Micellar Water: What It Is and How To Use it

The gentle facial cleanser is a good option to remove dirt, oil and makeup
Personin bathroom using micellar water to clean face.

We should all be washing our faces every day. But how we do that can vary, from double cleansing to using a cleansing balm.

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We offer up micellar water as another consideration on how to get rid of the dirt, grime and makeup that’s on your face.

Made with purified water, moisturizers and mild surfactants, this skin care cleanser can also help prevent acne and doesn’t strip your skin of oils. And it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals or alcohol, making it a good option even for those with sensitive skin.

Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD, explains how micellar water works and the best ways to use it.

What is micellar water?

Originating in France, micellar (pronounced “mi-sell-ar”) water is a commonly used skin care product that helps remove impurities and makeup from your skin. It’s a very gentle solution that contains a very mild detergent.

“The name comes from a micelle, which is a collection of molecules,” explains Dr. Vij. “And it’s called micellar water because there’s such a mild concentration of soap or detergent molecules in the water that it basically like little microscopic bubbles floating in water, so it doesn’t even feel like a soapy solution — it just it feels like water.”

How is it different from a toner?

Face toners can be used after washing your face and before you apply any moisturizer or serums. While toners have traditionally been used to get rid of excess oil and any residual dirt or makeup left over after you wash your face, today’s versions have evolved.

“The newer generations of toners are more focused on skin hydration and are less about cleansing,” notes Dr. Vij. “Many of them actually have water as the primary ingredient — similar to micellar water. The difference is the added ingredients — no micelles of soap, but low concentrations of alpha or beta hydroxy acids, for anti-aging or anti-acne purposes, or moisturizers.”

So, can you use micellar water and a toner? Yes, you can use a toner after you wash your face, even if your cleanser is micellar water.

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Does micellar water remove makeup?

Yes and no, says Dr. Vij. Micellar water can get rid of most makeup and some waterproof cosmetics because it does contain a mild detergent.

“But it doesn’t take off all kinds of makeup,” states Dr. Vij. “If you use specialized makeup like stage makeup or even some kinds of waterproof cosmetics like mascara, it may not get all of it off. But it’s a great product to get a lot of makeup off. And for most people, it would probably be sufficient.”

Other micellar water benefits

So, what does micellar water do? In addition to removing makeup, dirt and oil, here are some other benefits of micellar water.

It can prevent oil from being stripped from your skin

By using gentle cleansers, micellar water isn’t as harsh as more traditional facial cleansers, which can strip your skin of oil, leaving your skin feeling tight and dry.

And while some micellar water formulas contain glycerin, which can help with hydration — it isn’t as hydrating as you may think. So, you’ll still need to apply your daily face cream or moisturizer.

It can keep your skin clear

For those of us with oily skin, exfoliating cleansers and other exfoliating products can increase the likelihood of clogged pores and acne.

“Micellar water can be a good solution to add to your skin care routine for those with oily skin,” says Dr. Vij. “It’s mild but effective at keeping your skin clean without over-drying or without using too many added chemicals.”

It’s good for all skin types

As micellar water is gentle on the skin and doesn’t strip away a lot of oil, it’s a good option for all skin types.

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“If you have neutral skin to dry skin, it’s definitely great,” says Dr. Vij. “And if you have rosacea, atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis, it’s great for you as well.”

How to use micellar water

So, how do you use micellar water? There are two recommended ways, says Dr. Vij. First, you can use a splash of micellar water in your hands and gently massage over your face. There’s no need to rinse it off. 

If you want help with removing any impurities, extra skin cells or any makeup products, you can also use it with a microfiber washcloth. “Use a little bit of a micellar water on the washcloth or even a cotton ball pad and just gently rub.”

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use it?

Micellar water can easily be added to your skin care routine, making it a great option for all skin types.

But it’s important to remember that it’s not a miracle product that will solve all of your skin care issues. So, if you have dryness, acne, fine lines, wrinkles or very oily skin, you’ll need the assistance of other products to help alleviate any problems.

Many skin care brands now have their own version of micellar water, which can you purchase in-store or online. As for what formula may work best for you, read the label and reviews and find an option that fits within your budget.

“Micellar water may not solve all your issues, but it’s a very gentle soap,” says Dr. Vij. “So, if your skin tends to be dry or if you have sensitive skin, it can be a really great product.”

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