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Everything You Need to Know About Micellar Water

Keeping your face clean and healthy should be pretty straightforward: Wash in the morning and before you go to bed (especially before shaving), and use the serum, under-eye cream, and moisturizer that are geared to your skin type; and a shining countenance should be all yours. Sometimes, though, nature, stress, or our environment can get in the way, causing imbalances that result in dry skin or acne. Sometimes we find ourselves in an awkward place where access to a sink and our favorite products make a thorough face-washing impossible. We sat down with Alicia Zalka, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, to talk about micellar water, a craze that’s been sweeping women’s beauty and makeup blogs, but that men should consider incorporating into their everyday routine as well.

What Is Micellar Water?

First, let’s understand what micellar water is, and bear with us as we get into a little chemistry. Micelles are very small surfactant droplets; that is. they are a group of molecules arranged in a sphere so that the surface is attracted to and dissolves in water. Dr. Zalka describes it as the “surface of the water acting.” We know surfactants most commonly as soap. So, yes, a simple way of looking at micellar products is that they are basically extremely mild soapy water. By applying these surfactant droplets to our skin, the tiny bubbles gently remove dirt and oil, making the water better at cleaning.

Dr. Zalka asks, “Remember those commercials for Dawn dishwashing liquid that show how much more effective it is at cleaning a greasy lasagna pan than regular dish liquid? It works kind of like that.”

So why not use a regular cleanser? Micellar water originally became popular with women in France more than a hundred years ago when they found that the region’s hard water was tough on their skin. Today it has become a fallback for anyone who needs to remove makeup quickly and gently. (Models who are switching looks between photo shoots or runway shows are big fans.) The product is made with purified water and contains glycerin to be extra soothing and gentle.

More recently, it has also become a favorite product for people with severe acne. “Many acne treatments go deep, really stripping the skin of its oils, and making it very sensitive,” points out Dr. Zalka. “Micellar water offers a gentler cleaning on the surface. It doesn’t clean as deeply, unclogging pores, etc., so it’s a nice alternative to use in combination with a more heavy-duty cleanser.” If you’re already using something intense to strip oils and exfoliate your skin in the morning, try using micellar water in the evening for a quick, gentle cleaning that will also help your skin retain at least some of the oil that it needs.

Micellar Water’s Other Uses

Of course, you don’t have to be a French supermodel with acne to use micellar water. Dr. Zalka points out that it’s great to use while traveling, especially if you don’t have easy access to fresh running water, such as while camping or on an airplane (try putting micellar water in a spray bottle for a quick refresh anytime).

  • This summer, use it between applications of sunscreen to avoid clogged pores.
  • Carry it in your gym bag for a quick wash after a summer pick-up game or a 5K run.
  • If you had a close shave in the morning, use it as a gentle face wash later in the day if your skin is still sensitive.
  • Some micellar waters include ingredients that gently exfoliate, helpful for those of us whose skin is sensitive to razor bumps and ingrown hairs.
  • Zalka also points out that, because so many micellar waters contain calming essential oils like lavender, face washing can become an ersatz aromatherapy session.
  • And yes, men, if you wear make-up for Zoom calls or other on-camera or on-stage appearances, use micellar water to remove it when the workday is through.
  • Beyond facial cleansing, watch for micellar water in other products like toothpaste, where micelles delicately remove stains, as well as shampoo, for gentle cleaning.

Check out some of these micellar waters to take your grooming regimen to a cleaner, gentler place.

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

One of five products in Garnier’s wide selection, this basic cleansing water is a perfect place to start with a clean formula that skips oil, sulfates, fragrance, parabens, and alcohol. The brand’s other selections include a brightening formula with Vitamin C, a mattifying version for oily skin, and one for extra hydration with rose water.

Burt’s Bees Micellar Cleansing Water with Coconut & Lotus

Formulated with coconut and lotus water for gentle cleansing of pore-clogging dirt and oil, Burt’s Bees water contains a botanical blend that is “99.5% natural,” dermatologist and ophthalmologist tested, and designed for all skin types.

L’Occitane Cleansing 3-in-1 Micellar Water

For that refreshing aromatherapy session, L’Occitane’s formula is infused with invigorating cucumber and thyme (which is rich in zinc to help skin heal, protect from UV damage, and function as an antioxidant). Ever mindful of the environment, L’Occitane also sells this product in an ecologically friendly 10 oz. refill pouch for $29.

La Prairie Crystal Micellar Water

La Prairie is considered by some to be the Rolls Royce of skincare collections, but it does come with a price to match. If you’re ready to put that tax return to good use, La Prairie’s Crystal Micellar Water removes impurities while protecting skin with a rich fusion of antioxidants, with the added indulgence of pure, clear Swiss glacier water in the mix.

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