What Is Micellar Water? Here’s the Scoop, Plus 6 Options We’re Loving

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There's always an opportunity to level up your skincare routine, which can include hopping on the double cleansing train. And there's one product that will help you do just that and it often flies under the radar: micellar water. The gentle beauty water is certainly nothing new (especially to the countless French girls and makeup artists who vouch for its benefits). But did you know it’s a triple-threat skincare staple that you should be using, too?

First of all, what is micellar water?

It’s a cleanser, toner and moisturizer in one that looks like, well, water. But the cleansing liquid is actually made up of tiny balls called micelles that remove dirt and oil buildup. Made from a blend of purified water, hydrating ingredients like glycerin and mild surfactants that attract water and repel oil, it cleans your pores without drying out your skin.

What are the benefits of micellar water?

As mentioned, micellar water is a triple threat, so it's no surprise it has a long list of benefits surrounding it.

  • The gentle formula makes it easy to remove dirt, oil and makeup without stripping away the natural oils and leaving skin dry.
  • It reduces inflammation and irritation. Since it's free from alcohol and includes key ingredients (i.e. glycerin), micellar water keeps skin hydrated, soft and plump.
  • It clears pores and improves acne. If you have clogged pores or are prone to blemishes, the skincare water can reduce excess oils and buildup to improve the overall clarity of your skin.
  • It minimizes your skincare routine. Say goodbye to a cluttered beauty cabinet and fifty extra steps every night. With micellar water, you can remove makeup, cleanse and tone in one fell swoop.

OK, but what’s the difference between toner and micellar water?

While they both keep your skin hydrated and clean, they serve different purposes. According to Dr. Hadley King, a NYC board-certified dermatologist, micellar water is primarily a cleansing step, while toners and essences act as a base for hydration.

“A typical foamy wash can strip the skin and leave behind harsh chemicals, further drying out dry and sensitive skin. And unlike many toners, micellar water does not contain alcohol and never stings,” explains Dr. King.

Think of it this way: Toners and essences can contain astringents and/or alcohol to get a deeper clean, but that could cause redness, discomfort and dryness for some folks. (To be clear, we’re not knocking toners altogether. They just might be tough on folks with sensitive skin). Micellar water, on the other hand, is a gentler, alcohol-free option that’s better for makeup removal and is meant to be rinsed after use.

Got it. So how do I use it?

  1. Use it as a cleanser. “Micellar water can be used like any other cleanser. I typically recommend using it in the morning and evening by saturating a cotton ball and wiping it over your face to get rid of dirt, oil, pollution and makeup that accumulate during the day,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital.
  2. Try it as a toner. Micellar water should be used before the rest of your skincare routine. It prepares your face for your regular cleanser (that’s the double cleansing part) and all the subsequent steps so you get the most out of each product in your routine.
  3. Replace your makeup remover. While many makeup removers can have too many potentially irritating chemicals in them, micellar water offers a gentler alternative. Although it won't completely get rid of all your foundation and waterproof mascara on its own, it can help get you started.
  4. Clean up makeup mistakes. Say you attempted to do an amazing cat eye and your line just went completely off the rails. Just put a few drops of micellar water on a Q-tip and wipe away the excess without having to start from the beginning.
  5. Spruce up your makeup brushes. Just like it clears makeup from your face, it can also clean your makeup brushes. Pour some into a bowl (or onto a cleaning mat) before swishing the bristles around in it to remove any buildup from your brushes. Rinse and lay flat to dry them.
  6. Apply it as a hydrating refresher. Whether you just finished a workout or you need a midday pick-me-up, micellar water can help. Pack a mini bottle in your bag for whenever you need to refresh your skin throughout the day.

Who should use micellar water?

This beauty water is more beneficial for dry and/or sensitive skin types because of how gentle and hydrating it is. It’ll leave the skin barrier intact, while keeping skin refreshed and clean.

People with oily or acne-prone skin might want to look for cleansers with active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid instead. “[Micellar water] does not provide as powerful or as deep of a cleanse as a foaming cleanser, so it may not be as strong as you would like if you have oily skin,” says Zeichner.

Now that you’re all caught up on micellar water and how to use it, here are six our top picks to get you started on your new routine.

The 6 Best Micellar Waters:

what is micellar water bioderma

1. Bioderma Sensibio H2o

This OG micellar water keeps sensitive skin clean and hydrated. It removes makeup with ease (which is why it's often used backstage at Fashion Week) and it continues to be the French beauty staple for over 27 years.

what is micellar water garnier

2. Garnier Skinactive Cleansing Water All-in-1

If you have combination skin, try this option in your skincare routine. Yes, it checks off all the things we need a micellar water (part makeup remover, part cleanser), but it's the price tag that keeps our cabinets stocked.

what is micellar water simple

3. Simple Micellar Cleansing Water

The combo of vitamin B3, vitamin C and purified water make for a gentle cleanser that clears away buildup, while unclogging your pores for a fresh finish.

what is micellar water la roche posay

4. La Roche-posay Micellar Water Ultra

Need some help rinsing away your foundation? This lightweight formula works wonders to remove dirt, oil and makeup, especially your long-lasting foundation.

what is micellar water avene
Violet Grey

5. Eau Thermale Avene

Another French favorite the alcohol-, soap- and oil-free formula somehow tackles stubborn eyeliner without stinging. In fact, your skin feels soothed and softer with every use.

what is micellar water elemis

6. Elemis Smart Cleanse Micellar Water

This gentle formula uses chamomile extract, rosehip seed oil and apple amino acids to soothe, cleanse and refresh skin. Use it morning and night for a nourishing clean.

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...