The cleansers reviewed in this three part series are marketed for sensitive skin and, with a couple of minor exceptions, are free of drying alcohol and fragrance. The budget options are regularly on two-for-one or half price at a major supermarket or pharmacy so don’t pay the full RRP!
- Part one covers budget (RRP <£5) store brand micellar waters made and sold only in the UK
- Part two covers budget brand-name cleansers also available in mainland Europe, north America and/ or Australia
- Part three covers mid priced (RRP <£15) micellar waters that are new to the market and thus rarely reviewed.
Nivea Sensitive 3-in-1 Micellar Cleansing Water, £4 for 200ml
Ingredients: “Water, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, grapeseed oil, panthenol, glyceryl glucoside, glycerin, sorbitol, decyl glucoside, poloxamer 124, polyquaternium-10, disodium cocoyl glutamate, citric acid, sodium chloride, sodium acetate, propylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, trisodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol.” Sites say pH neutral, tested at pH 6
This micellar water is my first Nivea purchase in many years and features in my rosacea core routine challenge. The main cleansing agent is PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil which is a mild non-ionic emulsifier (mixes oil and water) with additional humectant (water attracting) properties. This cleanser was in the September 2014 Glossybox but has not received as much blog attention as Simple or Garnier.
Nivea is owned by the same parent company, Beirsdorf, as the excellent Eucerin but the micellar waters are not dupes, surprisingly it is the cheaper product that has the more interesting ingredients list. Several moisturising or soothing actives that I don’t mind leaving on my skin, of particular interest is the humectant glyceryl glucoside.
This active has ‘filtered down’ to Nivea from sister brand Eucerin. Glyceryl glucoside stimulates a molecule in the epidermis (upper layers of skin) called called AQP3 which helps control the transport of water and other humectants such as glycerin into cells. Published research by Biersdorf shows 5% hydrates skin and improves barrier function, but a marketing brochure suggests 1% to 2% may be effective.
The bottle is simply styled and functional, it is easy to control the amount of micellar water going onto the cotton pad. The micellar water itself smells of nothing at all and feels gentle on the skin, not ‘soapy’ and no stinging yet is an effective cleanser. This product sometimes leaves a slightly tacky finish which may be due to the humectant properties of PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil.
No grand claims are made on the packaging or website that are not backed up by the ingredients or performance. I would agree that this micellar water “moisturises and helps to reduce the three signs of sensitive skin [when used together with a Nivea Sensitive care product]: redness, tightness, dryness. Your skin feels soft and supple“.
Image credit: Nivea
Simple Kind to Skin Micellar Cleansing Water, £4.50 for 200ml
Ingredients: “Water, hexylene glycol, glycerin, niacinamide, panthenol, Roman chamomile flower extract, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, butylene glycol, pantolactone, cetrimonium chloride, tetrasodium EDTA, citric acid, potassium chloride, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium chloride, DMDM hydantoin, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate.” Simple say pH 5.5-6.5, tested at pH 5
I rate the Simple Kind to Skin Soothing Toner, sulphate-free Refreshing Facial Wash Gel (used as body and hand wash) and Kind to Skin+ Protecting Moisture Cream SPF 30, so purchasing their micellar water was a no-brainer.
Simple was originally a UK brand but is now sold across North America and Australia. This micellar water only came to market early in 2015, but has been subject to heavy promotion and giveaways by parent company Unilever, so has been widely reviewed. The WordPress ‘micellar water’ tag shows it to be the most posted about product this year.
Simple say the hexylene glycol “helps dissolve make up and kindly conditions the skin.” Similar to the iconic Bioderma Sensibio H2O this also has PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, a mild non-ionic emulsifier. DMDM hydantoin is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative and known allergen so may be problematic for some with a history of atopic eczema.
Of the eight budget cleansers this is my favourite packaging: the clear and green looks refreshing. Although Simple don’t claim their micellar water is a three-in-one product it has several hydrating or soothing actives (glycerin, niacinamide, panthenol, Roman chamomile) high up the ingredients list that I don’t mind leaving on my skin.
The cleanser smells of nothing at all and feels gentle on the skin, not ‘soapy’ and no stinging, leaves no residue just smooth skin. It performed well removing light make up including mascara (not waterproof) without irritation, but the lower pH means it may be better suited to general cleansing than eye make up removal.
My eyebrows raised at Simple’s claim that this micellar water “removes … impurities whilst helping to unclog pores supporting skin to breathe.” However I do agree that the cleanser “won’t leave the skin feeling tight or sticky but clean, refreshed and hydrated.”
Image credit: Simple
L’Oreal Paris Skin Perfection Micellar Water, £5 for 200ml
Ingredients: “Water, hexylene glycol, glycerin, poloxamer 184, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, disodium EDTA, polyaminopropyl biguanide (F.I.L. B54894/1).” tested at pH 6
This micellar water is my first L’Oreal Paris skincare purchase in many years. On the plus side a super short ingredients list including a novel preservative, polyaminopropyl biguanide. On the negative side a chemical soup that I would not want to leave on my skin. The oblong bottle is better for travel and storage than standard cylindrical bottles.
Same non-ionic emulsifier (poloxamer 184) and mild amphoteric detergent (disodium cocoamphodiacetate) as La Roche-Posay Physiological and Vichy Purete Thermale, both Garnier Skin Naturals micellar waters, as well as Lancome Eau Micellaire Douceur. In fact L’Oreal has practically recycled the ingredients list for the five brands: key differences being the price point and inclusion of fragrance or drying alcohol.
The oblong bottle is difficult to handle, causing the product to spill out regularly. In use this product smells of nothing at all but has a ‘soapy’ feel. I felt uncomfortable leaving that on my skin so always followed with a gentle toner. It is certainly an effective cleanser but at the expense of leaving skin feeling dry and almost stripped: I abandoned testing this micellar water within a week.
The packaging claims this micellar water “purifies and unclog pores, tones and soothes skin” but there are no active ingredients save the glycerin! Of all the budget products this really is all mouth and no trousers. It is a make up remover, period.
NSPA Micellar One-Step Cleanser, £5 for 200ml
Ingredients: “Water, propylene glycol, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, grape fruit water, polysorbate 20, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, phenoxyethanol, white willow bark extract, panthenol, panax ginseng root extract, avocado fruit oil, apricot kernel oil, ethylhexylglycerin, retinyl palmitate, vitamin E, glycerin, alcohol denat, PEG-35 castor oil, horse chestnut seed extract, inositol, calcium pantothenate, linoleic acid, biotin, disodium EDTA, benzophenone-4, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sodium hydroxide, citric acid, CI 14700, CI 19140.” tested at pH 4
NSPA is a UK brand exclusive to Asda in the UK and Walmart in North America. This is my seventh skincare purchase from this brand (not including gifts!) and they have been consistently high quality, so I had high hopes for their micellar water. NSPA skincare is regularly on offer at two for £8 or £4 for 200ml, so this is the most expensive of all the budget offerings.
PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil are both mild non-ionic emulsifiers, with additional emollient and humectant properties respectively, polysorbate 20 is another mild non ionic emulsifier. 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol is a formaldehyde-releasing preservative and known allergen, benzophenone-4 is usually used as a sunscreen filter and another known allergen. Either may be problematic for some with atopic eczema.
The drying alcohol is a component of the multivitamin complex which is recommended at 1%+ of the finished product. The amount of alcohol should therefore be tiny: indeed this cleansing water does not smell of it whatsoever. Smells very faintly ‘feminine’, presumably due to the high amount of phenoxyethanol which is a widely used preservative but can also act as a fragrance ingredient.
All round a similar formulation to the Asda Skin System and Wilko Kiss products reviewed in part one: notable differences are the addition of white willow bark (anti inflammatory/ inhibits formation of blood capillaries), grape fruit water (a nod to Caudalie’s micellar cleansing water) and the absence of parabens.
As with the L’Oreal Paris product the oblong bottle is difficult to handle, causing the product to spill out regularly. In daily use NSPA’s micellar water feels very gentle – not ‘soapy’ and no stinging – and leaves no residue just smooth skin. However it seems to lift less grime than the Nivea Sensitive and Simple Kind to Skin products.
NSPA says their micellar water remove waterproof mascara and that “84% of people agree this product is kind to eyes” which is a bold claim for a product of this pH. I tested this against the Asda Skin System micellar water since the two are so similar. It did not initially cause irritation, began to remove some waterproof mascara after around a minute, but by that time my eyes had begun to sting!
Whilst not a poor product, this is not the same high quality or value for money of other NSPA skincare I have tried. In use more of a cleansing toner than a make up remover.
It is well worth noting at this point that I paid around £20 for all eight budget micellar waters reviewed in parts one and two, the cheapest cleanser at £1.75 and the most expensive at £4. Within that there is something for everyone.
The Nivea Sensitive and Simple Kind to Skin formulations include soothing ingredients, are widely available and frequently on offer which, for me, make their micellar waters particularly attractive and great value. Either are a great option for those new to cleansing waters, but Nivea’s higher pH would more appropriate for mascara wearers or those with ocular rosacea.
The L’Oreal Paris cleanser is a purse-friendly alternative for those who rate the La Roche-Posay or Vichy micellar waters, or who suspect issues with one of the common preservative systems (eg. parabens, phenoxyethanol). It would also be fine for those with oilier skin who want to remove full make up.
Speaking for myself I am underwhelmed by the formulation and performance of the L’Oreal Paris product … alright I loathe it. The NSPA cleanser has great ingredients but is disappointing in performance given it is at the top of the budget. The Simple Kind to Skin micellar water is my favourite, primarily due to the acid mantle friendly pH.
Are there any super gentle budget (RRP <£5) micellar cleansing waters I have missed or passed over? Have you tried more than one of the branded micellar waters from the L’Oreal stable?
To be continued at: micellar waters, 3/3 mid priced