Every now and then a beauty product comes along that changes the game forever. In the nineties, that was micellar water.
Formulated as a gentle alternative to harsh cleansers and make-up removers, for years it was a secret buried deep in French pharmacies but beloved by skincare gurus everywhere.
Thankfully the days of stocking up abroad are behind us. The first micellar water hit shelves in the UK less than 10 years ago, revolutionising our nighttime beauty routine. Nowadays it’s a skincare staple, with affordable and luxury brands alike producing their own one-step solutions.
As a staple in our skincare routine, we have high expectations from micellar waters. Each of the entries on our list has been tested nightly for at least two weeks, used on both no make-up and full-face days.
To make the cut, they had to leave us feeling fresh and hydrated, with no tightness or sensitivity. Bonus points for helping us glow.
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The best micellar waters for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Avène micellar cleanser and makeup remover: £12.49, Superdrug.com
- Best for bare-face days – Drunk Elephant e-rase milki micellar water: £12, Cultbeauty.co.uk
- Best for acne-prone skin – La Roche-Posay sensitive micellar water: £16.50, Boots.com
- Best budget micellar water – Garnier micellar water facial cleanser sensitive skin: £3.99, Boots.com
- Best for removing stubborn make-up – Bioderma sensibio H2O micellar water: £11, Boots.com
- Best for oily skin – Nars aqua-infused makeup removing water: £21, Narscosmetics.co.uk
- Best for dry skin – L’Oreal revitalift filler replumping micellar water: £7.99, Superdrug.com
- Best for removing eye make-up – Lancôme eau micellaire douceur cleansing micellar water, £22.40, Lancome.co.uk
- Best for reducing redness – Kiehl’s herbal-infused micellar cleansing water: £24, Kiehls.co.uk
- Best for a quick cleanse – My Clarins RE-MOVE micellar cleansing water: £17, Clarins.co.uk
Avène micellar cleanser and makeup remover
As anyone with sensitive skin can attest, sometimes the process of removing your make-up can leave your face feeling raw and uncomfortable. To avoid that, this product is formulated with thermal spring water, which has natural soothing properties. A three-in-one cleanser, toner and make-up remover, its consistency is more comparable to a lotion than your average micellar product.
It did a shockingly thorough job at dissolving makeup with just a small amount of product and felt like a much more thorough clean. Our tester’s skin can be sensitive to pretty much anything but water, but didn’t experience any redness after use — in fact, of all the micellar products we tried, this left our skin feeling the softest. It even helped soothe active breakouts and worked equally well on oily and dry patches of skin.
Drunk Elephant e-rase milki micellar water
Best: For bare-face days
We love a multi-purpose product, especially when it looks out for our skin’s moisture barrier. This micellar water is packed with ceramides, antioxidants and emollients, coming together to lock in hydration and give your skin a healthy glow. The latter was evident from the very first use, replacing oiliness on our T-zone with a subtle dewiness. It had more of a milky consistency than we were expecting, but thankfully doesn’t dry sticky or tacky.
As far as removing make-up, it dissolved mascara and eyeliner with little effort. However, we found we definitely needed a second cleanse to remove everything, so we’d recommend leaving this for make-up-free days when you just want an extra glow.
La Roche-Posay sensitive micellar water
Best: For acne-prone skin
We can always rely on La Roche-Posay for acne-friendly products, and this is no exception. Formulated for sensitive skin, free of preservatives and paragons, and totally non-comedogenic, it thoroughly removes make-up and refreshes skin.
One soaked cotton pad dissolved a full face of product without irritating inflamed spots. There was no redness, itching or dryness, and it even seemed to reduce sebum production for hours after use. A dream for anyone who, like our tester, seems to have cycled through cleansers trying to find something that doesn’t worsen existing breakouts or trigger new ones.
Garnier micellar water facial cleanser sensitive skin
Best: Budget micellar water
Not only is this one of the most iconic formulas on the scene, but it’s also the most cost-effective, supplying you with 400ml of product for just £3.99. While Garnier now offers plenty of variations, the original is our favourite. It’s been one of our beauty staples for years, simultaneously removing make-up and soothing skin.
For the most part one cotton pad worth of product can lift a full face of make-up without the need for scrubbing your skin raw. It never fails to amaze us how one soaked cotton pad can dissolve mascara in seconds. However, in our experience, stubborn complexion products can often require a second swipe. It’s gentle on all skin types, and doesn’t leave your eyes stinging.
Bioderma sensibio H2O micellar water
Best: For removing stubborn make-up
It was the team behind Bioderma that first set out to engineer a make-up remover better suited to the natural biology of our skin back in the nineties. The result was the world’s first ever micellar water, making this the product that started it all. It’s stellar in every way, causing no irritation, leaving skin soft to the touch and breaking down layers of heavy makeup with ease.
We love the inclusion of a pump dispenser, which cuts down on any product waste. The only thing we didn’t like was how much it stings upon contact with your eyes. Learn from our tester’s mistakes and don’t dive into mascara removal with a freshly saturated cotton pad.
Nars aqua-infused makeup removing water
Best: For oily skin
The texture of this product was a happy surprise. Despite branding itself as a water, it’s more like a cool and refreshing gel. Massaged gently across the entire face via a cotton pad, it dissolved every last trace of make-up (although we did have to dip into a second pad to tackle the last few flakes of mascara). What’s even more impressive is how it tackled oiliness. There was a noticeable reduction in shine across our nose and forehead with repeated use, and skin felt soft and supple.
L’Oreal revitalift filler replumping micellar water
Best: For dry skin
We love the concept of this product. While it does everything you’d expect from a micellar water — dissolving make-up, refreshing and soothing your skin — it also aims to improve the texture of your skin in the long-term. To achieve this, it utilises hyaluronic acid, a humectant which helps your skin retain water.
The ingredient is more commonly found in serums and, as the name suggests, dermal fillers, as it can radically plumpen skin. We’re on the fence about how much it really does this in micellar water form, but can definitely attest to its moisturising properties. Our tester received multiple compliments on her skin’s newfound glow after a few days of use. The results were comparable to those of a face spray, only longer-lasting.
Lancôme eau micellaire douceur cleansing micellar water
Best: For removing eye make-up
Yes, this is by far the priciest entry on this list, but when it comes to eye make-up it’s also the most powerful. The formula looks and feels luxurious on skin, radically shortening the time spent cleansing as it does such a thorough job dissolving product and impurities. Two eyes worth of waterproof mascara dissolved with just one pad and no stinging whatsoever. Far from stripping skin and leaving it dry or tight, it gives a glowy, hydrated finish. While we love the rose scent but it might not be for everyone.
Kiehl’s herbal-infused micellar cleansing water
Best: For reducing redness
Formulated with 99.8 per cent naturally-derived ingredients, this micellar water is as gentle as it gets. Two of these hero ingredients are thyme and lemon balm floral water, both of which are renowned anti-inflammatory agents and can help contribute to a healthy skin barrier. It did a decent job at removing make-up, but stumbled slightly on mascara. Where it really shines is in reducing redness and improving the appearance of large, congested pores.
My Clarins RE-MOVE micellar cleansing water
Best: For a quick cleanse
Clarins’ My Clarins collection is designed for younger complexions who don’t always follow the rules of skincare. This is of course one of micellar water’s greatest strengths, giving you a quick and easy option for those nights when you just want to take your makeup off ASAP and get into bed.
This micellar cleansing water does just that. It has a thick, lotion-esque consistency, composed of golden gentian extract to soothe skin and moringa extract that detoxifies and purifies. This adds up to a refreshing cleanse that feels like it’s doing more than just lifting off your make-up. Skin feels clean and tingly, in the best possible way.
Micellar water FAQs
What is micellar water?
It sounds elaborate, but all a micellar water really is is a make-up remover made of purified water and an assortment of surfactants. But don’t mistake this for the same thing as any old cleanser: these surfactants make up “micelles” (hence the name), which act as magnets to draw out the oil, dirt and impurities on the surface of your skin. This includes all the make-up you’d ordinarily spend five minutes trying to scrub off with a regular cleanser.
How to use micellar water
Everything about micellar water is convenient. Simply saturate a cotton pad with product and gently massage across your face, concentrating on areas with lots of make-up if you’re wearing it.
By its very nature, micellar water focuses on the things that shouldn’t be on your skin, so it isn’t as stripping as other types of cleanser, and many are actually infused with additional hydrating ingredients to keep your skin in prime condition. However, those with particularly oily complexions may want to follow up with a second cleanse.
Verdict: Best micellar water
We can’t praise Avène’s micellar lotion cleanser and makeup remover enough. Not only is it a great choice for those with sensitive complexions, but it’s a soothing treat at the end of the day that calms skin of all types. If you plan on removing heavy-duty makeup on a regular basis, we recommend the Bioderma sensibio H2O micellar water. You also can’t go wrong with the Garnier micellar water facial cleanser.
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