≡ Menu

What is Micellar Water?

Elana44 asks…Lately i see a lot of brands coming out with something called micellar water. What are they, what do they do to skin? How are they different from regular water or a toner we all are used to see around? What do they put in there that makes it micellar?

The Right Brain responds:

Wow, we thought we’d seen it all when it came to Marketing co-opting technical terms to make products sound differentiated, but this is a new one! In reality, any product that contains a detergent (aka surfactant) can said to be “micellar water.”

What are micelles?

Micelles are the structures that surfactants form when they reach a certain concentration in water. Think of it this way: Surfactants are little chemical bridges with one end that loves water (hydrophilic) and one end that loves oil (lipophilic). Here’s an actual electron micrograph of a surfactant molecule:

Sarah Bellum says this picture reminds her of something else but I have no idea what she’s talking about. Anyway, when you dump a bunch of these molecules in water, the oil loving parts want to be close together to get away from the water. So, surfactant molecules spontaneously form these spherical blobs where the oily ends all point toward the middle of the sphere and the water loving ends all point to the outside of the sphere where the rest of the water is. That’s why surfactants are so good at dispersing oil: oil droplets can “hide” from the water in the middle of the micelle so they can be suspended or washed away. And here’s a real picture of a micelle:

Once again, I point out that ANY product with surfactants will do this. It doesn’t have to be called a fancy name like “micellar water.”

Is there ANYTHING different about micellar water?

Faithful forum member Alchemist did a quick breakdown on the ingredients in these products. They typically contain the following:

  • Water
  • A Glycol (eg Hexylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol) – acting both as a humectant and hydotrope (improves solubulity of the the makeup in the surfactant)
  • Solubiliser (eg Polysorbate 20) – the surfactant that does the cleansing
  • Preservative
  • Fairy Dust
Based on the examples we’ve seen it looks like most of these products use non-ionic surfactants which are very low foaming. So they’re kind of like cleansers that don’t feel like traditional cleansers. Non-ionic materials also tend to be milder than their anionic cousins which include SLS, SLES, etc. So perhaps the “hook” for these products is that they look and act more like water than a traditional high-foaming cleanser.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

If you’re looking for a mild, low-foam face wash, micellar water may be just the thing for you. But don’t be tricked into spending a ton of money just because of the micelles.

Image credit: http://www.texample.net/media/tikz/examples/PNG/electric-dipole.png (It’s either a water molecule or a sillouete of Mickey Mouse.)

If you’re compelled to spend more money on micelles, please buy Nuxe Micellar Cleansing Water through our link and help support the Beauty Brains.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • carol January 18, 2015, 8:48 am

    I have been using this micellar water for cleansing eye lashes on myself and dog. We both have eye conditions where our lashes need to be very clean and I feel it works well but can not find a place to buy it in US so have to order on internet

    • Vanessa January 27, 2015, 11:17 am

      Yon ka is just releasing a new cleanser with this technology. Look for a spa that sells Yon Ka and ask for Eau Micellaire.
      I know use it as a make up remover and it doesn’t leave a film at all.
      hope that helps

    • Karen February 25, 2015, 9:11 am

      For Carol – the brand Simple has just released a product called Simple Micellar Cleansing Water. According to the February 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, the product is sold at drugstores for $6.99. I have seen Simple products at Target, so that might be a good place to look for this. Good luck!

      • Kate March 18, 2016, 2:14 pm

        Walgreens carries both Garnier and Simple Micellar Water too, as do some grocery stores, do check prices, they vary. Love this product! No more expensive cosmetic cleansers for me — this truly does leave my skin feeling clean and moisturized, and is very refreshing when hot and/or traveling.

  • Alba August 20, 2015, 2:29 pm

    Where I can buy this :micellar water. Thank You

  • Sarah January 3, 2016, 11:59 am

    How well does this work on acne?

    • Randy Schueller January 3, 2016, 8:26 pm

      Unless the formula contains approved anti-acne agents like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, I don’t think it will work on acne at all.

      • Katie March 11, 2019, 4:54 am

        The “Yes To” micellar waters in cotton and cucumber helped my acne, I think in large part because they were so gentle and had a light moisturizer so I wasn’t in constant battle with extremely dry patches and extremely oily patches. Plus, as a disabled person, it made it possible to manage twice daily cleansing on days when I couldn’t stand for long or had so little energy I could barely get out of bed (let alone stand at the sink raising my arms up above my heart for 2-5 minutes for cleansing and moisturizing). I’m hoping to find a replacement for them soon as trying other cleansers, I keep having so many problems with the fragrances and harshness, putting me back a year’s worth of progress in healing my troubled skin.

        I think if someone’s acne was triggered by over cleansing or a sensitivity they didn’t recognize, it’s not unreasonable to think it’s a possibility of helping.

  • Haley January 10, 2016, 8:03 pm

    Garnier Fructis just came out with a fairly inexpensive micellar water and it is awesome!!! It’s sold in drugstores and in Walmart.

  • paty January 30, 2016, 11:48 pm

    So I use baby oil to remove mascara. I can get a huge bottle in the baby section. Seems this Micellar ‘water’ is a gimmick. ah well.

    • KC October 29, 2016, 2:24 pm

      Garnier’s Miceller for waterproof products works great and faster on eye products than baby oil. Plus it’s not greasy and doesn’t hurt your eyes. It’s the Bomb!

  • Heather Beden February 3, 2016, 1:55 am

    The best Micellar water I have used is from H2O at Home. Their Micellar Water is natural with witch hazel and hyaluronic acid. My skin feels amazing afterwards: clean, toned, and moisturized.

  • Ty March 26, 2017, 11:26 am

    Can you use this on eyelash extensions for cleansing

    • JEN March 25, 2018, 9:42 am

      You really should not use micellar cleansing water on lash extensions because it contains glycol. You’re supposed to avoid products that contain oil or glycol to prolong the life of your extensions.

  • Kerry March 24, 2018, 11:07 am

    Not Micellar water, it’s DermaVeen iNova Pharmaceuticals (Aust.) Pty Ltd. I’m 58 yrs & use small amount with water to remove water proof mascara, foundation, lipstick also cleanse each morning, not drying, just clean.
    Toner: CHILD water from fridge (I NEVER drink chilled water) daubed on with cotton wool ball, it’s bracing & simple. Soap free! Natural oatmeal wash, pH-balanced & no oils, fragrances or alcohol etc. Give it a go

  • Kimberly March 24, 2019, 5:02 am

    I have bumpy skin, there is no redness just normal skin tone,there on my arms and legs,my back, since I was a kid I pick them, I call them snakes ,have no clue were I got that term ? A piece of (sand) always comes out …What is it? I try to exfoliate, but I literally have to take them out w a fingernail . It drives me nuts! What Can I do to get rid of them ?