Micellar waters are based on dilute solutions of very mild detergents. These act as emulsifiers (mix oil and water) but some also have emollient (softening) or humectant (water attracting) properties. British cosmetic scientist Colin Sanders and the blogger at Lab Muffin offer clear explanations of the role of micelles in cleansing.
This type of product is convenient for light morning cleanses, travelling, double cleansing or for those whose skin reacts negatively to tap water or harsh anionic detergents. Being very dilute micellar cleansing waters may be unsuitable for removing heavy or waterproof make up. For that an emulsifying oil or balm cleanser is king.
pH is relevant: anything neutral to alkaline may negatively affect the skin’s protective acid mantle and beneficial microbes (bacteria/ yeasts) on the skin, but anything overly acidic increases the chance of a cleanser irritating the alkaline eye mucosa when removing make up. Few skincare companies divulge the pH of their products, so I picked up some new universal indicator paper.
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 online.
Image credit: Amalgam Modelmaking UK
Superdrug Simply Pure Micellar Water, £2.70 for 150ml
Ingredients: “Water, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, propylene glycol, polysorbate 20, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, panthenol, frankincense gum, dipropylene glycol, allantoin, sodium PCA, benzophenone-4, disodium EDTA, sodium hydroxide, citric acid, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexyl glycerin, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol.” tested at pH 5.5
The Simply Pure Hydrating Serum has achieved cult status on the Reddit Skincare Addiction UK sub and with British beauty bloggers, and I have been keen to try other products from the range. There are only a couple of mini reviews for the Simply Pure micellar water online, so this was a bit of a punt.
This is a smaller pack size than some of the other cleansers, the equivalent of £3.60 for 200ml. I purchased this on offer at two for £3.50 or a bargainous £1.75 each. There is a dropper insert in the neck of the bottle but the packaging looks and feels cheap overall.
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 which features in the REN cleansing water. 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 micellar water itself smells faintly of ‘chemicals’ but tastes of nothing much. Feels gentle on the skin, not ‘soapy’ and no stinging. Not as effective as a cleanser as other micellar waters, it won’t lift more visible grime after the first cotton pad and it has struggled to shift a greasy residue. In performance more of a toner than a cleansing water. Disappointing.
Image credit: Superdrug
Boots Botanics Ultra Calm Micellar 3-in-1 Cleansing Solution, £5 for 250ml
Ingredients: “Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, polyglyceryl-4 caprate, phenoxyethanol, propylene glycol, sodium benzoate, tetrasodium EDTA, citric acid, sorbitol, linden flower extract, sodium citrate, marshmallow root extract.” tested at pH 5
I have long been disappointed that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew put their reputation behind the Botanics line because many products are low on plant extracts and/ or they use fragrance and drying alcohol. I have also previously used and disliked two Boots Botanics products so their micellar water had its work cut out to impress.
This is a larger pack size than some of the other cleansers, the equivalent of £4 for 200ml. I purchased this on offer at half price or £2 for 200ml making it joint cheapest of the store brand offerings. The packaging design looks fresh, clean and calming. However it is the only bottle without a dropper insert in the neck so easy to spill or overuse.
Fairly short albeit uninteresting ingredients list, not loaded with preservatives, no major red flags so in theory the Botanics micellar water should suit almost everyone. Despite the claims, the plant extracts are likely too low down the ingredients list to have much effect in a wipe off product.
Similar base formula to the Boots Botanics All Bright micellar water (although that has several additional preservatives), but different to their Time Delay and No. 7 Beautiful Skin cleansing waters which both include drying alcohol and fragrance. Polyglyceryl-4 caprate is a non ionic emulsifier with additional emollient properties.
This micellar water is very faintly floral scented. Feels gentle, not ‘soapy’ and no stinging, skin is smooth without discernible residue after use. On one occasion I did not apply anything for hours afterwards and my skin still felt supple not tight. This is a cleanser I found myself reaching for: eventually I had to put it out of the way in order to continue testing!
Update: this has been replaced by the Botanics Hydration Burst Micellar Cleanser which has clary sage extract in place of the linden flower and marshmallow root extracts.
Image credit: Boots
Wilko Kiss Thrice as Nice 3-in-1 Cleansing Water, £2 for 150ml
Ingredients: “Water, propylene glycol, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, polysorbate 20, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, baobab seed oil, apricot kernel oil, panthenol, alcohol denat, PEG-35 castor oil, horse chestnut seed extract, retinyl palmitate, vitamin E, inositol, calcium pantothenate, linoleic acid, biotin, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, sodium hydroxide, citric acid.” tested at pH 4
This is a smaller pack size than some of the other cleansers, the equivalent of £2.70 for 200ml. This is my first ever Wilko brand skincare product and I paid full price. There are only a couple of mini reviews online so I selected this cleansing water because I was impressed by the ingredients list.
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. The combination of PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, polysorbate 20 and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil is the same as several other products.
This is one of two micellar water with parabens, likely produced by the same contract formulators as Asda Skin System. These preservatives are not recommended in products that go into the eye due to irritancy, the pH is low and there is a warning on the label to avoid contact with the eyes, so this is not the cleanser for those who want to remove make up from this area.
The bubblegum pink colourway is not my cup of tea, but there is dropper insert under the flip top cap. The small size is practical for travelling. Smells faintly (and tastes) of ‘chemicals’ which is offputting. This feels the least gentle of the three store brand cleansers – leaving skin feeling dry and slightly tacky after use – but it is effective.
Image credit: Wilko
Asda The Skin System Micellar Cleansing Water, £2 for 200ml
Ingredients: “Water, propylene glycol, polysorbate 20, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, disodium EDTA, panthenol, diprolylene glycol, aloe vera leaf juice powder, PEG-35 castor oil, glycerin, horse chestnut seed extract, alcohol denat, frankincense gum, Roman chamomile flower extract, rose flower extract, vitamin E, retinyl palmitate, linoleic acid, inositol, calcium pantothenate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, biotin, citric acid, sodium hydroxide, sorbic acid.” tested at pH 4
This is my third Skin System purchase and is brand new for Autumn 2015, so there are no reviews online as yet. This is the cheapest of the store brand micellar waters. Rather odd how similar it is to the NSPA micellar water, since that is exclusive to Asda. However the multivitamin complex is in one of my previous Skin System products.
The combination of polysorbate 20, PEG-6 caprylic/ capric glycerides and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil is the same as several other products. The drying alcohol is a component of the multivitamin complex but, as with the previous micellar water, this cleansing water does not smell of it whatsoever.
Overall VERY similar ingredients to the Wilko Kiss cleansing water but a larger pack size, likely produced by the same contract formulators. Key additions are the frankincense gum, Roman chamomile flower extract and rose flower extract which makes the product smell very faintly ‘feminine’.
Parabens are a controversial family of preservatives, but there is no evidence to support claims that they are either carcinogenic or oestrogenic at reasonable cosmetic use rates. Even the authors of the oft cited studies state there is no causative link with cancers or hormone disruption. It should be noted that parabens are found in various foods and that healthy skin is a much more effective barrier than the digestive tract.
What is more concerning to those with a history of less than optimal skin barrier function – eg. rosacea, eczema or dermatitis, moderate or severe acne – is one of the ‘Paraben Paradoxes’. Parabens are considered to be relatively infrequent allergens, however a person can react on an areas of skin that is presently or has previously been inflamed or damaged, yet not react on an area of skin that is ‘normal’ or healthy.
Again the bubblegum pink colourway is not my cup of tea, but this is a very controllable dropper bottle due to the small aperture. Not ‘soapy’ or stripping, but stung the skin around my eyes on two occasions – once when already irritated and once when failing to touch waterproof mascara. More of a cleansing toner than a make up remover: more effective than the Superdrug Simply Pure but less so than the Wilko Kiss product.
Interestingly British cosmetic scientist Colin Sanders notes that “If you are looking for a way to save money, buying own brand products is one way to do it. There is just one caveat: fragrances are the biggest part of the cost of these kinds of products, often amounting to half the total. Cost consciousness is the key to own brands and cheap fragrances are the order of the day.” So are we getting better value for money when we choose fragrance-free lines?
Ultimately most of the micellar waters I have tested to date lift enough ‘gunk’ off my face, neck and decollete to necessitate using two cotton wool pads, despite wearing make up only infrequently. Given that micellar cleansers are primarily water – no shit Sherlock! – budget products arguably do represent better value for money than most mid and higher end products.
The four store brand micellar waters should all be fine for those with somewhat sensitive skin, but I hesitate to recommend the Wilko Kiss or Asda Skin System cleansers to those with very reactive or hypersensitive skin due to the preservatives. Superdrug’s Simply Pure cleanser is next to useless so not recommended period. I liked the Botanics Ultra Calm micellar water much more than expected and will continue to use the bottle at home.
Continued at: micellar cleansing waters, 2/3 budget brand-name