The best alternatives to micellar water

Jennifer Rock aka The Skin Nerd lays down the facts surrounding micellar water and gives her top tips on effective cleansing.

Micellar water is the French not-so-fancy that allows us to remove our makeup in the blink of an eye and even from our bed if we so choose. It has become a staple in the PM skincare routines of many in the last decade or two and the appeal of it is clear: i'’s easy, quick and "better than face wipes".

The reality of the matter is that micellar water is really more of a pre-cleansing step than a full cleanse, and even at that, there are much more skin-beneficial pre-cleansers out there.

My issue with micellar water isn't even with all micellar waters, only some. I find that many of the traditional French pharmacy micellar waters and higher quality ones are not so bad at all in terms of ingredients. However, most people are picking up micellar waters that are full of potentially irritating and sensitising ingredients, such as butylene glycol and denatured alcohol.

Jennifer Rock

The Skin Nerd Jennifer Rock

Butylene glycol, for example, is actually a super beneficial penetrant enhancer and humectant ingredient. As an ingredient that helps other ingredients get into the skin, it gets an A+. However, when we're leaving a layer of it on the skin overnight, what is it helping to penetrate? Unless it's helping to get my hyaluronic acid or vitamins into my skin, I don't want high amounts of it, thank you!

In my opinion, micellar water on its own simply does not have enough power to remove the grime, debris, sebum and physical pollution particles that end up on our skin by the end of the day. It ain't got the muscle. On top of that, I'm not keen on cotton wool, as it can leave minuscule traces of cotton on your face overnight, which can also irritate your skin.

Ai, ai, ai, as the Spanish would say.

The best micellar water alternatives

So, scenario. You are a micellar water user who likes how easy it is but doesn't really understand why you are still seeing spots, redness, dehydration, dullness and irritation. I am here to tell you that it may be your micellar water usage contributing to this, particularly if this is all that you are using to "cleanse".

You need to swap it out and stat.

Here are my top micellar water alternatives.

The Cleanse Off Mitt® (€5.95)

Admittedly, I am the creator of this product. I won't be sneaky about that. But, but, but, the very reason I created an affordable, reusable and skin-friendly microfibre mitt was because I came across so many people who were using wipes and micellar water and wondering why their skin wasn't healthy. Yes, it requires that you are in your bathroom for 30 seconds. No, it is not much more effort than a micellar water.

All you do is wet the Cleanse Off Mitt® with warm water and glide it across your face (including your eye makeup). That is it. You need to wash it with antibacterial soap between uses, but that is the maximum effort that comes with the Cleanse Off Mitt®. Just imagine the stack of cotton pads and wipes you'd be creating otherwise and that should be enough motivation to do it. Alternatively, bribe your partner or housemate into doing it for you – that is what love is, if you ask me.

Biofresh Probiotic Ultra Delicate Cleansing Milk (€18)

This rich creamy cleanser is formulated with those whose skin is easily irritated in mind. It has the added bonus of containing a probiotic that helps to colonise the skin's bacteria to balance it plus rose oil which helps to heal the skin and prevent the growth of "bad" bacteria on the skin.

Now, the nerdie way to use this would be to remove your makeup with the Cleanse Off Mitt®, massage the cleanser onto your wet, clean face, and remove the cleanser using the other side of the Cleanse Off Mitt. This mode ensures that the benefits of the cleanser will be felt, as there is no makeup, sebum or debris to get in its way, and that your skin is truly thoroughly cleansed.

If you are someone who is not certain that they are actually fully ready to move on from micellar water, the slightly lazier and less beneficial way would be to apply the cleanser directly to your makeup and then remove with the Cleanse Off Mitt®. I try not to condone too much laziness when it comes to taking care of the skin, which is an organ, but we are busy, hustlin' hoomans so I won't preach.

A proper full double cleanse

Technically, the double cleanse is a micellar water alternative. Technically. However, are they alike at all? No. The double cleanse does require maybe three minutes at your sink maximum, and that's if you're a dilly-dallier, and it requires three products at any given cleanse. It was actually already mentioned in the above paragraph, so it's not really news per se.

Why do we double cleanse?


The double cleanse means that we get a multitude of skin benefits, and this applies to those who don't wear makeup, too, so keep reading!

  • Double cleansing thoroughly removes makeup, sebum, pollution particles, old SPF and physical debris
  • In this, it also helps to prep for the penetration of any other skincare products that will go on after – we want all good skincare ingredients to get as far into our skin as possible
  • The second cleansing step will actually benefit the skin depending on what the cleanser is designed to do

To do the most basic nerdie double cleanse, you will remove your makeup with the Cleanse Off Mitt®, or another gentle makeup removing step like a designated precleanse product or a plant oil that suits your specific skin, and follow it up with a more traditional cleanser. For example, if you have dry or dehydrated skin that needs a boost of hydration, antioxidant protection and a bit of evening out of the skin tone, the IMAGE Skincare Vital C Hydrating Facial Cleanser (€36) may be your second cleanse.

If you are perhaps oilier, or prone to congestion of any form such as blackheads or pesky under-the-skin spots, this second cleanse may be something that contains pore-clearing, sebum-reducing salicylic acid such as in the IMAGE Skincare Clear Cell Clarifying Gel Cleanser (€36). When it comes to exfoliating cleansers like this, you should really be using them every second or third night, and alternating them with something like the Biofresh Probiotic Cleansing Milk mentioned earlier. Over-exfoliating the skin can cause irritation and dehydration.

The price difference

There is definitely a pretty large difference in cost when it comes to double cleansing vs. micellar water, but I will vouch for the fact that a full-sized traditional cleanser will last you 2 to 3 months. If you get through a €10 bottle of micellar water once a month, it isn't a massive price jump, especially considering there are more affordable and effective cleansers out there too!

In my opinion, it's worthwhile to spend some money now on helping to look after your skin, rather than spending a lot of money in future trying to counteract the effects of not looking after it properly for decades.

See some of Jennifer's previous posts:

Do you really need an eye cream?

What skincare to use and to avoid using during pregnancy

The universal benefits of mineral makeup and how to apply it

The skin foods to include in your health kick

Why antioxidants are more than just a skincare trend

What to look for in a hydration masque whatever your skin type

What to Look For In Skincare in Your 20s, 30s and 40s

How to Know When To Update Your Routine

The Nerdie Guide to Skincare For Sensitive Skin

Is Your Skin Changing During Pregnancy? Here’s What To Do

How to Change Your Skincare Routine for Autumn

The Skincare Essentials You Need to Pack For a Festival

The Lowdown On Double-Cleansing and Why You Should Be Doing It 

Skincare Myths That Are Actually True


Jennifer Rock is the author of bestselling ‘The Skin Nerd: Your Straight-Talking Guide to Feeding, Protecting & Respecting Your Skin’ and the founder of The Skin Nerd® online skin consultations.

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