What is Micellar Water?

Micellar Water Products Are Becoming More Popular


Micellar Water? What on earth is that?  Why am I talking about it? It is a trend in make up removing products.  Some of them are being puffed at the moment as being micellar.  The ones I have heard about so far are Lancome’s Eau Micellaire Douceur, Laroche Posay’s Effaclar Purifying Micellar Water, Caudalie’s Cleansing Water and Darphin’s Azahar Cleansing Micellar Water.  But there are probably more and I don’t think we’ll have long to wait for them.

Micellar Water Ingredients

Let’s have a look at the ingredients of the Lancome product.

Aqua, Hexylene Glycol, Glycerin, Poloxamer 184, Dihydrocholeth-30, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Benzyl Salicylate,Propylene Glycol, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Disodium Edta, Rosa Gallica Extract, Parfum

There is nothing very surprising or unusual there.  The others are all much the same.  So what is the story?

Science of Micellar Water Products

The name micelle is given to spherical liquid crystals. Micelles are very beautiful things. It is a shame that they are too small to see.  If we could we would realise just how common they are.  They form spontaneously when you put molecules that are the right sort of shape into water.  They resemble ice cream cones and agglomerate into a shape with all the tips pointing inwards.  The end result is a sphere enclosing some water inside.

Micelles have some interesting effects, which easily baffle people trying to work with them.  For a start they vastly reduce the irritancy of some detergents.  It is rather confusing to find that sodium lauryl sulphate is more irritating at low concentrations than at higher ones.  The explanation is that at lower concentrations there isn’t enough to form micelles.   This is one of the problems for people who diligently ‘do their own research’ online.   Even if they avoid the flagrantly misleading scaremongering nonsense pushed out by the likes of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, they often completely fail to realise that the behaviour of ingredients is almost impossible to predict simply by looking at the data published on them.  Formulators like myself often wish that you could.

Micelles are good at inactivating things.  They often form around other molecules. This can be both good and bad.  They can reduce toxic effects but also stop actives you want to work from working.  But the thing that micelles are really good for is trapping small quantities of oil.  So they make ideal mild makeup removers.Guide To Cosmetic Ingredients For The Perplexed Cover

Are Micellar Waters any good?

To be honest, you don’t really need to know anything about micelles to formulate a good micellar makeup remover.  There are probably micelles in a lot of makeup removers that don’t talk about them at all.  Micelles form pretty easily and you could hit on a formula that did the trick pretty quickly through trial and error.  But if you know what you are doing I dare say you can come up with something that works well more quickly.  Whether you use luck or judgement, the end result is a good mild product that is very cheap to make.

And that brings me to the issue.  Why do these products cost so much?  They ought to be very cheap since they are very largely water.  But having said that, I suppose you don’t use much at a time so although they are expensive considering what they are they are not really going to cost a huge amount each time you use them so unless you are on a really tight budget why not splash out.

Given how easy they are to make, if they become popular I imagine there will be some cheaper options along soon enough.  There are lots of ways to make them.  Our friends at Lancome have selected Poloxamer 184 to base theirs on, and that seems like a good choice.  If you are looking for a cheap version looking out for that ingredient is not a bad strategy.

If my explanation hasn’t satisfied you, the Beauty Brains have also answered the question What is micellar water?

I have also recently done a video on the subject.


(Thanks to Wikipedia for the diagram of the micelle.)

13 thoughts on “What is Micellar Water?”

  1. @Judith I imagine a lot of them either are, or contain liquid crystals that behave much the same as micelles even if they don’t have the specific micelle spherical shape.

    With regard to the Simple one you refer to, yes that looks very much like a micelle containing formulation. I’d love to know what you think of its performance.

  2. I tried my favorite miscellar water with a healthy dose of skepticism- the ingredient list doesn’t appear much different from, say, your average toner.

    But, as you point out, it’s hard for even an educated layman to look at a list of ingredients and really understand the chemical interactions concerned.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that the formula I chose, Bioderm Crealine, is not only very well suited to my skin, but removes makeup surprisingly well- it’s now a standard in my cleansing routine.

    I have tried several brands and formulas since, and can offer a tip for those looking to try for the first time: be aware that formulas high in glycerin (like Caudalie) tend to leave a sticky feel on this skin, where as those that use Prop. Glycol (Bioderma, Ko Gen Doh) leave a cleaner feel.

  3. Micellar means “soapy”. You have to admire the brass balls of an industry that will charge a fortune for re-branded soap

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  6. I’ve read already several times that we can solubilize small amounts of oil in micellar waters and gel cleansers. I just wonder what would be those “small amounts” since micellar waters themselves have very little surfactants? How much oil will 2% of cocamidopropyl betaine + 0.8% lauryl glucoside be able to solubilize?

    1. Hello Paulina, that’s not something that is easy to calculate. It would be fairly easy to work out in the lab, so you’ll need to find a friendly cosmetic chemist. Not me – I’m much too busy right now.

  7. This is so interesting reading this in 2021. Yes they indeed did become huge in the market, I have noticed on the hair care shelves just this week a new “Micellar water” shampoo and conditioner. So the market is definitely still there. Great read.

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