Micellar water is taking off in a big way, with a bottle of Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O Micellar Water (formerly Crealine) sold every 6 seconds worldwide, and celebrity endorsements from Kylie Minogue and Gemma Ward. But what is micellar water and how does it work?
You may remember this post I did waaayyyy back about the science behind face washing, and the general principles are pretty similar, although this time my computer is down so you get treated to dodgy hand-drawn diagrams…
The story starts with handy molecules called surfactants. These have a hydrophilic end that’s attracted to water, and a lipophilic end that’s attracted to oils and grease. The hydrophilic end is also known as the “head” and the lipophilic end is also called the “tail”, for reasons that are hopefully obvious.
You know how oil usually floats on water with a clear line in the middle, and splashing water on your makeup doesn’t do much? Well, surfactant molecules can bring the oil and water worlds together so everything can be one happy family!
Surfactants are the most important ingredients in soap, shampoo, detergents and that sort of thing – they also happen to be good at making bubbles, so something bubbles up, there’s a good chance it contains surfactants. How they make oils/makeup soluble in water is summarised in this diagram (click the image to enlarge – if it doesn’t quite make sense, you can go back to the original face-washing post for a more detailed explanation):
So how do these surfactant molecules relate back to micellar water? A micelle is a ball-shaped cluster of a whole bunch of surfactant molecules, with the water-loving heads all around the outside and the tails pointing inwards in the middle, so they don’t have to be close to the water that they repel. Essentially, micellar water is just lots of micelle clusters hanging around in water.
Does this mean micellar water is pretty much just soapy water? Essentially, yes! The key difference though, is that not all surfactants are made equal – if you’ve ever washed your face with a standard bar of soap, you’ll know that surfactants can be skin irritants! Products like Bioderma Crealine H2O contain surfactants mild enough to be left on the skin without irritation (no rinsing required!), yet are strong enough to effectively remove makeup. Depending on the specific micellar water and your skin’s tolerance, you may or may not need to rinse with water afterwards.
What’s all this about a cotton pad? Cotton is much like water – it’s hydrophilic, and hydrophilic things like other hydrophilic things. So when you splash some Crealine H2O on the pad, all the heads of the surfactant molecules stick to the cotton like so, which leaves all the oil-loving tails poking up like a furry, oil-sucking shag carpet:
Then when you wipe it over your skin, the tails grab hold of the makeup and oils. Since the little tails can only grab onto so much oil, it’s quite likely that you’ll need to go over your face a few times, especially if you’re wearing heavy makeup.
My verdict: I’ve found that Crealine H2O doesn’t work quite as well at removing waterproof makeup as my usual two-phase makeup removers (e.g. Garnier Clean Sensitive 2 in 1 Make-Up Remover, with the distinctive blue oil-on-water look). It takes quite a few goes for me to get my makeup off, to the point where my face tingles a bit from the cotton pad (although it may been the roughness of the pads I’m using). It might be because my face is quite oily, and the layer of oil and makeup is thicker than usual (there’s also a version for oily skin (Sebium H2O) which may suit my skin better). On the plus side, Crealine H2O doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy at all! It’s a very handy substitute for facial wipes for when you’re on the go, and don’t have a sink for washing your face properly.
Other popular micellar waters
- Simple Micellar Cleansing Water (review here)
- Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water
- La Roche-Posay Micellar Water Cleanser
- Vichy Pureté Thermale 3-in-1 Micellar Water
Bioderma Crealine H2O is available in both 100 mL ($19.95) and 250 mL ($29.95 – recently discounted by 25%) bottles, and is available in selected pharmacies, or online at Amazon or Adore Beauty. For full stockist info visit Cosmetiques De France.
This post contains affiliate links. This product was provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.