Peek inside the medicine cabinets of models, celebrities, and makeup artists (or, really, anyone you meet with flawless skin who just happens to speak with a French accent), and there’s a very good chance that you’ll see a bottle of micellar cleansing water. Long popular in France, this skin-care product that looks and feels just like regular water is finally a stateside staple because of its ability to remove makeup, cleanse, and tone with just a few light swipes of a cotton ball.
Micellar (pronounced my-sell-er) water is a combination of purified water; hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin; and low concentrations of extremely mild surfactants, according to cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta. “The molecules of those mild surfactants naturally group together to form microscopic spheres called micelles, which act like magnets for dirt and oil,” Cincotta explains.
When you wipe a cotton ball soaked with the cleanser along your face, the micelles adhere to the cotton while pulling makeup, sebum, and any other daily unpleasantness off the skin. The formulas are so light and gentle that there’s no need to rinse them off, which means that the moisturizing ingredients can stay behind to be absorbed.
With micellar waters, even the toughest waterproof makeup, melts cleanly off skin with zero irritation. They contain no alcohol and are comprised of only dirt-loving micelle molecules that attach to makeup and debris to break it down, according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman.
When it comes to skin types, micellar water is a universally friendly product, with formulas made for dry, sensitive, and combination skin. Board-certified dermatologist Francesca Fusco says they’re especially great for acne-prone skin types. “They remove trapped debris from the skin but don’t dry it out,” she says. “I also tell my patients to use a micellar cleanser between reapplications of sunscreen during the summer to avoid clogged pores.”
If you’re ready to pare down your skin-care routine, check out some of our favorite micellar cleansers.
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