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What Is Micellar Water Even? 5 Ways To Use The Cleanser

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
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May 2, 2020

Ever since this French beauty staple swept stateside, it's been nearly impossible to find a beauty lover who doesn't have a bottle of micellar water tucked away in her cabinet or on her vanity. But as with most trends, popularity doesn't exempt the product from confusion or improper usage. Here, we explain exactly what it is and how you should actually be using it. 

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What is micellar water?

"Micellar water is 'soft water'—compared to mineral-heavy hard water—that has tiny capsules of oil suspended in it," says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD. Those tiny capsules of oil are actually how it gets the name: In chemistry, they are referred to as "micelles." Now, under normal circumstances, water and oil do not mix, but thanks to the micelle technology, you are able to suspend the microscopic oil droplets into the water. This process is done so well, and the oil spheres are so small, that you don't even notice them in the end result. It just looks like regular ol' water.

This is helpful because you get both water and oil as a means of cleansing: The water is able to lift off dirt while the oil is able to remove excess sebum; the water is able to hydrate while the oil is able to condition.

However, you do need to use it correctly. Here's our rundown of how to use micellar water for clear, hydrated skin: 

1.

The first part of a double cleanse.

You need to wash your face at night, no matter what; yes, even if you didn't put on a swipe of makeup that day. Our skin comes into contact with many external aggressors throughout the day, be it pollution or dust, as well as our own oil secretions. And while you absolutely do not want to strip the skin (which damages the skin barrier function), you do want to wash away all that gunk. 

Now, when the micellar water trend first exploded, many people misunderstood it to be the only cleanser your routine needed. And while it effectively lifts up much of the daily debris, you need to follow it up with a proper cleanse in the evening. Doing a double cleanse ensures you're getting everything off properly while infusing the skin with other active ingredients. "You can use it before your facial cleanser since it will remove [makeup, dirt, and the like] gently and effectively, but remember, it doesn't include other actives like anti-pollution, marine or peptides actives that can add additional benefits to skin," says Ciraldo.

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2.

Quick makeup removal.

On a similar note, it can be an effective yet very gentle makeup remover—the perfect replacement for other astringent options or abrasive wipes. "It is used primarily as a makeup remover to erase eye, lip, and face makeup since the oil suspension removes oil-soluble makeup residue, including waterproof makeup," says Ciraldo. What makes it so much better than traditional makeup removers? It does so without harsh surfactants or physical rubbing.

3.

A gentle toner. 

If you are one to skip face washing in the morning and opt for a toner instead, you can certainly consider micellar water a simple, elegant option. Since it lifts off excess oil, it's great for those who want to refresh a shiny T-zone in the morning, without the use of alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids. Not that we think there's anything wrong with salicylic, glycolic, or lactic acids, but some people just don't respond to them and are looking for another non-exfoliating way to get rid of oil. Enter micellar water.

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4.

After-workout wipe down.

Face-washing etiquette around workouts isn't easy. Of course, you need to remove makeup beforehand, and after, you likely want to refresh a sweaty face—but you also don't want to wash your face too frequently or with too harsh actives, as that can cause damage, too. ("Your skin may be more vulnerable to irritation shortly after a workout, as your pores are open," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., tell us.) So what's a person to do? Micellar water may provide a great alternative. Keep a bottle in your gym bag so you can remove makeup pre-sweat session or wipe down excess oil post. 

5.

As a more eco-friendly swap.

We all need to make a more concerted effort to reduce intake of single-use products. Consider switching to reusable cloth pads and micellar water. Or if you just love a handy wipe, use micellar options made from repurposed material and are recyclable. (We love Burt's Bees Micellar Makeup Removing Towelettes.)

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The take-away. 

It's generally well-tolerated, so don't fret using it. "As a dermatologist, I consider it safe, so unless you've ever had a bad reaction to a brand of micellar water, it is rated as safe for all skin types," says Ciraldo. Just be sure to use it correctly.

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.