Ahhhh, micellar water – or micellaire, as it is alternatively spelled. Micellar water burst onto the scene a few years ago like the hottest young starlet in every Oscar-nominated movie – everyone was loving it and you COULD NOT get away from it wherever you looked. It was touted to be the BEST way to cleanse, even by skin specialists, as it removed all makeup gently and didn’t require “real” water. The belief was that it was much healthier for the skin than makeup wipes, and this belief still stands. Well… is that true?
I’d say not exactly.
What is micellar water?
Micellar water gets its name from micelles, which, when it comes to skincare, are teeny-tiny cleansing molecules (made up of something known as surfactants) that are kept in a water solution. The surfactants that make up these micelles partially love water and partially love oil, which is ideal because when applied to the skin, these micelles attract the oil and grime. Et voilà, as the French would say, the ideal cleanser. Well… maybe in its original conception.
Why was micellar water invented?
The style of micellar water that we know nowadays was created by French pharmacy skincare brand Bioderma in 1995, but as a concept, it dates back to around 1918 when their were water shortages all over France. Eau Micellaire came back en vogue as an alternative to the infamously hard Parisian water in the 90s. Washing your face with hard water can actually be detrimental to skin health, as it has been shown to disrupt the skin’s barrier function. If the skin’s barrier function is disrupted, it can lead to the worsening of conditions such as rosacea, acne, eczema and dermatitis and basically means that your skin is not protected as well from extrinsic factors. So, of course, micellar water was an ideal alternative and much more skin-healthy than using the Parisian water.
This is a micelle, made up all of those little surfactants!
The micellar water of now
Micellar water from authentic French brands or from brands that truly care about skin health is not so bad, as they often do not contain the fragrances and preservatives that strip the skin of its oils, dehydrate the skin and photosensitise the skin (AKA make the skin more sensitive to light). I am known to call micellar water users glorified wipe users and I believe this is for good reason. Some brands really take the pee with what they consider to be micellar water, to the point that they are essentially liquid wipes. They bulk up their micellar water with drying alcohols, fragrances and harsh preservatives for the purpose of prolonging shelf-life.
Micellar waters are often marketed as perfect for sensitive skin due to the “high water content” (of which most cleansers have anyway) and gentleness. However, even micellar waters that specifically say “for sensitive skin” contain high proportions of ingredients like butylene glycol. In some products, butylene glycol helps other ingredients to penetrate into the skin and is a humectant, meaning that it traps moisture on to the skin. This is beneficial in the type of product filled with active ingredients that truly need to get deep into the skin… I personally can’t see many benefits to its penetrative-enhancing properties in this circumstance. Butylene glycol is a known possible irritant to the skin, especially around the eye area, you know, the eye area that you douse with micellar?
One of the issues that I see with micellar water is the same as the one I see with wipes and for the same reason. You are just moving dirt, grime and oils around on the skin. Throughout your day, you are walking through polluted air, touching everything and then touching your face, pumping sebum out to help protect your skin – all of this builds up. If we do not thoroughly remove this build up, we are asking for congested skin (ie. blackheads, whiteheads and any other type of spot).
The majority of people who use micellar water are not actually using it as a pre-cleansing step, which would be infinitely better, but their sole mode of cleansing. Just as with wipes, using micellar water leaves you with an incomplete cleanse and leaves a residue on the skin (which you will know if you’ve used micellar water… it is like a semi-oily film), meaning that any products applied thereafter may not penetrate properly. You need to be double cleansing in such a way that your first step removes at least the high 90 percents of your makeup and any oil and grime that has collected on the surface of your skin and your second step helps to remove a build up of dead skin cells and treat the skin however you please, whether it be with acids, with probiotics or with vitamins, for example.
These are the reasons why I consider micellar water to be not truly authentic skincare – I can see why it is a preferred mode of cleansing for many, as it removes the need to get out of bed… If you refuse to take the short walk to the bathroom to carry out a true skincare regime, I am not sure how you expect to see results. Skin health, whilst also being a monetary investment, is a time investment. Nobody expects to do a half-arsed 10 minute workout once weekly and then have a rock solid posterior – you have to be stretching, squatting, lunging, on those bikes and on those stairmasters.
The more skin-beneficial micellar waters on the market
While saying that, there are some micellar waters that I think are a nice pre-cleanse step…
The Yonka Eau Micellaire (€17.50) contains the usual micelles, alongside sea lavender, which helps to prevent from free-radical-related ageing, rose and chamomile essential oils to soothe the skin, Quintessence Yon-ka (lavender, geranium, rosemary, cypress, and thyme essential oils) and more. On top of this, it is 100% alcohol-free as are ALL Yonka products.
Nuxe Micellar Cleansing Water (€15.99) is also fab, as it has rose water which is antibacterial and has antioxidant qualities, allantoin, which is keratolytic meaning that it can help the skin’s process of desquamation (AKA its natural exfoliation technique), and hyaluronic acid, as well as coconut-derived micelles.
Even saying that, I think there are better ways to do your primary cleanse in a double cleanse routine, such as the Cleanse Off Mitt (€5.95) or a drying-alcohol-free cleansing balm or oil.
The Nerdie Opinion
Would I personally recommend a micellar water? No. Would I say it is 100% not skin-healthy if used in conjunction with a traditional cleanser? No! As I’ve said, it is brand and ingredient dependent and my opinion should be taken with a pinch of salt (as the vast majority of opinions should be).
However, if you’re using only micellar water to cleanse and are seeing some congestion (ie. blackheads, whiteheads), now you may know the culprit!