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Are Micellar Water makeup removers the real deal? Episode 150

What’s the deal with micellar water make up removers?

Taylor asks…I’m a new listener and enjoy your show so much. (Gets me through the work day) I want to know the hype about micellar water and is this something new or just a mild makeup remover with a “fancy name.”screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-46-32-pm

Micellar waters are named after the technical term, micelle, so before we talk about the products we should explain what that is.

Micelles are structures that are formed when surfactant are dissolved in water. Remember that surfactants, short for surface active agents, are used in beauty products as cleansers and emulsifiers that help mix oil and water soluble ingredients.

If you look at the chemical structure of surfactants they typically have a long oil soluble tail and water soluble polar head group.  When surfactants are present in water at a certain concentration, they begin to assemble into larger structures based on the water soluble/oil soluble parts of the molecule. The oil soluble tails try to group together to get away from the water. The lowest energy state for them is to have all the tails together so they are shielded from water by the polar head groups – which again, water soluble. Think of it as a ball or sphere of surfactant molecules with head on outside, tails facing inside.

These spheres of surfactants are called micelles and the concentration of surfactant required to form them is called the Critical Micelle Concentration or CMC.

Micelles have a couple of useful properties – the oil soluble tails can interact with other oil soluble materials like dirt and oil, and sort of trap them inside the micelle away from the water. That’s how micelles allow surfactants to mix oil and water soluble materials.

Secondly, the structure of the micelle helps reduce the irritation potential of certain surfactants. It’s kind of counter intuitive but because of micelle formation, a surfactant may actually be more irritating at a LOWER concentration (when the molecules are floating around by themselves) rather than at a higher concentration when they’re tied up in micelles. And that brings us back to micellar waters…

The idea is that Micellar Waters are milder or better for you skin because the surfactants are tied up in micelles. I think these products are more likely to be mild because they don’t use harsh surfactants in the first place.

Yeah, if you look at the ingredient list for products that claim to be micellar waters they tend NOT to use traditional, high foaming surfactants. Instead they use a combination of nonionic surfactants, which tend to be milder on skin. One of most common nonionic surfactant used in micellar waters is Poloxamer 184.

This ingredient is made of units of polyoxyethylene, followed by a unit of polyoxypropylene, followed by a unit of polyoxyethylene. It can reduce surface tension and help lift away dirt. Some versions of Poloxamer can give the skin a soft and smooth appearance.

Micellar waters also use solvents like hexylene glycol. In fact, that’s the number one ingredient in almost every micellar water I’ve seen. HG can help remove oily makeup all by itself and it’s not harsh on skin. Also use PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides which function similarly.

It’s also import to note that some MW do use more traditional anionic foaming surfactants but they are typically more mild, like Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate.

So overall, yes, these MW products are likely to be milder than many other cleansers. And, unlike traditional foaming cleanser’s they don’t necessarily have to be rinsed. They may even provide more of pleasant after feel than other cleansing products.

I have to say that companies have done a great job marketing these products. Somehow, these seem so special that they should be really expensive.

Yea, remember “micellar water” is a marketing term not a true technical term. (Technically we would say it’s a makeup remover “with a surfactant levels that has met or surpassed the Critical Micelle Concentration.”) There’s anything wrong with that being marketing driven but just don’t be tricked into thinking it’s worth more money because of the fancy name.

But they SHOULDN’T be that expensive. There are some very affordable MW products on the market. You can spend Simple has one that only costs about $1.00 per ounce. Of course there’s Lancôme EAU FRAÎCHE DOUCEUR Micellar Cleansing Water which is 6x the price. I doubt it’s 6 times better.

Do vitamin c boosters really work?

Sam says…I like using Paula’s Choice C15 booster exactly as indicated: adding it into my current lotions to “boost” their performance. This is super convenient because it doesn’t alter my existing routine, AND I can mix it into my body lotion and get this serum’s benefits all over without going bankrupt.

However, I am super confused about how Paula’s booster actually works when mixed with other products. Since ascorbic acid requires a pH below 3.5 to remain stable, how can the it possibly maintain this when mixed with any variety of unknown products? Paula’s customer service says the serum was formulated with this in mind and it has penetration enhancers to ensure that the ascorbic acid is viable when mixing.

NuFountain makes a similar product but they say mixing it with other products will likely affect the pH and render the ascorbic acid useless. They say to apply their serum first to allow full absorption of the ascorbic acid without any chance of altering its efficacy.

So what is going on? Are these two serums really radically different or is someone just wrong here?

I don’t think it’s a question of who’s right or wrong, I think it’s more about degrees of rightness. I understand the appeal of the “booster” premise. Essentially you’re turning any regular skin cream into a vitamin C treatment. That’s a great idea. It another way of making a 2 in 1 product. And you know what we say about 2 in 1 products…

You may gain convenience when you make a combination product but you’re always going to compromise one benefit or the other, or both, when you try to combine two products into one.

In this case you’re sacrificing the efficacy of ascorbic acid to gain the convenience of quicker product application. Let’s look at the facts.

There are 3 factors that can impact the stability of ascorbic acid in a situation like this.

  • pH – as Sam said, the pH needs to be around 3.5 for maximum stability.
  • Ingredient interaction – it’s well established that certain ingredients like oxidants and metal ions can degrade the stability of AA.
  • Dilution effect – The ideal concentration of AA is about 15 or 20%. Much more than that and it will irritate skin. Much less than that and it won’t be as effective.

So what happens when you use the “booster approach?” You’re mixing AA serum with other products that may have any or all of these 3 factors.

The pH of a typical skin lotion is in the range of 4 to 6 so you’re raising the pH out of the ideal range. I don’t see how a small amount of this booster could lower the pH of a large amount of a secondary product.

Lotions do contain oxidants and metal ions so you may be introducing destabilizing agents.

And, you’re putting a few drops of a concentrated serum into a larger volume of another product – so by definition you’re diluting the AA.

That’s ESPECIALLY true in Sam’s case where she’s using it in a body lotion to “get the benefits all over.”

Okay, so we’ve established that the boosting approach is more likely to reduce AA efficacy compared to using the AA serum on it’s own. Does that make Paula’s Choice a liar?

NO! Because none of these 3 factors we just described COMPLETELY deactivate AA. They just make it less stable. Some percentage will still work it just won’t be optimal.

In other words, if you use the product as Paula describes you’ll get the convenience and some of the benefits of vitamin C.

Right but the efficacy of the vitamin C may not be at the same level as using the serum on its own – depending upon what you mix it with.

The bottom line is that both companies may be correct but to different degrees. You have to decide which benefit is more important to you.

The best approach is to use Vit C serum by itself, apply other products later. Less convenient but maximum efficacy. Mix booster with other creams: Get convenience but sacrifice some efficacy.

How do salt sprays create texture on hair?

Annie asks…How does sea salt work to create texture in the hair? Why is it so good at creating waves? Can it be bad in any way?

Salt dries on hair and it forms a coating. Because of the crystalline nature of salt this coating has a gritty feel. This type of coating is especially good at increasing friction between hair fibers which gives texture. BTW, sugar behaves similar but may be sticky, especially in high humidity.

I don’t see any reason why it would make straight hair wavy but if your hair has a natural wave it could enhance that creating more entanglement between fibers.

What are the negative impacts sea salt can have on hair health? It’s a fact of nature that water tends to move from areas of high concentration to areas of lower concentration. This is the principle of osmotic pressure. So moisture that’s inside your hair MAY migrate outward toward the salt where it will evaporate.

That means if you have very dry/porous hair, you might want to stay away from salt-based styling products. The more porous your hair the easier it is for moisture to leach out.

That, of course, presumes that the salt is really what’s providing the benefit. If you’re interested in a salt spray just make sure you read the ingredients to see it’s really the salt doing the work and not something else. Polymers do the same thing but provide more hold less grit. (PVP or ones that start with PVP/VA).

Beauty Science News

Self-cleaning hair brush


Here’s an innovation that I think is very cool – a self cleaning hairbrush. Scientists at The Ohio State University (go Buckeyes!) discovered that a lot of people just throw away their hairbrushes because they’re so hard to clean. That means cleaning your hairbrush is a sustainability issue.

So, they designed a 3D printed hairbrush that has a flexible backbone – you simply bend back the top of handle part and the bristle part moves forward which makes it very easy to pull all the hair and junk right off. You let go and it snaps right back into place.

The university is looking for licensing partners to commercialize this patented hairbrush (US 8,857,005) in the health and beauty industry — for people and for pets.
I can’t wait to see this on the market – and I suggest it may make a good gift for Mrs. R.

Who are the top beauty brands so far in 2016?


The midyear beauty brand rankings are out and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the leaders.

So this is a ranking put out by YouGov BrandIndex. This company is supposedly the authority on measuring brand perception. They measure public perception of thousands of different types of brands in different sectors. They do this by interviewing thousands of customers every day and they do it on a global basis.

They published the results of the top brands in the US for beauty products. Specifically, they got their rankings by asking consumers “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”

And unsurprisingly the top spots are held by traditional beauty companies like P&G and Unilever. Here are the top 5 beauty brands for the first half of 2016.

5. Pantene with a score of 12.6. These scores can range anywhere from +100 to -100 so that gives you some perspective on the overall score.

4. Neutrogena is next with a score of 14.0

3. Olay has the next highest buzz score at 14.2

2. Is Head and Shoulders with a score of 14.7

And the number one beauty brand thus far in 2016 is Dove with a score of 16.8

If you look at the brands that have most improved in scores from the same time period last year, Head & Shoulders is best followed by Dove, and Neutrogena. Then L’Oreal Paris comes in next and finally MAC cosmetics. It seems they done something to improve their scores.

I guess what I find most interesting is that big brands still dominate the minds of consumers. I thought in this age of the Internet that smaller brands would be able to break through the noise of traditional advertising and steal the spot light. But it’s not true. So far, you can’t beat real advertising when it comes to making yourself known.

Shocking new information on hair loss


Let me just say that in discussing this next article I intend no disrespect to our follicularly challenged male listeners. But, science says bald guys are less attractive.

This seems to fall into the category of another one of those scientific studies that we probably didn’t need to waste money on.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Facial Plastic Surgery answers the question “Does how much hair a man has matter in how he is perceived?” The researcher, who by the way is from Johns Hopkins University, surveyed 122 people and found that men with hair were rated as “more youthful, attractive, successful and approachable.”

My favorite quote: “Limitations of the study include its small population and study design. “

We could do a better job than that using our email list and Survey Monkey. One would’ve thought that the billion-dollar hair growth industry might have been a clue that having hair on your head is a desirable attribute. Nonetheless now we have scientific proof.

Skin care line made from centipede poop.


We’ve got some beauty news out of South Korea. It seems like all the hot new beauty trends start there doesn’t it?

Anyway, researchers there have now launched a cosmetics line using an antibiotic substance found in a species of centipede. These centipedes have apparently long been used in traditional Korean medicines for generation but now this knowledge has been applied to cosmetics. Specifically, they focus on the centipede’s antibacterial property.

The extract is known as scolopendrasin I and it’s a peptide excreted by the centipedes to fight bacteria. Scientists believe that it is a proven effective treatment for atopic dermatitis.

They say that two companies are in the process of commercializing products using this centipede ingredient.

I wonder what their brand names might be.

Cent Impede – the brand that stops bacteria in it’s tracks

SPF = Savory Poultry Fun


The term SPF typically stands for Sun Protection Factor but I think it could also mean “Savory Poultry Fun.” That’s because it was in the news this week that fast food giant KFC now has a sunscreen that smells like fried chicken.

Apparently this is a promotional stunt for the Extra Crispy chicken because they tell us “The only skin that should be extra crispy this summer is on your fried chicken.” Their website describes how it works: “Harmful ultraviolet rays bounce off your skin while the lovely fragrance rays penetrate it to give you a healthy chicken aroma.”
My favorite quote: Several Associated Press reporters who tested the sunscreen said the smell did not immediately bring to mind chicken, however.

Remember our cosmetic chemist friend Colin Sanders who runs Colin’s Beauty Pages? Do you think he’s related to Colonel Sanders?

iTunes reviews

Patrickbooth says…5 stars I came for the science, but stayed for the banter. Perry is a loquacious, good natured fellow, while Randy is the somewhat curmudgeonly of the two slyly jabbing at Perry which makes for a fun time. Sometimes I think Perry could offer Randy a nice belly rub to open him up to the audience more.

Jenni4ever…5 stars Great chemistry. These two guys bring thoughtful and well articulated discussion to beauty. I specifically appreciate that they don’t use a beauty consultant as previously suggested by another reviewer. I think this untainted take on the chemistry/utility of the products gives me the most educational and straightforward information.

Kangopie from South Africa says…4 stars This is a great show! They are a bit lame but funny all the same … thats a compliment. Somehow having never met them I trust their reviews and commentary because they look at the science.

Jus1Me says…Love it when you don’t take breaks 3 stars. You take far too long on your breaks. This is the third week where you are playing repeats. Unacceptable. It doesn’t take much effort to sit and put a good show together, even when on vacation. You guys are too good to slack for so long.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Diana September 13, 2016, 5:34 am

    The methodology for the YouGov study does not specify if they had an open end question letting respondents to type in the brands they want, or just a closed pre-established version. Having worked in market research for many years, my suspicion is it was closed end with maybe one “Other, specify” option. They need to sell their data to the traditional brands, no indie brand will afford their detailed reports. They also say ” Both scores are representative of the general population.” which means they have weighted the data against demographics. so all in all not very relevant for us consumers, just relevant to the brands that are paying them. I think market research companies really have to re-evaluate their methodology in the world of social media they are very outdated.

    • Randy Schueller September 13, 2016, 8:32 am

      I agree Diana. I didn’t really think the survey provided much useful information.

  • Pedro September 13, 2016, 11:04 am

    Many micellar waters don´t remove well very resistant makeup or sunscreens – in many cases they can be almost a total waste of money.

    • Randy Schueller September 14, 2016, 8:38 am

      Excellent point, Pedro. I don’t think we stressed this enough.

    • Eileen September 14, 2016, 11:30 am

      Hi Pedro,

      And, many of the micellar waters and wipes leave a residue behind which can lead to skin irritation and breakouts. I’ve read quite a few articles wherein dermatologists and estheticians suggest using them only occasionally or when no water is available (on photo shoots, when traveling, etc.). They probably don’t understand the actual chemical explanation of how they work (Thanks, Brains!), but they do understand congested skin and seem to regard them as being a better-than-nothing solution when the alternative is to not cleanse the skin at all.

      Personally, I have found the gentler the product, the less effective it is at removing my makeup and sunscreen. I can use it at night and wake up the next morning with raccoon eyes! But, since even the very gentle ones cause my skin to “burn” unless I rinse with plenty of water, I prefer to stick to my cleansing oil for makeup removal. I guess the micellar waters and wipes are a love ’em or hate ’em type of product.

      • Randy Schueller September 14, 2016, 11:43 am

        Good analysis Eileen. We should have pointed out that, while Micellar Waters are milder, even some mild ingredients that are left in contact with your skin can cause such problems.

        • Sally April 21, 2017, 7:00 am

          The Simple Micellar water – mentioned above as a nice cheap option – brought me out in a rash!! Gentle!!??

          Generally though – love your website!

          • Randy Schueller April 21, 2017, 8:07 am

            Sorry to hear you had a problem, Sally. It’s impossible to predict if any given product will cause a skin reaction on a specific individual but thanks for letting us know.

  • Christopher September 14, 2016, 8:30 am

    Awesome show this week! You spoke a lot about surfactants and in last week’s episode mentioned a “foam booster”. Do surfactants themselves create foam, or is it something else to just make consumers perceive the product working better to mimic soap? What is it that causes the foam?

    Also, I was happy to hear your “Be brainy about your beauty” this week as last week you didn’t say it, thus was not brainy about my beauty last week. Booo!

    • Randy Schueller September 14, 2016, 8:40 am

      Thanks Christopher. Surfactants themselves do create foam but the quality of the foam (volume, density, and longevity) can be adjusted using foam boosters (which may be additional surfactants or some kind of polymer.) The foam quality doesn’t affect how well the product cleans but it does improve the aesthetic properties.

      And remember, ALWAYS be brainy about your beauty!

  • Miki September 15, 2016, 1:29 pm

    Oh dear … there’s nothing right about Sunscreen that smells like chicken. LMAO. What companies won’t come up with! 😀

  • Miki September 15, 2016, 1:34 pm

    Oops, meant to also say thanks for another great post! So much good info 🙂 Micellar water is silly, I don’t find it works that great at all. That being said, I do still like it, just not what it’s marketed for! Like you’ve said it’s just good marketing. I find it’s really no different to me than a gentle toner, and toners have been around forever. I like to use it in the morning, as all I need to do is refresh my skin with a quick easy cleanse. It sure doesn’t remove makeup though! That’s a joke 😉 The other big reason I use it is I also use it on my little girl’s face (she gets occasional breakouts, baby acne). As it’s so gentle.

  • Junona September 16, 2016, 7:56 am

    Great show, I love your content, guys.

    Question: how much time to wait before applying other products after using vit C?

  • Jori September 26, 2016, 5:48 pm

    Micellar Water is my favorite makeup remover for my dry skin, it’s truly so mild and doesn’t irritate my skin or cause breakouts.
    thanks You for the great post and for explaining what they are and how they work!

  • Julia Kontis April 30, 2017, 3:08 pm

    It should be noted, that the CMC is always an indication for mild (low irritating potential) formulations, whether it is a face cleanser, hand soap or a shampoo, with or without this special marketing term.

    When the surfactant concentration increases, first of all the concentration of surfactant monomers increases. Once the CMC is reached and the surfactant monomers aggregate to micelles, the concentration of surfactant monomers reaches maximum, and remains constant. There are some graphics displaying this.
    Above the CMC the concentration of monomers doesn‘t decrease. It is nearly constant even at higher surfactant concentrations (displayed as a plateau). The free floating surfactant monomers and surfactant micelles exist in dynamic equilibrium above the CMC.

    Because of this interrelation, cleanser formulations with a lower CMC are generally milder (less irritant); simply because the surfactant monomer concentration reaches maximum around the CMC and above.
    Thus, if the CMC is reached at low surfactant concentrations, fewer surfactant monomers remain in the dynamic equilibrium, even for higher surfactant concentrations.

    Taking these considerations together I don’t see your conclusion why a surfactant should actually be more irritating at a lower concentration.

    Because the concentration of anbound surfactant monomers depends on CMC, this property is an indication for the irritating potential of a certain surfactant, respectively for the whole formulation.
    Sodium lauryl sulfat has a very high CMC: ca 185 mg/L.
    CMC of sodium laureth sulfat: ca. 171 mg/L.
    CMC of disodium cocoamphodiacetate: ca. 48 mg/L.
    CMC of sodium cocoamphoacetate: 34 ca. mg/L.
    CMC of coco glucoside: ca. 30 mg/L.
    (values are taken from http://www.stepan.com)
    Besides, also the zein score (protein interaction) is of importance.

    Alcohols generally lower the CMC of a surfactant system.
    For this reason micellar waters contain high amounts of polyhydric alcohols like: Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Propylene glycol, Hexylene glycol, Glycerin.

    Size matters: Big micelles are less irritant than small micelles.
    A micelle formed by pure sodium lauryl sulfate is approximatly 4 nm in diameter. This is very small. There are some publications showing, that the high irritating potential of SLS is also due to its small micelle diameter, which allow even SLS-micelles to penetrate the skin barrier. Other surfactants form micelles with a larger diameter (5, 10, 20, 30 nm – I don’t know exactly, which diameters are typical for certain surfactants/ blends).
    Blends of surfactants lower the overall CMC of the whole surfactant system and can generate larger micelles. SLS and SLES are often blended with CAPB for this reason.

    I guess, many micellar waters use Poloxamers because these high molcular weight surfactants may be involved in micelle formation and thereby they may lower the CMC and increase micelle size, maybe up to 20 to 50 nm or even to 80 nm. They would form so called poloxamer micelles, which are relatively large, thus less irritating.

    But there are some german natural cosmetic brands which have brought some micellar waters on the market without PEG-based surfactants or Poloxamers (PEG/PPG copolymers). Thus, large polymeric micelles are no criteria for this marketing term. These micellar waters are just formulated with one of these mild sugar surfactants: Coco glucoside, caprylyl/ capryl glucoside, decyl glucoside or heptyl glucoside.

    In general, the above mentioned strategies to lower the CMC are used for all other cleaning products in order to obtain a mild formulation: Usage of surfactant blends, polyhydric alhohols (commonly glycerin and propylene glycol), and – to mention another strategy – the usage of polycationic polymers or proteins, which lower the CMC by promoting and stabilizing micelle formation.

  • A July 18, 2017, 12:21 am

    Micellar waters have been on the market for a few decades at this point. Its not a new technology.

  • Jana February 8, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Great show, loved it!