If you’ve shopped for skin-care products any time within the past year, you’ve undoubtedly spotted the beauty industry’s latest darling: micellar water. Just like regular ol’ H20, micellar water is a clear liquid—but what is it, exactly? And how do you even pronounce it?
Have no fear, beauty junkies—we had the experts break it all down for you. (And for the record, it’s my-SELL-ar.)
What is it made of?
Micellar water is made with something called micelles, which are tiny balls of molecules that react to water.
“Micellar water is micelles suspended in soft water, creating microscopic oil molecules that are great for cleaning the face by attaching to dirt, grime, and makeup,” says Dr. Rhonda Klein, a board-certified dermatologist with the Connecticut Dermatology Group. “Unlike soap, micelles dissolve impurities without stripping the skin, and since it has the same viscosity of water, the face feels clean and rejuvenated after treatment.” Also, unlike soap, it doesn’t require water in order to work, so no rinsing is necessary.
The product isn’t a new concept, despite its recent rise in popularity. In fact, its origins trace back to the coveted beauty regimen of a certain European country: “The French have been using micellar water for ages,” says Dr. Klein.
Is it a toner, a cleansing water, or a makeup remover?
There are a lot of cleansing products on the market and it can get confusing! So what’s the difference between cleansing water (another popular item) and micellar water? Micellar water contains those oily micelles, while cleansing water is usually made up of purified water.
And then there are toners. Toner is usually used after cleansing to refresh and tone the skin (although many contain alcohol and leave skin feeling dry and tight, unlike micellar water). While micellar water is primarily used to cleanse the skin, many beauty enthusiasts happily use it as toner, as well.
Bonus: It can also remove makeup (although heavy makeup is probably best removed with traditional makeup remover).
Should you Try it?
“Almost all skin types can use micellar water without risk of drying out—even those with acne or oily skin can use micellar water to clean skin thoroughly without inflamed acne pimples,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. However, if your skin is very oily or covered in extremely thick foundation, micellar water alone may not be strong enough to remove all of the impurities.
According to Dr. Nazarian, micellar water’s biggest benefit is that its oil droplets are hydrating (but don’t feel oily)—without disrupting the natural pH of skin, a problem that comes with some classic foaming cleansers.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, it was shown that micellar cleansing water “showed lower irritation potential than traditional high-lather face cleansing formats.” The research also noted that the pairing of micellar’s moisturizing benefits and its low potential for irritation makes it a promising option for those with sensitive skin.
“The fact that it doesn’t require scrubbing makes it great for sensitive skin, which tends to be easily irritated by harsher scrubs or rubbing typically needed to remove makeup,” she says.
A word of warning for anyone allergic to surfactants (which is a scientific word for “oil in water” molecules): Avoid micellar water. It’s not dangerous, but someone with an allergy might become red, itchy, or puffy with repeated use.
How Do You Use It?
Using micellar water is just as straightforward as its ingredients.
Dr. Nazarian recommends saturating a cotton ball with the micellar water, then gently swiping it over your skin. Use a second dry cotton pad to wipe over your skin to absorb the micelles, which will have attached themselves to the dirt and oil on your face.
Whatever you do, don’t scrub your skin while using the product. These little work horses take the elbow grease out of washing your face, so just let them do their thing. Simply repeat until the cotton ball appears clean, at any time of day.