What is micellar water? Is it just expensive tap water? Is it just a marketing buzzword? Let’s investigate!
There’s actually quite a bit of science behind the workings of micellar water but you might be shocked to discover that you’ve actually been using all sorts of products that form micelles for years without even knowing it. So in that sense it is very much a marketing buzzword!
Micellar water has thoroughly made it’s way into the skincare mainstream after being an important part of the make-up artists kit for some time. Very often when you are backstage or on location you have no access to a sink or water to be able to cleanse the skin and properly remove make-up so micellar cleansing water quickly became a very popular addition to kits.
To fully cleanse the skin with it you do have to use quite a bit though – not just one or two cotton pads for the whole face, think up to four times that to cleanse the whole face properly! When done correctly and thoroughly it should not be ‘quicker’, and nor is it any gentler thanks to the cotton pads, than using an ordinary cleanser and water. You can however do it sat in bed which is great for over tired zebras! Some formulas can even remove waterproof mascaras and eye liners which makes them a very valuable product for doing small touch ups with cotton buds.
On to the science of micelles!
Micellar waters contain tiny spherical huddles of molecules called micelles which form when a large enough volume of surfactant is placed in water or a water based (aqueous) solution. Surfactant molecules look a bit like a bead stuck on top of a long chain or string, these form the head and tail respectively. The head is water loving (hydrophilic) and oil hating while the tail is the reverse; water hating (hydrophobic) but oil loving. This is what causes the molecules to huddle together with all of the water hating tails hiding from the water protected by their water loving heads.
Surfactants may act as detergents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants. You will find surfactants in many products from cleansers and shampoos to laundry powder and washing up liquid. The majority of these products also produce micelles – they just don’t bang on about it! The micelle is what enables your Fairy liquid to remove the grease from your dishes as the oil is hidden from the water (which we all know will not mix with oil!) inside an individual micelle and then “smuggled” along in the water and washed away. All soap works this way. If you have used a cleansing lotion on a pad before, it almost certainly contained micelles.
When you put a micellar lotion onto your cotton pad the molecules rearrange themselves – the water loving heads stick to the cotton pad (because it is also water loving and is holding the solution water) leaving the oil loving tails pointing down away from the solution on the pad. Because the tails are so oil loving they pick up oils and make-up from your skin and keep hold of it, soaking up as much as they can. They can only hold so much though so you do have to repeat the process with another cotton pad!
When buying micellar water however, do be aware that not all formulations are created equal. Pretty much every skincare brand out there makes one or more micellar cleansing waters now. Some formulas contain alcohol in high concentrations which is harmful to the skin, and pretty much all formulas contain fragrance of some kind. Do check the ingredients carefully!
I would not recommend relying on such a product on a daily basis for cleansing of the whole face (surfactants are not always great for the skin and some are known irritants) but it is certainly a very handy product to have in for touch ups to make-up, for travel or those days when you’re dog (zebra?) tired – remember using micellar water shouldn’t really be quicker than washing with water at the sink.