The Truth About Micellar Water (And Why It’s Not The Cleansing Solution You Think)

Six bottles of Bioderma Micellar Water are now sold every second across the globe. The trend for micellar waters may have started as a makeup artist and industry secret, but the magic bottles of liquid were soon adopted by bloggers and beauty enthusiasts – creating such a demand that Bioderma was launched in the UK to rapturous applause. I’m a big fan of micellar waters, not only because they’re easy and effective, but because they don’t strip the skin or leave it feeling irritated. Although many friends and readers know that micellar water provides a gentle option for their skin, few really understand how they work or how they should be used. To clear the issue up once and for all, here’s the truth about micellar waters – and why they’re not the one-stop-shop cleansing solution you think they may be.

Micellar waters contain molecules called surfactants, which are also present in lots of other cleaning and cleansing products. The surfactant molecules have a ‘head’ that’s attracted to water, as well as a ‘tail’ that’s attracted to oil and grease – they can therefore bring together water and oil, which are normally repelled away from each other. Micellar water contains lots of clusters of these
surfactant molecules (called micelles) floating around in purified water. When these micelles are applied to a cotton pad and wiped over the surface of your face, the oil-loving tails stick out and grab onto the dirt, grease and grime residing on the surface of the skin. This provides the cleansing and makeup removing qualities that micellar waters are so commonly known for, without irritating or stripping the skin. Not all surfactants are created equal and the ones within micellar waters are extremely mild; they’re even mild enough to be left on the skin without causing irritation.

Micellar waters are extremely easy to use – you simply need to apply them to a cotton pad and wipe over the surface of skin until the pad comes away clear. Although they’re really effective at lifting nasties from the surface, you do need to be sure to repeat the process until you’ve removed all the build-up from the day. Personally, I prefer to use them after I’ve used a cleansing balm (which is much quicker and more effective and cleansing deeply,) to remove any remaining residue on the surface of my
face. They’re great for quick and easy fixes, removing light makeup or simply refreshing skin, but using them as the only makeup removal product within your repertoire comes with problems of its own. Unfortunately too many women are relying on their micellar water as the only cleanser within their routine, removing surface makeup without giving their skin a deep cleanse; although the clever micelles will remove surface grease and dirt, they won’t lift up build-up or dead skin cells that sit within open pores. (In fact, they were originally popular because they removed makeup backstage at fashion shows easily and effectively; however, it doesn’t matter if a model has makeup applied onto a non-thoroughly cleansed face and steps out onto the catwalk for the fifth time that day. It does matter if you go to bed without a thorough cleanse.)

It’s no surprise that micellar waters have boomed in popularity in the last few years. They’ve definitely taken the crown from BB Creams in terms of the most popular and sought after products in the beauty arena. They’re affordable, easy to use, uncomplicated, gentle and are so much better than a dreaded face wipe; they can provide an extra element to a routine, or just help you step away from the products that are doing you no good at all. These ‘magic’ potions won’t be going anywhere fast, but do use them with a hint of caution… Nothing will ever be the answer to beautiful skin: that’s just down to a great routine and products that will only be of benefit to your complexion. Anything that’s quick and easy is normally too good to be true.

Are you a fan of micellar waters? Do you use them alone, or in conjunction with other cleansing products?

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  1. Smidge
    October 7, 2015 / 9:47 am

    I treat my micellar water (I use LRP) like a face wipe. It is a quick solution, but you know its not working the best! I use a proper cleanser /scrub in the shower for a deep cleanse. Nice article ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Pam Scalfi
    October 7, 2015 / 10:08 am

    nope not a fan. I feel like my face isnt fully clean by using it. I always use gentle face wipes, a cleansing lotion, and a toner. It removes so much more make-up than the micellar water does.Pam xo/ Pam Scalfiโ™ฅ

  3. Louise
    October 7, 2015 / 11:26 am

    Honestly, I could leave them. I have my skin care routine in place and its good for me. I think a bit of a money making spin. I prefer a nice toner. I've tried bioderma which I thought was all hype. The Vichy one isn't bad and I have tested another brand too which obviously since I can't remember the name mustn't have been great. For me my cash is better spent elsewhere on more useful products.

  4. 2catsinjapan
    October 7, 2015 / 11:26 am

    In Japan they're known as cleansing waters and we have our own domestic brands in a dizzying variety of shapes and flavors. Some people even go as far as to suggest that Bioderma was initially inspired by Japanese cleansing waters. However, they are used strictly as a pre-cleansing step to remove the top layer of makeup. They are normally followed by another cleanser. And that's how I use them, too.

  5. My Beauty Dreams
    October 7, 2015 / 11:31 am

    Thank you so much for providing such great and thorough information! I've never used a micellar water before, but I think I might try it sometime soon ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mary Tohill
    October 7, 2015 / 12:45 pm

    I agree that they shouldn't be used on their own. I use them to remove makeup before doing a proper cleanse with a cleansing milk and a washcloth. Plus it keeps my white washcloths from getting too dirty as most of my makeup has been removed beforehand!

  7. Jasiminne Yip
    October 7, 2015 / 1:43 pm

    I've been using micellar water as a one-step cleanser for days when I don't wear makeup: I go over my face twice, each time with a fresh new cotton pad. Otherwise I use micellar water – my favourite is Purevivi Cleansing Lotion, this brilliant Japanese brand with a never-ending bottle! – as a makeup remover, then wash my face in the shower with whatever drug store product is in reach. It's good to know that micellar water isn't the be-all-end-all miracle cleanser some have made it out to be, although I wish there was a one-step-cleans-all product for lazy people like me! xJasiminne | Posh, Broke, & Bored

  8. Gill McLaughlin
    October 7, 2015 / 2:24 pm

    I love my Micellar water but would never just use it on its own – I always ensure I cleanse my skin thoroughly after wearing make up for a full day at work – look after your skin lovelies ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Marie
    October 7, 2015 / 2:28 pm

    I love Micellar water, I am originally from France ( have been living in London for the past 15 years) and in France Micellar water always been around for as long as I can remember only until recently they are more widely available in UK anyway I always used them and loved them . Great post and pictures by the way :)

  10. Cheryl Wooodman
    October 7, 2015 / 3:38 pm

    So true! I cringe a LOT about leaving stuff on my skin that isn't moisturising, so if I use face wipes or micellar water, I always finish with at least another splash of fresh water :)

  11. Sophie B
    October 7, 2015 / 5:58 pm

    I use nivea's micellar water and absolutely love it. It's far gentler on my dry-ish skin than previous cleansers. I always use it with a cleansing cream or balm though, just because I don't trust it to give my face a proper deep clean xx Sophie /

  12. Claire D. T
    October 7, 2015 / 7:24 pm

    Very interesting post. Even though I love this kind of product, I always wash my face with a cleanser after its use. An then I feel my skin really clean :DI just found you and I'm really glad about it!KissesClaire

  13. Saloca
    October 7, 2015 / 8:40 pm

    I do love my Micellar water but I pretty much only use it now after a gym session so all the sweat and grime doesn't clog my pores – then when I get home I do a full cleanse! They're handy to have but are by no means a replacement for a proper cleanser or make-up remover!I'm also imaging the surfactants look like sperm…oh dear!Sarah :)Saloca in Wonderland

  14. Laura Gale
    October 7, 2015 / 10:05 pm

    I'm not a fan! I definitely agree, they aren't a quick fix/replacement for a thorough skincare routine suited to your skin type xxLaura | Lala London: Beauty & Lifestyle

  15. Abigail Alice
    October 8, 2015 / 4:29 am

    I love using Micellar cleanser but after a regular cleanser too, I use micellar mostly on my stubborn make-up!

  16. Jasmine Stewart
    October 11, 2015 / 9:06 pm

    Micellar Water definitely has its place in my routine; I use a hot cloth or oil cleanser then use this to get rid of every last bit of makeup afterwards then cleanse my actual skin properly afterwards. I really dislike how Garnier are trying to brand their micellar water as a 'does it all' product (5 in 1 or something equally ridiculous) as that's simply not what it is or what it was intended to be xx Jasmine Talks Beauty

  17. Steph Hancox
    October 12, 2015 / 9:50 am

    I use my FM micellar lotion on clients and myself and LOVE LOVE LOVE it. However I do always use my Triumph of Orchid face was too and B glucan face serum.

  18. Anonymous
    November 16, 2015 / 3:11 am

    I had a terrible experience with the "Rosehip Micellar Water" I purchased. After a thorough cleansing with my Mia Clairsonic Brush, I applied the micellar water with a cotton ball as directed on the bottle. Instantly, my face turned bright red. I don't know what exactly happened there, but I had to rinse my face due to the stinging sensation. Can anyone please offer any advice?

    • Hayley Carr
      November 16, 2015 / 9:12 am

      It may be that because you used your brush, you'd removed the top layer of dead skin and then applied essential oils (assuming this is what was in your rosehip product) – that's a common way to cause irritation. I would avoid using the brush before and use it as a first step. It's only meant to take off the first layer of makeup and grime.

  19. aggie white
    August 2, 2016 / 8:41 pm

    Micellar water is the best for my skin! I only find out when I couldn't wash my face for a while after my eye surgery. I used only bioderma micellar sebium h20 and it's the best solution for my prone to breakouts skin. I use now face scrub 2 a week and this is all what I use to clean my face. Love it!!!!

  20. Anonymous
    April 28, 2017 / 12:50 am

    I agree with this article to a point. It is not good for skin to over-wash (most experts recommend washing with water and cleanser once a day) so I've been struggling with options for either morning or night (depending on when i do a thorough wash with soap and water). I was using face wipes but not only do a not feel they get my face clean, they're terrible for the environment. I started using Micellar water from Bioderma a couple weeks ago and i love it! To be fair, i don't wear heavy makeup–all mineral based from either Bare Esscentuals or Alima Pure–but it works great and my skin feels refreshed and clean. Also, I am 41 and most people usually guess at least 10 years younger so I know my skin care routine works!!!

  21. SammyGregory
    August 7, 2017 / 3:52 pm

    Not a fan of the couple of micellar waters that I have tried, however, I do like Caudalie's make up removing cleansing oil which I just recently tried from b-glowing. I like most of the products that I have tried from Caudalie.

  22. Beauty Rabbit Hole
    August 9, 2017 / 6:17 pm

    I do like micellar water but I don't use it every day. It may be a gentle cleanser but the constant swiping with cotton pads may not be gentle on our skin.

  23. Jorge
    July 29, 2019 / 8:35 pm

    Micellar waters are a hoax, like homeopatics. Guess what product originally contains micells? Soap. Micells are the main cleaning components of soap. So micellar water is just a glorified soap water.

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