So, You Use Micellar Water—But What Exactly Is It?

Using a micellar water can be a pretty confusing experience. While it’s commonly touted as a one-stepped cleanser which removes makeup, some of us, nonetheless, still reach for that foaming cleanser afterwards for a second cleanse. Other beauty aficionados, however, insist that there shouldn’t be another wash after the micellar water.

What exactly is micellar water? What is it capable of removing? How should we be using it?

We look to the French inventors of micellar water, Bioderma, in search of answers. Here, the 43-year-old Aurélie Guyoux, director of scientific research at Bioderma explains it all:

ELLE: When was micellar water first invented?

Aurélie Guyoux: It was 30 years ago. When I was a child, I already knew micellar water from Bioderma. I know the girl who developed the formula—she’s still in the company, in Bioderma. She’s based in Aix-en-Provence and she’s 90. She’s called Natalie.

[Natalie’s] idea was really to come up with a new category of skincare to clean your skin because at that time, you had only foaming formulas [which were] very aggressive for your skin. You had classical soaps, and you had some milky emulsions—but after the milky emulsion, you use a toner to remove the emulsion.

And she created the first micellar water in the world.

Aurélie Guyoux, the director of scientific research at Bioderma, first tried her hands on Bioderma's micellar water some 20 years ago. "I was like 25," she recounts. "I was pregnant at 25 and my skin changed. It was more oily and very sensitive. So I needed a specific cleanser for combination skin that was sensitive. I wanted something quick and convenient." Photograph by Tung Pham
Aurélie Guyoux, the director of scientific research at Bioderma, first tried her hands on Bioderma’s micellar water some 20 years ago. “I was like 25,” she recounts. “I was pregnant at 25 and my skin changed. It was more oily and very sensitive. So I needed a specific cleanser for combination skin that was sensitive. I wanted something quick and convenient.” Photograph by Tung Pham

ELLE: What is in that bottle of micellar water?

Aurélie Guyoux: It’s mostly water—but a specific water. We make, in our factory, our own water in order to remove all the bacteria, all the impurities, and even what we call endotoxins—molecules made by bacteria. So even if you remove bacteria, some endotoxins can remain, and we discovered that they can be the origins of skin reactions. [Our water is] called highly purified water, it can be used for injections. It’s so pure.

ELLE: Wait, how does this water remove all of the makeup, dirt, and gunk in our pores?

Aurélie Guyoux: So, it’s not just H2O, we add specific ingredients in there. So we have a micellar agent. And these agents will form specific organisations (like droplets) inside the water. And when you apply it onto your skin, these specific organisations will catch impurities, will attract makeup, also pollution particles 2.1, 1.0, and even 0.1, heavy metals that are in your pores—they attract them.

This is why you immediately see the change on the cotton pads. So you have to apply it twice, if necessary, to have the cotton pad completely white.

ELLE: What about waterproof makeup such as mascara?

Aurélie Guyoux: On waterproof makeup, you need to apply twice or thrice. You do it very slowly but it will remove the waterproof makeup.

You apply it on your eyes, wait a little bit—for two or three seconds, so that the product really goes in contact with the makeup. And gently [lift it up]. And never [rub the cotton pad] because it tugs your skin.

ELLE: And it removes the bacteria on our skin?

Aurélie Guyoux: A lot of people think that we need to remove bacteria. “I want to kill all the bacteria.” But it’s really bad. You need bacteria. We don’t want to remove bacteria because your skin is full of bacteria. If you have an imbalanced bacteria system, some pathology will appear—acne is linked with a specific bacteria but also epidermatitis, you can have staphylococcus bacteria they are becoming the major ones, and you can have skin problems. You need to keep a good balance on your skin flora. It’s called microbiome.

We use specific sugars that are useful for the good bacteria. Well, there are not good or [bad] bacteria. We thought that [way] a few years ago. But now, we know we need all the bacteria, even the [bad] ones. They make a kind of fight together and keep a good balance.

From left, the blue bottled Hydrabio micellar water (S$15.90) contains a higher dose of hydrating ingredients such as glycerin for dry skin types; the green Sebium micellar water (S$15.90) contains ingredients such as zinc gluconate and copper sulfate to battle acne; the red Sensibio (S$15.90) was formulated for sensitive skin types.
From left, the blue bottled Hydrabio micellar water (S$15.90) contains a higher dose of hydrating ingredients such as glycerin for dry skin types; the green Sebium micellar water (S$15.90) contains ingredients such as zinc gluconate and copper sulfate to battle acne; the red Sensibio (S$15.90) was formulated for sensitive skin types.

ELLE: What is the right way to use the micellar water?

Aurélie Guyoux: So, you need a cotton pad. This is very fluid, it’s why you need the cotton pad. The cotton pad [also] helps to remove sebum in excess.

We are thinking about a new way of cleansing without cotton pads—only with your fingertips. But it’s not very easy.

ELLE: Do we have to wash our face again after the micellar water?

Aurélie Guyoux: Do not over wash! Say that to people! You use it and that’s all, you put on your skincare. People clean too much with aggressive products. Tap water can be very aggressive for your skin if you have sensitive skin.

This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.