SKIN | What the hell is micellar water?

The Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water is now available in New Zealand, and it’s time to ask the big questions. What is micellar water, and how does it work? I’ve been using micellar water for a good while now, and I’ll readily admit that I was confused when I first came across it. Case in point, this post from May last year: ‘I don’t know what micellar means but it might as well mean magical, as far as removing makeup is concerned.’ That’s not a lie, by the way. Micellar water is one of those fantastic beauty shortcuts that is actually a beauty shortcut, and not a stupid beauty ‘hack’ that’s just going to screw up your skin in the long run. Let me show you how.

First up I wanna give you a heads up that this post is sponsored by Garnier. If you’re a Hyacinth Girl reader you’ll know that this isn’t influencing what I’m saying in any way, because the Garnier Micellar Water was in my 2014 skincare favourites, well before I knew it was coming to the New Zealand market. I genuinely like this stuff, don’t worry.


Isn’t all water ‘cleansing water’?
Well, you should know by now that plain water isn’t enough to remove makeup or excess oil from your face. Cleansing water is clear and water-y, just like water, but it contains micelles. These micelles do the cleansing part.

What the hell is a micelle?
To learn what a micelle is, we need to know what a surfactant is. A surfactant is a molecule with one end that is attracted to water (hydrophilic, or water-loving) and one end that is attracted to oil (lipophilic, or oil-loving). This means the surfactant can be suspended in water (your cleanser, for example), and also bind to oil and dirt, therefore removing it from your face.


Micelles are made when there are heaps of surfactant molecules in a liquid. All the lipophilic ends love oil and hate water, so they group together in a ball formation, with the hydrophilic ends (which love water and hate oil) pointing outwards, like a little barrier. This sphere is perfect for picking up and trapping oil (or dirt) in the middle of it, so it is very good at removing makeup. The micelles are still in solution (in the water), so they can be easily washed or wiped away.


So, micellar water is just water containing a lot of surfactants. This makes all cleansers technically micellar waters, although all surfactants are not created equal.

When should you use micellar water?
The Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water is billed as a 3 in 1 product that removes makeup, cleanses and soothes, but it really shines at removing makeup at the end of the day. Two drops on a cotton pad is enough to remove most makeup – I use one side for my eyes, and then flip it over for the rest of my face. In theory, you shouldn’t need to use a cleanser afterwards. I like to, although that could just be beauty blogger overkill.

I also find it’s great to run a bit of micellar water over my face before putting on my makeup in the morning. It picks up all the oil I secreted in my sleep and gets my skin ready for makeup.

Do you have to use a cotton pad?
Well, no, but there’s a scientific advantage if you do. If you think back to science class, you may remember that like attracts like. Cotton is hydrophilic, so the hydrophilic ends of the micelles are attracted to it. This leaves all the lipophilic ends free to grab on to all the oils and makeup on your face.


Is micellar water safe for all skin types? I thought surfactants were bad.
Remember how I said all surfactants are not created equal? There’s a lot of hysteria around SLS and SLES – sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, respectively – because they may irritate or dry out your skin. They’re really good at forming bubbles, so you’ll often find them in really intensely foaming cleansers and shampoos. Micellar water doesn’t contain these surfactants, and it doesn’t really foam up. Instead micellar waters contain non-ionic surfactants, which are generally less irritating, so they’re well suited for sensitive skin. Micellar water is also free from fragrance and artificial colours! This is good news.


Is there anything wrong with this miracle product?
Well, a less irritating surfactant means a slightly less effective one. Micellar water isn’t going to remove your waterproof mascara, for example. If you’re wearing lots of makeup or have oily skin, you’ll need to use more of it than if you’re just cleansing a bare face. I generally use micellar water in conjunction with a bi-phase makeup remover and then use a cleanser… but like I said, that could be overkill.

Last point? The Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water is cheap as. $13 at the supermarket is a lot more appealing to me than the $30+ I was spending on a bottle of Bioderma Sensibio from Escentual. I think there are some other affordable micellar waters coming to the domestic market in New Zealand, now, but Garnier’s offering is one I’ve tried and can officially vouch for.

I feel like I’ve probably answered all the questions you’ll ever have about micellar water, plus more, but if I haven’t, leave me a comment. I’ll do my best! And if you liked this science-y post, you might be interested to find out what the hell is a chemical exfoliant? Or maybe, what the hell is hyaluronic acid?

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  • Based on my mum’s (adorable, but not so successful) attempt to apply Micellar water directly to her face, I would strongly recommend using a cotton pad. I effing love this stuff though, and am pleased it’s in NZ now, I bought my bottle in Aus and was worried what would happen if I ran out. Great post Morgan and v.cute illustrations.

    • Thanks Lena! Cotton pad is definitely ideal, although I do like to apply toner to my face with hands to avoid wastage, so I can see that working with this as well, in a pinch. Cute about your mum – I can picture her tipping the bottle up on her face!

  • Maddy de Young

    Once again, you are the best in the business. <3

  • Nina

    omg love the illustrations in this. Hope they feature in future posts!

    • Aw yay haha they were fun to draw! And easier than making something up in Photoshop for sure.

  • Steph Hicks

    I definitely want to buy some of this but can’t decide if I should use it to remove the bulk of my makeup and then use my usual Neutrogena Fresh Foaming cleanser to remove the dregs or vice versa??

    • You should use the micellar water to remove your makeup first, and then cleanse the skin with your Neutrogena cleanser!

  • lol I love your drawing explaining the product ~ I have been using this and so far I am not a fan >.< I tried to convince myself that this is amazing especially for lazy people like me, but the sticky feeling it left on my face arghhh not feeling it.

    • That’s why I like to follow with a second cleanse!

  • oh! You remind me of my Biochemistry lectures Morgan. Love the science-y posts! Please keep them coming.

    • Oh awesome, glad you like them! Will definitely keep it up 🙂

  • Charli Marie

    Loved this! Insightful and informative. I love this stuff (it was one of my first UK purchases) and feel like now I know WHY I love it. thanks 🙂

    • Thanks Charli! I always like to be useful 🙂

  • Great post, Morgan! I haven’t seen this at my local Countdown yet and I can’t wait for it to arrive – I’m due for a new bottle. I love this stuff!

  • your posts are always super informative. I’ll grab a bottle next time I’m at the supermarket xx

  • Unpaletteable

    Micellar water is genius science, and this is the closest I’ve come to understanding it, thank you! The cotton pad bit was very enlightening.

    • Awesome, glad I could help!