A Micelle Molecule

The Magic of Micellar Water

August 16, 2013

French women are crazy about using only the gentlest products on their skin!

There are some who even go as far as to refuse tap water from ever touching their faces. And for these women, the invention of l’eau micellaire has been their saving grace.

L’eau micellaire, or Micellar Water, is a cosmetic invention that is not yet well-known outside of France. Instead, it has remained one of those secret staples among celebrity makeup artists around the world.

It’s only recently that micellar water has finally begun to garner some attention from beauty enthusiasts. And while not all of the attention has been positive, I personally can attest to the fact that micellar water works brilliantly as a makeup remover!

So what exactly is micellar water? It is a non-rinse, soap-free cleansing solution that contain micelle molecules. It will typically look clear and have the same consistency as water.

To apply it, you soak a cotton pad and then wipe off makeup and other impurities from the skin.

The better the quality of the micellar solution, the less cotton pads you have to use.

The Science of Micelles

Micelles are spherical structures that surfactant molecules form when they reach a certain concentration in water.

Surfactant molecules have a hydrophilic (water loving) head and a lipophilic (oil loving) tail. In aqueous solutions, the water loving heads spontaneously position themselves to be closer to the water, while the oil-loving, water-repelling tails group themselves in the center in order to be far away from the water.

This is how micelle structures form…

A Micelle Molecule

[A Micelle sphere. Photo from Wikepedia’s article on Micelle]

Micelles are actually quite common. Many products that contain surfactants (which act as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, etc.) can be said to be “micellar water.”

Because micelles are so common, some have scoffed at the idea of micellar water, saying that it’s nothing but glorified bottled soapy water that has been marketed as an expensive magical formula.

Still, micellar waters should not be dismissed so easily.

Micellar waters have been formulated with mild surfactants. Meaning they are incredibly gentle cleansers and are suitable for all skin types. 

And yes, they are actually damn good at removing makeup and impurities from the skin.

I know, because I’ve gone through several bottles from different brands.

I suspect that the use of cotton pads play a major role in why they are so effective at removing makeup.

Cotton is hydrophilic, and when you pour the micellar solution on the cotton pad, the hydrophilic heads are attracted to the cotton, leaving the oil-loving tails sticking up to trap oil and wax based substances, like makeup and sebum.

The beauty and science blogger Lab Muffin wrote up a fantastic article complete with hand-drawn diagrams explaining how micellar waters works and the role of hydrophilic cotton.

My Experience With Micellar Waters

I like micellars because they are so gentle on the skin. And they are impressively effective at removing makeup. Especially eye makeup! I appreciate how they remove stubborn eye makeup without stinging the eyes. 

Another thing that I like about micellars is that they feel soothing and refreshing. On afternoons when I want to clean and freshen up my skin without splashing water, I like to use a good micellar solution.

In the evenings, I still like to wash my face with my regular cleanser. But my face no longer feels sufficiently clean unless I’ve first wiped down with a micellar soaked cotton pad.

Honestly, micellar water has become such an essential part of my cleansing routine that during times when I’ve run out, I’ve really gone out of my way to get my hands on more.

micellar waters that I've tried

When I was living in Paris, I had the luxury to try micellar waters by two different brands: Uriage and Cattier. Though I didn’t get the chance to write reviews on them, I loved using both of them. But you won’t easily find them outside of France.

Bioderma‘s Sensibio H20 is perhaps the most well known out of all the micellar waters. But again, it’s really difficult to get your hands on a bottle. Even if you’re lucky enough to find it outside of Europe, it’s incredibly overpriced.

So these are the biggest drawbacks of micellar waters: they are not yet widely available, and the ones that are available are way too expensive.

Colin, the trusty cosmetic scientist of Colin’s Beauty Pages asks “Why do these products cost so much?” The irony is that they are very simple solutions, and would not be that difficult to formulate.

So while I’m waiting for domestic skincare companies to catch onto the magic of micellar water and create products that sell at reasonable prices…

I’ve resorted to asking friends who go on trips abroad to bring me back bottles of micellar water. At prices truly worth scoffing at.

For now, my beauty cabinet is happily stocked with three bottles of the Bioderma Sensibio H20.

We’ll see how long they last.

What about you, have you used micellar waters before? Which ones? And what were your experiences?

13 thoughts on “The Magic of Micellar Water

  1. Alison Harriman

    Thank you Kareen!A good, clear explanation of what micellars do. I read Lab Muffin’s post too which was also very good. Interesting that they are still relatively new to the U.K. market (no idea about Canada/U.S.), but have been around for some time in France. I can’t say I’m sold on them, but I can’t find a trial size to buy to decide either way.

    By the way, nice to see you back.


    1. Kareen

      Hey Ali, gosh thanks for your lovely comment! I really enjoyed learning about the chemistry behind micelles. What a geek I am, haha!

      Which micellar solutions have you tried? I know that they are popping up throughout the UK. I’m still hunting for them here in the U.S. I do know that the french part of Canada have them available in their pharmacies and beauty shops, but not too sure about the rest of Canada.

      You know I have a mind to start developing micellar waters myself! I just need to find and team up with some talented and skilled cosmetic formulators.

      It’s so good to be able to write in my blog when I can, but I’m not out of the woods yet. I feel like I owe my readers an explanation as to where I’ve been and what’s been going on with me. All in good time though. Heading over to your blog now to see what I’ve missed!

  2. Ana

    What a good explanation of Micellar waters, I have tried a couple but they were full of alcohol and did nothing for my skin. I do think I need to pay out for a good quality one and give them another try though!

  3. Julia

    I LOVE Bioderma. I bought 5 large bottles (500ml each) from City Pharma and brought them home. I’ve almost been through two so far, but I’ve become a lot better with gauging the amount I really need. In Canada, a 250ml bottle goes for $22! When I got home and did the math on how much it would’ve cost me to buy here, I was stunned. I don’t understand why they are so expensive! If i ever get back to France, I’ll send you some bottles to keep a stock going 🙂

    1. Kareen

      Julia! I got 3 250ml bottles from Montreal. You know exactly how much money I spent on each bottle. It’s crazy! And I’M crazy! I do also wonder why they have to be so expensive… but yes, maybe we can do a beauty swap at some point 😀

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  6. Cassie

    I have been having ongoing issues with itchy, sensitive skin & dermatitis. I thought it was the cleansers I was using but it was more than that! It was the very hard water here. I started using a certain micellar water and I have no more itchy,angry skin. I wish it were cheaper.

  7. Cassie

    I have been having ongoing issues with itchy, sensitive skin & dermatitis. I thought it was the cleansers I was using but it was more than that! It was the very hard water here. I started using a certain micellar water and I have no more itchy,angry skin. I wish it were cheaper.

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