I was reading a review series of micellar waters over on onwrinklesandrosacea [1] the other day, when it occurred to me that I have approximately ten different bottles of micellar water stuffed away in one of my drawers! Obviously, my very second thought was, ›I could do that too!‹ — so this is the result.

Ever since I discovered it back in summer ’14, there has always been a bottle of micellar water sitting somewhere in my apartment; it’s an everyday staple of mine and something that I go through very quickly, since I use it as a makeup remover/first cleanser, for a speedy brush cleanse (especially for eyeliner brushes) and sometimes even to remove watercolour stains from my little cousins’ faces. It’s one of the most convenient beauty inventions ever made, and, in my opinion, belongs into every bathroom (regardless the sex of its user).

I’m planning on doing an extensive review series, covering several dozen products of all price categories. As you can imagine, this will take a lot of time (and money!). I will start by explaining the rough fundamentals of micellar water in this post — what it is, what it’s not, what to look for and what to watch out for —, then list what I expect my micellar waters to be and to do, and how I will test them.

Obviously, it would be far too much to fit the whole series into one post, so I will divide it into two posts, plus the reviews, which will take about ten posts, depending on how many brands I will test. I will also include a list of the reviewed products down below (with links and everything).

I hope you enjoy this — and now, let’s get straight down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?

What is the difference between a toner and a micellar water?

You would laugh if you knew how many people get these two confused! At least where I live, many people will use toners like micellar waters (and vice versa) — until very recently, for example, my sister has been living in the belief that toner and micellar water were in essence just makeup removers with added skincare benefits.

Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that: Per definitionem, a makeup remover is distinctly meant for taking off any kind of pigment product, whereas a toner can be anything from hydrating to exfoliating to anti-ageing (which is just marketing slang really, but whatever) to all three, but in essence, it remains a skincare item. Now, enter micellar water, and everyone gets confused: Is it a makeup remover? Is it a toner? Or is it both?

The answer: Nope, no novelty hybrid product. It’s a liquid makeup remover with the look and viscosity of water (as opposed to traditional makeup removers, which are — at least in my understanding — either opaque milks/lotions, or bi-phase oil-in-water emulsions), and it was actually invented back in the ’90s in the Paris region, which is infamous for its hard tap water. [2] (Just in case you didn’t know, hard water is suspected to have negative effects on skin — or at least that’s what many report anecdotally after having moved to a region with harder water. [3][4] However, there is little experimental evidence to back it up (yet).)

Au fond, any aqueous solution with the inclusion of a surfactant, aka detergent, aka tenside, aka foaming agent, could technically be labelled as »micellar water«. (More general information about surfactants: [5][6]) That’s why, in fact, many products which are sold as »toners«, »facial waters«, etc. are actually also suited for taking off makeup (or, since a lot of people — especially men — don’t wear makeup, just for cleansing the skin in general), and could therefore be counted as micellar waters as well. The trick is to add enough surfactant to it so that the concentration surpasses the CMC (critical micelle concentration — yes, there is a word for that), which is just another terminus technicus for the amount of surfactant that it takes to form micelles in an aqueous solution [7][8] — which is what micellar water is all about, right?

Now, what exactly are those micelles?

When I first heard the term, I thought that they were some kind of living bacteria that would »eat« away all of my makeup. (Sorry for the creepy mental picture.)

It’s actually far less scary than that: Micelles are clusters of surfactant molecules with a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and a lipophilic (fat-loving) tail, which automatically assemble themselves into little spheres, with the tails pointing in and the heads pointing out — kind of like pin cushions. Because they aren’t bound together into molecules, these formations can be easily broken up, and the surfactant molecules will arrange themselves anew. (Click on the image to read Michelle’s insanely well-written — and updated! — article about micellar waters.)

They kind of look like spermatozoa, don’t they? [image via]

How does the cleansing action happen?

Any of you remember chemistry class? (I certainly don’t; everything that I know about cosmetic chemistry comes from personal interest, internet research, and browsing the shelves of the hospital library for hours.)

Anyways, your teacher may have mentioned that hydrophilic stuff doesn’t really like lipophilic stuff but is BFF with other hydrophilic stuff (it’s all pretty racist, if you ask me); that means that the head, which is hydrophilic, will attract water, while the tail, which is lipophilic, will attract fat.

The clue of the story is that the grime you want to remove from your face is more or less fat, mixed with some leftover pigment from makeup (if you wear any). Additionally, the pads on which you pour the micellar water are typically made from cotton wool, which consists of cellulose, which is, guess what — hydrophilic! I will again have to redirect you to one of Michelle’s fantastic charts to show you what that looks like:

[image via]

So, when you apply the saturated cotton pad with the lipophilic tails pointed out to your skin, they will attract the grime you want to remove — kind of like little magnets. Of course, you might need a few cotton pads to remove a full face of makeup and sunscreen (on a little-to-no-makeup day I’ll typically use two to three pads — both sides! —; up to ten pads if I’ve been out), but this is an extremely convenient and low-irritating way of cleansing, especially on travels.

Now, after having explained the rough basics of micellar waters, let’s move on to the less science-y part!

In this series

  • Nivea
    • Sensitive 3-in-1 Micellar Cleansing Water
    • Refreshing Micellar Water for Normal Skin
    • Gentle Caring Micellar Water for Dry Skin
  • Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water
    • for Normal & Sensitive Skin
    • for Dry & Sensitive Skin
  • Diadermine Tonique Micellaire Haute Tolerance
  • La Roche-Posay
    • Effaclar Purifying Micellar Water for Oily Sensitive Skin
    • Micellar Water for Sensitive Skin
  • Avène
    • Micellar Lotion
    • Cleanance Micellar Water
  • Vichy
    • Pureté Thermale Micellar Solution
    • Normaderm Micellar Solution
  • Mixa Micellar Water

    • Optimal Tolerance
    • Anti-Dryness
    • Anti-Imperfection
  • Bioderma
    • Hydrabio H2O
    • Sensibio H2O
    • Sensibio H2O AR
    • Sébium H2O
    • White Objective H2O
  • Melvita Fresh Micellar Water
  • Caudalíe Micellar Cleansing Water
  • NUXE Micellar Cleansing Water
  • Lancôme Eau Micellaire Douceur
  • REN Skincare Rosa Centifolia 3-in-1 Cleansing Water
  • Yves Rocher
    • Micellar Cleansing Water
    • Sensitive Végétal Soothing Micellar Water 2-in-1
    • Hydra Végétal Hydrating Micellar Water 2-in-1
    • Sebo Végétal Purifying Micellar Water 2-in-1

As you can see, there are a lot of French brands featured — Bourjois, Lancôme, NUXE, Caudalíe, Melvita, Bioderma (Cpt. Obvious), Vichy, Avène, La Roche-Posay, Garnier, and the less known (but still quite popular) Diadermine and Mixa. The reason for this is simply that micellar water has been a thing in France before the world even knew about Internet, so, naturally, a majority of micellar waters are carried by French brands. I had also planned on including Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent, but since those two are mainly designer and makeup brands (plus, they’re expensive as fuck!), I rejected the idea. I really want to focus just on reputable brands with reliable products.

Are there any more micellar waters that you think I should try?


This post doesn’t contain any affiliate links. Affiliate links and PR samples on PALE AS F∗CK are always marked with one (∗) and two (∗∗) asterisks, respectively.

[1] Justjen, Jen: Product review: Micellar cleansing water (budget, part 1/3). 25.8.’15

[2] Conway, Lindsay: Micellar Cleansing Water. The Guilt-Free Alternative To Cleansing Wipes. 7.9.’15

[3] Ultee, Jetske: What does hard water do to your skin?

[4] Tetro, Hannah: Hard Water And Your Skin. 16.1.’13

[5] Romanowksi, Perry: Cosmetic Surfactants – An Introduction for Cosmetic Chemists.

[6] Romanowksi, Perry: What Kinds of Surfactants Are Used in Cosmetics?

[7] Rieger, Martin; Rhein, Linda D.: Surfactants in Cosmetics. CRC Press 1997, p. 33-44

[8] Wong, Michelle: Fact-check: What is micellar water and how does it work? An Update. 15.9.’15














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