Micellar water is beloved by many with sensitive skin for its ability to cleanse and even remove makeup without stripping the skin of its beneficial oils. It has gained a devoted following due to its many benefits and low price tag. The secret behind micellar water's powerful clean? Micelles.
Understanding the science behind micelles, it's easy to see why they would also make good cleansers for the hair and scalp. Those with color-treated hair or dry scalps are often looking for ways to cleanse without stripping their scalp and hair of necessary oils. Additionally, micellar cleansers manage to remove dirt and buildup without using harsh sulfates, making them great for curly and wavy hair.
In order to sort fact from fiction when it comes to micelles for hair, we turned to board-certified dermatologists Jayne Bird, MD, FAAD, and Rachel Nazarian, MD, for their expert opinions.
Meet the Expert
- Jayne Bird, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia and the co-owner of Embrace Dermatology and Aesthetics, LLC.
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in general dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, skin cancer, and dermatological surgery.
Are micelles for hair the answer to gentle cleansing? Keep reading to find out if you should be using micellar cleansers in your hair.
Micelles for Hair
Type of ingredient: Cleanser
Main benefits: Gently cleanses the hair and scalp, regulates sebum, and removes harsh minerals, dirt, and pollution
Who should use it: In general, micelles are safe for all hair types. Micellar cleansers are most effective for those with thin, oily, or curly hair.
How often can you use it: Micelles are safe for up to once daily use as they do not strip the scalp and hair of necessary oils, but this may vary depending on your hair type.
Works well with: For particularly oily or dirty hair, micelles work well with clarifying shampoo.
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interact with micelles.
Benefits of Micelles for Hair
Micelles are oil-in-water suspensions that act as surfactants when applied to the hair and scalp. Surfactants are cleaning agents that substitute soap, and they work by weakening the physicochemical binding between impurities and the hair. Surfactants dissolve these impurities, preventing them from binding to the hair shaft or the scalp. "Micelles are molecules composed of charged atoms called ions, which are often made up of hydrophilic ends (water-loving) and hydrophobic ends (oil-loving)," Bird says. Micellar cleansers provide gentle cleansing of impurities like dirt, excess oil, and hair products without stripping the hair.
- Gently cleanses the scalp and hair: Both experts agree that micelles provide gentle cleansing to the scalp and hair that does not strip them of their natural oils. "Micelles are used as a super gentle method of cleansing; micelles are oil-in-water suspensions, essentially surfactants, that attract dirt and bacteria, but gently, without stripping moisture from your hair or skin," Nazarian says.
- Prevents excess oil production: While micelles help to cleanse the scalp and hair of excess oil, they can also prevent the production of these oils. Bird says micelles are great for people with oily hair, as oil overproduction can happen if you strip the scalp of its oils, and micellar shampoo gently removes the oil without causing too much drying.
- Cleans curls without sulfates: Curly and wavy hair types often avoid or infrequently use products that contain sulfates, as they can be drying and disruptive to their curl pattern. Bird says micellar shampoos are safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair, as they are sulfate-free.
- Removes pollutants from hair: "Micelles are useful for cleansing the scalp and hair because the hydrophobic ends attract and remove sebum (excess oil) and product buildup (including dry shampoo), and the hydrophilic ends attract and remove harsh minerals, dirt, and pollution," Bird tells us. Pollutants can leave lingering scents on the hair, so micelles work to remove these odors, as well.
- Boosts overall scalp health: Excess oil production and buildup can lead to an oily scalp and other issues. Micellar cleansers work to remove these impurities and maintain the integrity of the scalp's skin barrier.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that micelles are safe for all hair types, but they may be more beneficial for some hair types than others. "Ideally [micellar hair products] would be used on oily, thin, [and/or] delicate hair once in a while to give volume," Nazarian advises. Bird agrees and adds that they're great for giving volume to oily hair as well, saying "micellar shampoo gently removes the oil without causing too much drying—great for maintaining volume." Micellar cleansers are also helpful for those with curly or wavy hair who don't like to use sulfates often, as they can cleanse without disrupting the hair's natural oils.
When it comes to color-treated hair, the verdict on micelles is mixed. Bird mentions that since micelles are sulfate-free, they're less harsh on color-treated hair. However, Nazarian warns that micelles may remove hair coloring a bit more rapidly than basic shampoos. While Bird says micellar products are generally safe, even for those with sensitive skin, she adds that she always recommends reading the list of ingredients to ensure a given product doesn't contain anything you may be sensitive or allergic to.
How to Use Micelles for Hair
While our experts agree on what micelles can do for the hair and scalp, they have slightly different opinions on how often to use them. Since they're so gentle, Bird says that they can be used daily. Nazarian agrees that micelles are gentle, but believes that micellar cleansers should not be used in place of shampooing regularly: "Many people can use them in place of dry shampoo to remove dirt and oil without actually having to wash their hair, but again, once weekly would be my recommendation." Both experts agree that hair does need additional cleansing, which can vary depending on your hair type and how many styling products you use.
Micelles are not something you would seek out on their own, as they're created in the lab and incorporated as part of beauty product formulations. Nazarian says micelles are in shampoos, spray-on products, and even conditioners and masks. When trying a micellar cleanser in your hair for the first time, start with once a week and see how your hair and scalp respond before increasing the frequency.
The Best Hair Products with Micelles
Bird recommends the L'Occitane Aromachologie Gentle and Balance Micellar Shampoo, as it contains micellar cleansing properties as well as lavender and rosemary oils, both of which have proven benefits for the hair.
if you're looking to take advantage of the cleansing powers of micelles outside of the shower, both of our experts recommend the Aveda Rinseless Refresh Micellar Hair and Scalp Refresher. This spray is designed to revive and refresh second-day hair. Nazarian likes this one as "a less-often, between-washes option," noting it "can be easily sprayed onto the scalp to remove dirt and oil."
Since micellar cleansers don't lather, it can be difficult to make sure the product is easily distributed across the scalp. The pointed-tip nozzle of this Kristin Ess micellar shampoo makes application directly to your roots super easy.
Combining rose water with the cleansing power of micelles, the Palmer's Natural Fusions Micellar Rosewater Shampoo provides a hydrating clean.
This moisturizing cleanser uses hyaluronic acid to ensure the hair feels hydrated after cleansing.
What are micelles?
Micelles are oil-in-water suspensions that contain hydrophilic ends and hydrophobic ends, which help to gently cleanse the hair and skin. Micellar water is a popular form of micelles-based cleanser.
What hair types are micelles best for?
According to both of our experts, micelles are best for thin, fine, curly, or oily hair.
Can micellar cleansers replace regular shampoo?
Both of our experts recommend using micelles as a supplemental cleanser and not as a replacement for traditional shampoo, as further cleansing may be needed depending on your hair type and/or texture.
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