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Micellar Water: Is It Really Water?

Micellar water rose in popularity with French women. Due to the poor quality tap water in France, they instead used micellar water to cleanse their skin. But micellar water is not just a French cliché and has become a trend all over the world. Every time we walk into a cosmetic store, we come across different types of micellar water from every cosmetic brand. But what lies behind this colourless product? What makes it different from ordinary water?

As you can guess from its name, micellar water is a colloidal suspension of water and micelles.[1] A micelle is a ball-shaped cluster of surfactant molecules, with the water-loving (hydrophilic) heads outside and oil-loving (hydrophobic) tails inside the cluster.[2] When we pour the micellar water on a cotton pad, the water-loving heads are attracted to the cotton (made of cellulose, which is hydrophilic) and leave the oil-loving tails in the air. Then, as we sweep the cotton pad over our skin, the oil-loving tails attract dirt and oil, pulling them off the skin.

Due to its transparency and viscosity, micellar water may seem like normal water, but it is not. We can understand the difference when we touch it. Micellar water is softer and has a completely different texture compared to normal water.[3]

At this point, you might wonder: we already have facial cleansers, why do we need micellar water? Well, micellar water offers many advantages:

- Traditional cleansers usually contain sodium lauryl sulfate,[4] but this surfactant may cause dryness and skin irritation.[5] In contrast, micellar water contains extremely mild and less irritating surfactants,[6] representing the perfect choice for people with dry skin.[7-8] Common surfactants used in micellar water are cocamidopropyl betaine, caprylyl/capryl glucoside, cetrimonium chloride and PEG-6 caprylic/capric glycerides.[9] These formulas are so gentle that there is no need to rinse them off.

- Micelles allow the cleanser to go deeper in the skin, even beyond 10 mm, and be very effective in cleansing.[10]

- Unlike many toners, micellar water does not contain alcohol and never stings.

Micellar water can be used as a facial wash, makeup remover and moisturizer all in one. The only drawback is that, due to its gentleness, it won’t take off your waterproof eyeliner and full-coverage foundation.

Micellar water is a current trend and it is not just about fashion. Thanks to its peculiar composition and to its magic and invisible balls, micellar water is an incredibly gentle makeup-removing cleanser. But do not be misled by the name. It is not just water. Surfactants are present, as in every other cleanser!



5. Walters, R., Mao, G., Gunn, E. & Hornby, S. Cleansing Formulations That Respect Skin Barrier Integrity. Dermatology Research and Practice 2012, 1-9 (2012).

7. Ananthapadmanabhan, K., Moore, D., Subramanyan, K., Misra, M. & Meyer, F. Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing. Dermatologic Therapy 17, 16-25 (2004).

10. Chavoshy, F. & Makhmalzade, B. Polymeric micelles as cutaneous drug delivery system in normal skin and dermatological disorders. Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research 9, 2 (2018).

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