For every American celebrity with clear, flawless baby-angel skin who claims that water is her ride-or-die beauty secret, there’s an equally radiant French ingenue who says micellar water is hers. Micellar water, for the uninitiated, is not just a fancy type of H2O, a gimmick preying on the same type of people who insist on sparkling spring water instead of tap even if you’re at Wendy’s.
Rather, it’s a different kind of special water, one that uses tiny micelles, which are clusters of fatty-acid esters, to dissolve dirt, makeup, and oil on the skin without drying — gentle, no-rinse cleansers that wipe away waterproof mascara and dulling dead-cell buildup in one fell swoop. What’s fancier than that?
But micellar water is more than just expensive makeup remover. The reason it’s so popular with in-the-know Parisians is because the city’s tap water is notoriously hard, meaning it has a high mineral composition containing heavy metals like iron, copper, zinc, and nickel, which aren’t so hot for your skin. Micellar water, then, is not just a luxury — it was developed out of necessity in France in the 1990s to help people avoid washing their faces with tap water in the first place. “They’re great as an alternative to traditional cleansing,” says dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “Squirt onto a cotton ball or pad and wipe it over skin and eyelids; no rinsing necessary.”
So get out your bag of triple-size cotton balls and let the micelles work their magic. Ahead, our top picks for the best micellar waters on the market… including the one that started it all. Garance Doré would be proud.