It is the make-up artist holy grail product and basically broke the internet and took over the beauty community by storm. It promises to magically wipe make-up and dirt off your face without irritating the skin. It’s… water?
But not just plain water, mind you. This newly rediscovered cleansing product goes under the name micellar water. The reason I say rediscovered is that it was first used decades ago by the French women who avoided using harsh tap water on their skin due to issues with plumbing.
The Science Behind Micellar Water
Micellar water is essentially soapy water but the science behind it is quite fascinating. The secret behind micellar water’s amazing make-up removing properties lies in – unsurprisingly – micells. Micells are clusters of molecules with a hydrophilic polar head that attracts water and a lipophilic non-polar tail that attracts oil.
When these molecules float in water, the heads are attracted to water, while the tails cluster together in the middle, forming tiny molecule balls.
Always Use A Cotton Pad
To get the most out of micellar water we need to convince the oil-loving tails to point outward. We achieve this by soaking a cotton pad with our product, tricking the little molecules to rearrange and stick their heads onto the cotton, revealing the tails outwards. This way we get a cotton pad that strongly attracts oil and dirt without the need for rubbing or friction – a simple swipe with a soaked cotton pad does the job impressively well.
Just to freshen up your understanding of skin cleansing – because make-up and sebum are oil-soluble, we usually get the best cleansing results by using oil-based products and just using water simply cannot get the job done. Changing the game by adding molecules that actually strongly attract oil molecules, however, gives water face-cleansing superpowers.
Even though one of the advantages of micellar water is supposed to be the fact it doesn’t require rinsing, I still recommend you don’t leave it on your skin. While it is gentle, it still contains a form of surfactant (detergents) and that is something we don’t want to leave on our skin for extended periods of time. If you’re using micellar water to avoid using tap water, I suggest purifying the tap water with a filter before applying it to your skin to rinse off the micellar water.
Which Micellar Water Should You Buy?
Despite the logic behind micellar waters sounding pretty straight-forward, the differences in their ingredients lists are huge. While water normally represents the largest portion of the product, different producers have different approaches to creating micells and add different more or less nourishing ingredients to the product.
The product that started the hype and even found its way into celebrity bathroom cabinets is the Bioderma Sensibio H2O. The surfactant used in this product is the PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides that is generally considered safe, however, can be contaminated with toxic chemicals according to the Skin Deep database. Other ingredients include Propylene Glycol that can be irritating (you’ll notice an itching sensation), cucumber extract and a few non-problematic additives with only Cetrimonium Bromide standing out as being possibly toxic to some extent.
A very popular alternative due to a truly affordable price is the Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water. The main surfactant in the product is the generally safe Hexylene Glycol. The only potentially harmful ingredient in the product is Poloxamer 184, another surfactant with high contamination and bioaccumulation concerns, however, it is listed at the end of the ingredients list. The product has no real nourishing ingredients but with a cleanser I find a shorter ingredients list far more of an advantage – you’ll nourish your skin with a moisturiser afterwards anyway.
My far favourite choice would have to be one of the new Pacifica micellar waters that are 100% natural, with the Kale version including my oh-so-beloved glycolic acid. Each of the three available waters (Coconut, Kale and Cactus) has a special blend of nourishing and soothing ingredients, plus these products are cruelty-free. The downside – they are currently only available in the US and Canada.
So while we wait for the queen of natural and cruelty-free micellar waters here in Europe, you can also give Sukin Micellar Cleansing Water a try. It contains soothing aloe vera, cucumber and chamomile and a very safe surfactant, Decyl Glucoside.