What Is Micellar Water And How Should You Use It?

The increasingly popular product comes with French-girl cred and can be used as a cleanser, makeup remover AND toner

what is micellar water: clear bioderma bottle with pink cap
Photo, via bioderma.ca

What is micellar water?

Micellar water is a multi-use cleansing product made of purified water and micelles. Dr. Katie Beleznay, a dermatologist at Carruthers & Humphrey Cosmetic Dermatology and clinical instructor at the Department of Dermatology at the University of British Columbia, explains that micelles are molecules which group together and attract dirt and oil. “When you wipe a cotton ball soaked with micellar water along your face, the micelles adhere to the cotton while pulling makeup, sebum, and other impurities off the skin,” she says. Notably, micellar water won’t dry out your skin like traditional foaming face soap, and it doesn’t include any harsh cleansing agents that you need to rinse off either.

How do you pronounce micellar water?

My. Sell. Er. My-sell-er. Micellar. That’s all there is to it!
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Why is micellar water so popular?

It’s lauded as a one-stop shop that both removes makeup and cleanses — without the need to add water. The product was traditionally popular with French women, who began using it in the 1900s before tap water was easily accessible. “Micellar formulas are gentle so there’s no need to rinse them off, allowing the moisturizing ingredients to stay behind and be absorbed by the skin,” says Beleznay. (Which is why it won’t dry out your skin.) As a result, makeup artists elsewhere came to love it because it’s quick. Other users love it because it cleanses with the consistency of water. “Oftentimes people who like it just dislike the feeling of residue on their skin or are afraid of being oily,” says makeup artist Christine Jairamsingh.

How is micellar water different from makeup remover?

In the past, heavy duty makeup removers were much oilier, and the arrival of micellar water to North America really changed the scene. Micellar water is also gentle enough to be used as eye makeup remover. Still, Jairamsingh warns against the catch-all product mentality. “It’s not necessarily going to get it all off for waterproof products, or for foundations that are really full coverage, thicker, or high in silicone content,” she says. “In that case, use micellar water initially to chip away at it, then go in with an oil cleanser that you love.”
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Can I use micellar water as a facial cleanser?

It can be used in place of cleansers and toners (which rebalance your skin’s pH levels, clean off residual dirt and oil, and tighten the appearance of pores) — Beleznay points out that micellar water actually has benefits over toner, because it doesn’t have alcohol that can sting or dry out your skin. She says, “Depending on the person and whether they wear makeup or not, some people may get away with just micellar water; however, others use it as a makeup remover and use a cleanser after for further benefit.” Both Beleznay and Jairamsingh agree that not cleaning off your makeup effectively can lead to breakouts, so consider that before switching to a micellar water only regimen.

Are there natural alternatives to micellar water?

Jairamsingh advocates for natural plant-based alternatives (such as Wildcraft’s Calm and Cleanse Makeup Remover), which function like micellar water without the preservatives. Beleznay emphasizes that regardless of what you do, “It is always a good idea to apply moisturizer [after].”