Whether you put it on a pedestal as makeup-removing manna from heaven or call bullshit on the entire thing, it's hard to deny the appeal of micellar water. If you wear a lot of foundation, if you're exhausted by the idea of washing your face, if you're lazy, if you're convinced that tap water is the root of all your skin evils, if you want desperately to cash in on any and all "French beauty secrets" — then micellar water is for you.
The concept is simple: All you have to do is soak a cotton pad in your formula of choice and watch as those microscopic oil molecules, the micelles that give the product its name, wipe away your waterproof mascara, your pore-clogging dirt and debris, and your unsophisticated American-ness without leaving your skin dry or irritated like a lesser makeup remover might. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a few things. Dermatologist Julia T. Hunter, MD, says that micellar waters simply cannot remove all of the impurities from the skin, and without a deeper cleanse, it's a lot harder for your moisturizers and treatments to do their jobs. But there's a more alarming risk (yes, even more alarming than your expensive serum not working), reports of which have been floating around the internet for some time, that might make you question your commitment to taking off your makeup the Parisian way: Failing to remove your eye makeup properly can lead to clogging in the oil glands on your eyelids, which can lead to infection, which can lead to itching, swelling, dryness, and all kinds of eye-health problems you definitely don't want to deal with — including long-term damage.
According to Beverly Hills-based optometrist Kambiz Silani, OD, improper makeup removal, particularly when using oil-based products, can encourage bacterial overgrowth, one of several causes of meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). "MGD is a serious condition that causes damage, inflammation, and/or atrophy of the eyelid's oil glands," Dr. Silani says. "When these oil glands are lost, the eyes can feel gritty, dry, irritated, and red."
Indeed, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Ophthalmology ties these symptoms ("stinging," "blurred by oil," "foreign body sensation") to oil-based eye-makeup removers — and notes that they're being reported more and more frequently among women who wear eye makeup regularly for long periods of time. And though many micellar waters claim to be oil-free, that label is misleading: The micellar technology is inherently based in the use of cleansing-oil molecules suspended in soft water. There's also the question of preservatives; Dr. Silani says that disodium EDTA, one of the most commonly used, can be wildly irritating to the surface of the eye.
The best (and only) way to avoid MGD, and eye infections, and "foreign body sensation," is to save your waterproof eye makeup — the kind that requires an oil-based remover — for weddings and funerals, and make sure you're using an ophthalmologist-tested formula that effectively removes makeup with minimal oils and preservatives involved. (Dr. Silani recommends Zoria Makeup Remover from Ocusoft.) Buying skin-care products from your eye doctor's office isn't anywhere near as sexy as getting them from a French pharmacie... but you know what's really unsexy? Eye infections, that's what.