Yes, you should rinse micellar water

Micellar marketing wonder

Approximately 5 years ago the cosmetic market exploded with the nothing but short of magical micellar waters, leading the new generation of gentle yet very effective cleansers. While I never totally understood the hype, (I’m a total Grinch I know) I have to admit, that the effectiveness and gentleness of this products surprised me in a very good way. Fast, gentle and effective, what is not to like? But I never really grown into loving it, because it had a drying effect on my already dry skin and it very quickly became the cleansing solution when circumstances and time didn’t allow a better cleansing routine (i.e. more suitable for my skin). I still use it now and then, and If I do, I always wash it off my face.

I thought that everybody washed it off but it turned out, that this is not the case. I was basically oblivious of this fact until recently, when I found out that the manufacturers even promote that you don’t have to wash it off. And that is not all, because they claim it can be used as a toner too. Even pharmacists will tell you to leave it on your skin, because manufacturers told them so (and how could they even know better if that is what is common belief supported by manufacturers). And last but not least, even dermatologists are not very determined about rinsing it with water. I was shocked!

Marketing did it’s »magic« here, I guess. Fast, 2 in 1 solution, no water needed. If it is to good to be true…

then it probably is. I hurried to Google to dig out some (scientific) proof to warrant my shock, but I  mostly found dead ends. So I went fishing for information in our skincare communities packed with very smart women, with doctors and chemists on board too. Hence, here we are – one of the first articles about why you should really consider to wash that micelles off your pretty face.

 First things first, as always. Let’s talk about what micelles even are.

Micelles and micellar water

First, surfactants. Surfactants are compounds that are used in cosmetics also as detergents, due to their ability to act like magnets for oil-based grime on skin, like makeup residue, sebum, SPF residue etc. They attract, break out and lift all the nasties from the surface of your skin so you can easily remove them.

Micelles are just organized groups of surfactants.

In the right environment surfactants arrange in groups called micelles. While free individual surfactant molecules can penetrate quite deep in the skin causing irritation, a group of surfactants – a micelle, due to its larger size, stays on the skin surface where does its job without irritating the skin. Larger the micelles, gentler the cleanser.

Micelles are found in all water based cleansers like shampoos, shower gels, soaps etc., the differences lay in their structure  and formulations. Micellar water is a detergent in a water suspension, formulated specifically to be gentle on the skin.

But is still a detergent.

Let that sink in.

Why rinse?

Imagine wiping the shampoo away from your hair just with a towel, without  any water. Or just wiping away all the shower gel residue on your body, without rinsing it. Juck right? I feel a severe itch just thinking about it. Not rinsing micellar water is about the same. I know it doesn’t feel quite the same, but don’t let the formulation fool you – it still contains the same detergent compounds, they are just »dressed« differently. They might also be much gentler and in accompanied by some nice stuff, but they are still just detergents. And we don’t want detergents to be left on our skin, because:

  • surfactants / micelles work like magnets, remember? Gathering all the juck from your skin to remove it, getting it off your skin. Wiping surely gets the majority of the job done, but is not thorough enough. Period. If you don’t rinse the micellar water, there are always some molecules soaked with dirt and bacteria lingering on your skin that can be a source of irritation and inflammation.
  • surfactants / micelles  are not picky, they gather all types of oils on your skin. They attract and gather also the oils that nourish and protect your skin, that are essential for your skin barrier which is the base of healthy and beautiful skin. In other words, if you leave them on your skin they might dry it out and compromise your skin barrier.

»Skipping the rinse of micellar solutions is the most common reason for dried skin surface and dull skin in young girls wearing makeup«

Dr. Ana Debevc Prašnikar, Antiage Anasan blog: Čiščenje kože obraza

Of course leaving the micellar water on is not a necessarily a death sentence for your skin (with proper skincare you could overcome all the side effects), but why risk? Why invest in damage control if you can actually get some improvements? It takes about a few seconds to rinse it off. And if you’re all about using a micellar water also as a toner, please just forget it. A micellar water is not an appropriate toner, this is just plain marketing bullshit. Micellar water is a cleanser, period. No amount of fancy ingredients can change this fact.

If you have any questions, I’m here!


Resourceful sources:

If you want to read more about cleansers, surfactants and micelles, check this article that helped me understand and explain the micelles from Kind of Stephen:

Two aspects which affect the harshness or mildness of cleansers: Micelle size and pH

Also the article about cleansing by dr. Ana Debevc Prašnikar – Antiage Anasan has a lovely  explanation about micelles and rinsing micellar water really worth checking (Slovenian):

Čiščenje kože obraza

Special thanks to my friends and collegues from our Facebook groups »Ljubiteljice azijske kozmetike« and »Ljubim kozmetiko« for all relevant information and help. Among them: Saška Tomič from (Beautybottled) Gabi Nedič (Parokeets), dr. Ana Debevc Prašnikar (Antiage Anasan), Daša Peternelj (Soap and Water Blog), Tina Svetek (Kremica), Urša Brenčič, and Ana Karim.

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