Micellar water is a skin care product that contains micelles, which are tiny clusters of molecules. These micelles bind to oil, removing makeup and debris, while also hydrating the skin.

Micellar water offers people a way to cleanse the skin without washing or scrubbing the face. Therefore, it can be a gentle alternative to harsher cleansers.

Micellar water can also be useful for situations where a person wants to remove makeup but does not have access to running water, such as when they are traveling.

However, some may find that only using micellar water to cleanse the skin does not fully remove heavy or waterproof makeup.

This article explores what micellar water is, how it works, its benefits for the skin, and how to use it.

A woman with a cotton pad in each hand applying micellar water to the face.Share on Pinterest
Aleksandra Shamomina/EyeEm/Getty Images

Micellar water is a skin care product. It consists of purified water, humectants such as glycerin, and mild surfactants. Humectants attract and bind moisture to the skin, while surfactants are cleansers that remove dirt.

Micellar water takes its name from micelles, which are round clusters of molecules. In micellar water, the micelles consist of surfactant molecules, which bind to and trap oil. People can use it to:

  • remove makeup
  • cleanse the skin
  • add moisture

The key to how micellar water works lies in the surfactants it contains.

Surfactant molecules have two ends: one that attracts water and one that attracts oils. This means surfactants can bring together water and oil, which normally do not mix.

This is what makes surfactants a common ingredient in cleansers and soaps. The difference with micellar water is its ball-shaped molecules. The water-attracting end of each molecule faces outward, while the oil-attracting end faces inward.

This allows the micelles to float in liquid and attract and bind oils they come into contact with. When a person applies micellar water to the face, the micelles trap makeup and sebum, pulling them away from the skin.

Some surfactants are harsh and drying, but micellar water contains nonionic surfactants that are more gentle, meaning a person can leave them on the skin.

It is unclear if micellar water has any long-term benefits for skin health, but its short-term benefits include:

Cleansing the face

Micellar water is a type of cleanser, allowing someone to gently remove substances that build up on the skin. This includes makeup, dirt, and oil.

It is important to remove makeup and dirt at the end of each day, as they can potentially block pores. Any cleanser can help someone avoid this, but micellar water can clean the face even if someone cannot wash with running water. They only need the product and something to apply it with, such as a cotton pad.

Micelles may also allow substances to penetrate deeper into the skin, although research to date has only focused on their ability to deliver medications rather than cosmetic applications.

Providing hydration

Micellar water often contains hydrating compounds, such as humectants. Humectants are moisturizing agents that attract water into the skin’s outer layers from deep within the skin and the surrounding air.

In a 2016 study, researchers noted that glycerin was the most effective humectant available and could effectively increase hydration in the top layer of skin.

Glycerin also has beneficial effects on skin barrier repair. The skin barrier is critical for maintaining hydration and protecting the body against environmental damage and infection.

Suitable for sensitive skin

Micellar water can be suitable for all skin types. A 2020 study concluded that micellar water is even suitable for people with rosacea, as long as it does not contain irritants.

People with sensitive skin or rosacea can look for micellar waters that do not contain:

  • alcohol
  • fragrance
  • essential oils

In addition, micellar water often contains soothing ingredients such as glycerin, which may reduce irritation. An animal study showed that topical glycerin could reduce skin irritation and decrease markers of inflammation.

However, as this study involved mice rather than humans and did not specifically test micellar water itself, it is unclear if micellar water would also have this effect.

A person can use micellar water as a makeup remover, facial cleanser, or toner. The same method of application applies for all of these purposes.

To use, open the lid of the micellar water bottle and press a cotton pad to the opening. Tip the bottle for enough liquid to pour onto the pad, then gently wipe the pad over the face. If necessary, a person can repeat this until the pad comes away clean, showing no more makeup or oil.

Some people prefer to give the skin a final rinse with water to wash away any residue, but this is not essential.

Micellar water works well as a cleanser, but some individuals may find it is not as effective as a more thorough cleanse with water, a cleanser, and a face cloth. This is especially the case for people who wear heavy or waterproof makeup.

Micellar water also leaves surfactants on the skin’s surface. This does not cause problems for many people, but if a person exclusively uses micellar water and does not also wash the face, these surfactants may build up.

There is always a possibility that new skin care products could cause irritation or an allergic reaction. People should always perform a patch test on a small area of skin before applying it to the whole face.

If an adverse reaction does occur, a person may develop:

  • redness or inflammation
  • dryness
  • itchiness
  • a rash or hives

If these symptoms develop, a person should wash the product off immediately with plain water and discontinue use. If the symptoms persist, they should speak with a doctor.

The following are common questions regarding micellar water.

Which skin type is micellar water good for?

Micellar water can suit all skin types, including dry, oily, and sensitive skin. However, it depends on the specific ingredients in each formula, which vary from brand to brand. Some micellar waters are specifically for sensitive or dry skin, while others cater more to oily skin.

Can I use micellar water every day?

People can use micellar water every day if they wish. Some may want to use it as a light cleanser in the morning, while others might prefer to use it as a makeup remover in the evening.

Who should avoid micellar water?

People who have adverse reactions to micellar water may need to avoid it. It may also not be beneficial for those with certain skin conditions. For example, people with eczema may have broken or bleeding skin, making micellar water unsuitable.

Anyone with a skin condition can consult a dermatologist for advice on which products to use.

Micellar water is a type of cleanser that attracts dirt and oils, lifting them off the skin. It can also contain hydrating ingredients, making it a gentle alternative to harsher cleansers or face scrubs.

Many people can regularly use micellar water as a light cleanser, makeup remover, or toner. However, it may not give the same results as cleansing with a face wash and water, particularly for heavy or waterproof makeup.

People should consider fragrance-free formulas that contain no irritants, particularly those who have sensitive skin or rosacea.