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We’re endlessly fascinated by French women’s beauty routines—mainly because it doesn’t seem like they really have one. No, they’re just effortlessly cooler than we’ll ever dream of being, and though we’re slowly coming to terms with that fact (kidding, we’ll never stop trying to emulate Marion Cotillard), we haven’t stopped trying to decipher every facet of their laissez-faire beauty routines.
Thus, when we stumbled on the French skincare secret that is micellar water, our Francophile hearts leapt with joy and wonder. Was this product the secret to French women’s hydrated-but-never-oily complexions? Is this why every French It girl ever interviewed always says, “Not much,” when asked about what she uses on her face?
We spoke with Simple Skincare’s advisory board member and Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Debra Luftman, MD, and Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group to get their input on what this magical water does and what our skin benefits from using it over tap water. Keep scrolling to find out why micellar water is a serious beauty game changer, and shop some of our favorites ahead!
What Is Micellar Water?
Pronounced my-sell-ar, micellar water is a multi-purpose skin tonic that can be used as a makeup remover, cleanser, or toner. Micellar water typically contains purified water, mild surfactants and "micelles" for cleansing, and a hydrating ingredient (like glycerin).
First things first—what exactly is the “micellar” in micellar water? “Micellar water contains small particles called micelles,” Luftman explains. “They work like a miniature sponge, mopping up dirt and makeup while hydrating your skin. Micelles have an oil-loving ‘tail’ that traps dirt, oil, and makeup and a water-loving ‘head’ that allows the micelles to dissolve impurities so they can easily be wiped away.” So that all sounds way, way better than the regular water we use to wash our face—and it is.
In fact, Luftman explains that the reason micellar water is so popular in France is because of the notoriously hard water in Paris, which may be extremely harsh on the skin. “Micellar waters are super-gentle, so they won’t strip or irritate the skin while cleansing,” she says. “All skin types can benefit from micellar water, but I especially recommend it for those with dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin. Simple Skincare’s Micellar Cleansing Water ($5) boosts skin’s hydration by 90%, is triple purified, and enriched with vitamins.”
“Oil droplets in soft water are actually quite hydrating to dry skin and don’t disrupt the natural pH of skin like foaming cleansers,” says Nazarian. “It’s also great for people who travel a lot and don’t always have access to water: micellar water will clean most makeup, oil, and dirt with just a swipe of a cotton ball.”
The Benefits of Micellar Water
- Gentler than traditional cleansers
- Easily removes makeup
- More hydrating than makeup wipes
- Most formulas are alcohol-free
- Micelles draw out pore-clogging oils
How to Use Micellar Water
As a makeup remover: If you're wearing heavier makeup or sunscreen, we recommend using micellar water as a makeup remover, then following up with your favorite gentle cleanser. To use as a makeup remover, soak a cotton pad in your favorite micellar formulas and gently sweep where you have makeup. For eye makeup, it's recommended to press the cotton pad onto the eye area for a few seconds to help loosen the makeup before you sweep it away.
As a cleanser: To use micellar water, you simply pour it into a cotton pad and rub it over your face, like a toner. Then, just carry on with your skincare routine as normal—no need to rinse afterward. “Micellar water can replace any daily cleansing routine,” Luftman says. “I recommend using it in the morning, followed by an SPF moisturizer, and again in the evening followed by a night cream.”
As a toner: To use micellar water as a toner, first start by using a gentle cleanser on the face. Then, pour some micellar water into your hands and pat the formula into the skin.
Our Favorite Micellar Waters
As mentioned above, this micellar water is super hydrating and great for dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin. It contains no artificial fragrance, dyes, or chemicals that may irritate your skin. Formulated for both eyes and face, you can use it morning and evening before deep cleansing.
We like to call this the OG micellar water—it's been an industry fave forever. It originated in France and has become widely popular with beauty junkies and makeup artists, too. Its range of micellar cleansing water adapts to any skin type and its soothing finish helps repair stubbornly oily skin.
This is strong enough to take off long-wearing foundation. It contains Poloxamer, which is a mild cleansing agent used in contact lens solution that is meant to help gently cleanse the skin and remove impurities, while the glycerin component promises to hydrate.
This lightweight formula helps to remove makeup and soften the skin, while brightening the complexion, too. It focuses on makeup removal and toning while doing everything it can to preserve the skin's natural lipids. It's made with rose oil meant to soothe and calm skin.
Garnier's micellar cleansing water helps remove eye makeup and face makeup in one single swipe of a cotton pad. It leaves the skin refreshed and toned, and there's an option for each skin type, from sensitive to oily. Use it morning and night, and don't worry about rinsing afterward if you aren't following up with another cleanser.
This micellar water also tones the skin. It's made with thermal spring water meant to soothe dry skin. The 3-in-1 formula also removes eye, face, and lip makeup effectively, so there's no need to use special products for each area.
Apart from being great for sensitive skin and getting impurities out, it also has a lovely scent. Not only that, but this micellar water should be safe for super sensitive skin, even if you're prone to redness, irritation, or rosacea.
Walters RM, Mao G, Gunn ET, Hornby S. Cleansing formulations that respect skin barrier integrity. Dermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:495917. doi:10.1155/2012/495917