In 2015, micellar waters made their way onto American soil and the new cleansing trend quickly became a favorite for makeup artists and skin-care junkies alike. Fast-forward to 2021, and though micellar waters aren’t going anywhere, there’s a new micellar formula making waves: micellar oil. Here’s what to know from the pros, and two products we’re loving right now.
The Difference Between Micellar Water and Micellar Oil
“Micellar water is popular for removing face makeup, especially stubborn eyeliner and mascara,” says Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho. “Its formulation is unique and consists of tiny ‘micelles’—oil molecules—mixed into soft water. These micelles work to remove stubborn and oil based impurities like sunscreen, makeup and sebum from the skin.”
However, Dr. Courtney Rubin, chief medical officer for recently launched skin-care brand Fig.1, says the challenge with a micellar water is that while micelles attract dirt and oil, they’re not able to do the heavy lifting of a traditional cleanser. “The best way to remove oil-based products, like makeup and sunscreen, is by using an oil-based cleanser,” she explains. “Oil dissolves oil—think, like-dissolves-like—which is why oil cleansers are so great at emulsifying foundation, concealer and stubborn sunscreen. This is why we opted to suspend our micelles in a skin-friendly blend of seed oils, including grapeseed, borage and evening primrose, which lends a gorgeous green appearance. When applied to dry skin, this ultra-light oil blend goes to work first and breaks down the day’s makeup, sunscreen and any surface buildup. Then, once water is added to the face, the cleansing micelles ‘activate’ and trap all of the makeup and debris that’s been dissolved, washing it away while leaving behind a soft and clean finish.”
Bottom line: Think of a micellar oil cleanser as a standard cleansing oil with the extra benefit of the micelles acting like magnets to really get everything off your skin at the end of a long day.
The Best Way to Use Them
Unlike micellar waters, which often don’t need to be rinsed off after using, Dr. Rubin says that in a micellar oil cleanser, the micelles are “activated” only when water is applied to the skin, so it does need to be rinsed. Just like a traditional oil-based cleanser, it’s best to start massaging the formula into dry skin before adding warm water and then rinsing it off.
The Best Skin Types for Micellar Oils
According to the pros, these types of cleansers are universally safe and effective for all skin types and concerns. “For dry or sensitive skin, an oil-based micellar cleanser is ideal because it effectively cleans the skin without using harsh surfactants—cleansing agents—that can often leave the skin feeling tight and stripped,” says Dr. Rubin. “Micelles have a unique ability to clarify and eliminate dirt and excess oil without removing the healthy oils that your skin barrier needs to stay intact.”
For oily skin types, a micellar oil can act as a great first step in a double-cleanse routine. “As mentioned, oil dissolves oil, so an oil-based cleanser is a surprisingly effective ally for removing excess oils and pore-clogging buildup,” Dr. Rubin explains. “If you’re struggling with breakouts, follow your micellar oil cleanser with a more targeted gel cleanser. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid (BHAs) that help to prevent and clarify pore congestion.”
Our Top Picks
Two formulas to try: Fig.1 Micellar Oil Cleanser ($19), which is super silky and makes the face-washing experience so much more enjoyable, and Neogen Calming Cicatree Micellar Cleansing Oil ($29), which feels light like a micellar water, but packs a punch with 12 different oils and soothing cica.