What are micellar water cleansers and should I be using them?

What are micellar water cleansers? What is the difference between these and regular cleansers?

OK, my BS meter has been really vibrating on this one. Micellar water is all the rage. Every modern drugstore cleanser aisle or Sephora counter has them. They’re very similar to normal cleansers, except you don’t have to rinse your face with water after using them. The labels claim the products are a facial wash, makeup remover and moisturizer all in one. But, I don’t like to rely on marketing. Your question motivated me to look into the science to give you a straight forward answer.

Micellar water cleansers: what are they and do they really work?

I’ll try to make this easy to understand. Let’s start by understanding how regular cleansers work. In regular cleansers, invisible particles (molecules) of detergent (soaps stuff) are all running around individually. The base solution itself is just water. Lipid cleansers are similar, only they are oil-based.

A micelle is a collection of molecules (invisible particles) stuck together in a ball. So the difference is, the particles (molecules) in a micellar water cleanser swim around bunched up in a tiny, invisible round ball. But, it’s still the same ingredients! The particles are just clumped together rather than individual (not that you could tell with the naked eye). For example, below is an ingredient list of a currently popular micellar cleanser.  Still a lot of chemicals, right?

Water (Aqua),Hexylene Glycol, Glycerin, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Panthenol, Niacinamide, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, DMDM Hydantoin, Cetrimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate. 

Micellar cleansers mixed with water often break up into single molecules.

Bottom line with micellar water:

  • I really don’t see the point of these.  Would love it if someone has an argument in favor of them who’s a chemist. There’s a lot of chemistry behind micelles to be sure, which has been around for 40 years. But there’s still not any, or very little, science that shows that this method of making a cleanser is any better for skin than the traditional cleansers.
  • Don’t waste your money for now. It doesn’t remove heavy foundation or waterproof makeup.
  • Focus instead on cleansers that are geared for your skin type, organic if you can.

Hope this helps,  Dr. I



Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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