Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/3/2022
If you’ve spent any time reading skin care guides or delving into the world of YouTube skin care tutorials, you’ve probably heard of micellar water.
Micellar water is purified water that’s infused with surfactants and hydrating ingredients. Thanks to its purported ability to attract dirt and oil out from your skin, it’s quickly grown from something most of us had never heard of into a mainstay of many people’s skin care routines.
When it comes to lots of “must-have” skin care products, separating reality from the hype can be a serious challenge.
With this in mind, we took a look at the latest research on micellar water and its key ingredients to work out whether or not it’s worth adding to your skin care routine.
Below, we’ve shared our findings, along with the potential benefits that micellar water can offer for your skin, how you can use it and more.
Micellar water is a popular type of cleanser. It primarily consists of water that’s been purified to remove chemicals and other unwanted contaminants that are frequently found in tap water.
This water is infused with mild surfactants (ingredients that help to break down and remove oils) and moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin.
When these ingredients are infused into water at the right concentration, the molecules form into micelles — tiny, spherical aggregates of molecules that, when applied to the skin, help to cleanse away natural oils and artificial contaminants.
From a chemistry perspective, micelles are interesting. They’re a type of colloidal suspension — a mixture in which insoluble particles of one substance are suspended in another substance. A micelle is both hydrophilic (attracted to water) and hydrophobic (repelled from water).
Micellar water is much gentler than most cleansers. Many cleansers contain large amounts of surfactants — quantities far greater than the critical micelle concentration (CMC) at which they form into micelles and remove dirt, oil and other substances.
In contrast, micellar water contains smaller amounts of surfactants. This combination of milder amounts of surfactants, purified water and hydrating ingredients like glycerin allows micellar to gently cleanse the skin with minimal adverse effects.
Unlike lots of one-trick pony skin care ingredients, micellar water’s biggest strength is its huge versatility — it can do a lot well, from removing makeup to hydrating your skin. We’ve covered some of micellar water's biggest skin care benefits below.
The micelles in micellar water aren’t just there to provide a fancy name — they’re also important for cleansing your skin and removing substances such as dirt, oil and makeup.
Because they’re both hydrophilic and hydrophobic, micelles are excellent for cleaning away dirt and oils from your skin, then washing off easily.
Just be aware that the lightweight formula of most micellar water products might not be enough to deal with seriously oily or dirty skin. For that, you may want to combine micellar water with a good quality cleanser, such as our Deep Sea Cleanser for Acne.
Micellar water not only removes substances that can affect your skin’s health and appearance — it also contains active ingredients that keep your skin hydrated and healthy.
Most micellar water cleansers contain glycerin, a popular ingredient in moisturizers that helps hydrate the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your skin), protect your skin against irritant substances, speed up wound healing and improve your skin’s barrier function.
Keeping your skin hydrated is important for maintaining both its function and its appearance. As skin becomes dehydrated, it begins to crack and flake, and imperfections such as wrinkles start to become more severe and noticeable.
If you have a dry skin type, keeping a bottle of micellar water in your skin care toolkit can help to relieve the dryness that often develops throughout the day.
Although micellar water isn’t designed to treat acne or marketed as an acne treatment, its effect on dirt, oil and other substances may help to prevent breakouts.
Acne develops when your hair follicles, or pores, become clogged with a combination of sebum and dead skin cells. Mild clogged pores can turn into comedonal acne, while pores that contain bacteria can develop into painful, inflamed acne.
Still, it’s best not to think of micellar water as a one-ingredient acne treatment regimen. If you’re prone to more than just mild acne, you’ll generally need to use stronger acne medications to get your breakouts under control and keep your skin clear.
Most micellar water products only contain a few ingredients, with mild surfactants and glycerin the most significant. In comparison, many facial cleansers contain countless harsh ingredients, including alcohols that can dry and irritate your skin.
Because of this comparatively mild formula, micellar water can be a great addition to your face care routine if you have dry, sensitive, or acne-prone skin that becomes irritated by cleansers, toners and other products.
In fact, some research even shows that glycerin — a common ingredient in many micellar water products — has moisturizing effects comparable to popular skin care ingredients like urea.
Because micellar acts as a mild, versatile alternative to cleansers, makeup removers and other skin care products, it’s suitable for all skin types.
As it lacks harsh ingredients, micellar water is ideal for dry, oily and combination skin. It can also be paired with other skin care products, such as cleansers, serums or moisturizers, for specific skin issues that require extra care and attention.
In short, no matter what your skin type, tone or specific care needs, there’s almost always a role for micellar water somewhere in your routine.
If you have low-maintenance skin, one of the biggest benefits of micellar water is that it can act as several skin care products — cleanser, serum and makeup remover — all at once.
This makes it perfect for squeezing into your toiletry bag and saving space on vacations, or just freeing up some extra space in your bathroom cabinet.
If you have specific skin care needs, try looking for a micellar cleansing water that’s formulated specifically for removing makeup, soothing your skin or removing excess oil.
Micellar water is safe for most people. Because it contains milder amounts of surfactants than most cleansers and other products for removing dirt, oil and makeup, it’s less likely to result in skin irritation than many other skin care products.
However, if you have highly sensitive skin, it’s possible that some surfactants used in micellar water and other mild cleansing products may cause your skin to become irritated.
Another potential issue with micellar water is that it may not be strong enough to fully cleanse your skin of oils, dirt and makeup.
Many cosmetics can cause acne when they’re left on your skin. Some makeup products, such as foundations and concealers, may potentially worsen acne or cause new acne breakouts to develop.
Although micellar water is often marketed as a makeup remover, it may not be enough to fully remove all of your makeup at the end of the day.
If you use waterproof makeup, or if you’ve applied heavy makeup for a special event, you may need to use a more powerful makeup remover to properly wash it away. To avoid irritating your skin, use an oil-free makeup remover or makeup wipes and take care not to scrub your face.
Be careful when using micellar water near your eyes, mouth or nostrils. Because micellar water is mostly water, there’s very little risk that it can cause poisoning if swallowed. However, it may cause mild nausea, vomiting or diarrhea if accidentally ingested.
If you accidentally get micellar water in your eyes, rinse the exposed eye with room temperature water for 10 to 15 minutes to wash away any potentially harmful ingredients.
In the event that you develop severe skin irritation, pain or any signs of an allergic reaction after using micellar water, you should contact your primary care provider.
Using micellar water is easy. As a multiple-purpose product, you can use it to remove makeup, as a gentle cleanser or as a toner to refresh your skin after cleansing but before applying your preferred moisturizer.
To use micellar water as a makeup remover, apply it to a cotton pad, then gently use the cotton pad to remove makeup from your face.
Be careful when removing makeup around your eyes. It may help to press against the area with one cotton pad to loosen any stubborn eye makeup, then use a second pad to carefully remove it from your skin.
To use micellar water as a cleanser, apply it to a cotton ball or pad, then use it to carefully wipe your face. Switch to a second cotton ball or pad if the first one gets dirty, or if you feel as if you need to use more micellar water.
You don’t need to rinse off micellar water after using it as a cleanser. It’s okay to either leave it on your face or follow up with a more powerful cleanser to more fully remove any dirt, oils and other substances.
To use micellar water as a toner, apply it to your fingertips (make sure to thoroughly wash your hands ahead of time) and gently pat your skin. You can also use a cotton ball or pad to apply it after cleansing.
Thanks to its versatility, affordability and convenience, micellar water is one of the few hot skin care products on the market that backs up its hype with real benefits.
While some people may be able to use micellar water as a do-all product for removing makeup and cleansing, it’s often best used as an addition to your current routine. Try to experiment with it to see how it works for you, then adjust your skin care routine accordingly.
Interested in learning more about affordable yet effective skin care products? Our complete list of dermatologist-recommended skin care tips shares more simple, low-cost ways to keep your skin looking its best, from sun protection to moisturizing, wrinkle prevention and more.
When you’re ready to take action, you can access our complete range of skin care products for women online, including prescription treatments tailored to your skin-related needs.