sale at my local drugstore I had to buy it.
Micellar water is said to gently cleanse the skin and has the added bonus of not having to rinse it off after using (more on that later in this post). If you are one who likes to go camping (not me!) or spends days at outdoor festivals (once again not me!) having micellar water on hand means you can cleanse your face without having indoor plumbing nearby. It is also a good solution for making yourself presentable after a long flight when you are stuck freshing up in a cramped airplane bathroom.
The use of micellar waters as a skincare cure-all has been catching on recently. You can find quite a few articles in the mainstream beauty world toting micellar water as the next great thing for your skin for all sorts of reasons such as the hard water you use to rinse your face after washing it destroys your skin so using a micellar water, which you don’t rinse off, is better for your skin. Or that it must be great if the French love it.
For more information about how hard water affects our skin please see my post Hard Water and Your Skin.
The Science Behind Micellar Water
When I finally learned the in-depth science about micellar water via The Beauty Brains I realized that micellar waters were just mild cleansers. There isn’t really anything special about them except perhaps for the fact that you do not need to rinse them off after use (once again more on that in a bit). I suggest listening or reading to The Beauty Brains entire explanation about micellar waters, but I’ll share a few highlights here:
Micelles are structures that are formed when surfactant are dissolved in water. Remember that surfactants, short for surface active agents, are used in beauty products as cleansers and emulsifiers that help mix oil and water soluble ingredients.
If you look at the chemical structure of surfactants they typically have a long oil soluble tail and water soluble polar head group. When surfactants are present in water at a certain concentration, they begin to assemble into larger structures based on the water soluble/oil soluble parts of the molecule. The oil soluble tails try to group together to get away from the water. The lowest energy state for them is to have all the tails together so they are shielded from water by the polar head groups – which again, water soluble. Think of it as a ball or sphere of surfactant molecules with head on outside, tails facing inside.
These spheres of surfactants are called micelles and the concentration of surfactant required to form them is called the Critical Micelle Concentration or CMC. …
Yeah, if you look at the ingredient list for products that claim to be micellar waters they tend NOT to use traditional, high foaming surfactants. Instead they use a combination of nonionic surfactants, which tend to be milder on skin. One of most common nonionic surfactant used in micellar waters is Poloxamer 184. …
So overall, yes, these MW products are likely to be milder than many other cleansers. And, unlike traditional foaming cleanser’s they don’t necessarily have to be rinsed. They may even provide more of pleasant after feel than other cleansing products.
I have to say that companies have done a great job marketing these products. Somehow, these seem so special that they should be really expensive.
As you can see from The Beauty Brains explanation marketing hype plays a big part in the popularity of micellar waters. Yes, someone with sensitive, easily irritated skin could find them to be helpful for their skin, but there are many more mild cleansers on the market that will probably be just as good, if not better, for their skin.
You can also get a great explanation (with helpful pictures) by reading Lab Muffin’s post about micellar water. This post brings up a good point at the end – do you need to rinse off the micellar water even though it says you do not? The rinse may be needed because of the surfactants that can potentially be irritating if left on the skin. My skin never feels great after using micellar water; instead it feels like there is a layer of, well, something still on my skin after using the product, but I only use it as the first step in a double cleanse so I do rinse my skin after using a micellar water. You need to play it by ear, but if you are using micellar water at home and as your only facial cleanser definitely consider rinsing your face after using it so that the surfactants do not stay on your skin.
I use micellar water on a regular basis as the first step in a nightly double cleanse. As I wrote above when I don’t rinse it off I do not like how the micellar water feels on my skin. I think micellar water is a great way to remove make-up, if you are washing your face with another cleanser afterwards. I do find using a new cotton pad each night environmentally wasteful; I haven’t found a way around this issue yet. Micellar water does not do a particularly good job at removing my eye make-up, but in my experience after trying a great number of make-up removers, nothing does.
Bottom Line: micellar waters can be a gentle way to cleanse your face, but they are not a miracle cleanser no matter what some people may claim. Instead they are simply another mild cleanser. Marketing hype can definitely blow things out of proportion.
Image from Cosmopolitan