Micellar and cleansing water are NOT the same thing—here’s the difference

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By Redzhanna Jazmin

Micellar and cleansing water are NOT the same thing—here’s the difference

These cleansing essentials may seem similar, but they work very differently—find out what sets them apart below.

You’ve probably heard of either micellar water or cleansing water. Both are skincare must-haves in their own right—they’re both super versatile, where you can use either to clean up your messy handiwork on your everyday liner or use them to cleanse your skin before reapplying your sunscreen to avoid clogged pores.

Not to mention, they make quick work of waterproof mascara—need we continue? That said, though it definitely seems like it, micellar water and cleansing water are not the same thing. Ahead, we’re delving into why:


What’s the difference between micellar water and cleansing water?

The words micellar water and cleansing water are generally used interchangeably. There’s just one thing: They shouldn’t be, because they aren’t the same thing.

We know what you’re thinking: How does that make any sense? They essentially have the same function, they largely look the same, and they pretty much feel the same, right? Wrong—the difference between the two beauty routine staples is subtle but critical.

Here’s the difference: Micellar water consists of purified water, hydrating ingredients (like glycerin) and a low concentration of micelles (hence, the name). These micelles are just clusters of super-mild surfactant molecules; or, in layman’s terms, microscopic bubbles of stuff that are both oil- and water-soluble. This property is what makes them so effective—they are able to attract dirt and oil, which is what allows the formula to cleanse your skin so effectively.

Better yet, once you’re done going in with the micellar water, you can immediately get on with your day without rinsing. Crazy, right? Even better—leaving the residue on allows your skin to then absorb the hydrating ingredients in the product.

It’s a great way to cleanse acne-prone skin as the cleanser is able to remove debris from the face without leaving the skin overly dry. However, many micellar waters do leave somewhat of an oily residue on your skin. So, if you’re prone to breakouts, we’d suggest you follow up with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid.

Cleansing water, on the other hand, doesn’t contain these micelles. Instead, it contains a blend of botanical extracts that also cleanse the skin, without leaving an oily residue. They also have the additional benefit of toning and balancing the skin (score!).

Now, here’s where things get complicated—you’ll find a lot of products on the market described as some iteration of ‘Micellar Cleansing Water’. This tends to be where a lot of the confusion kicks in.

Contrary to what it sounds like, the brands aren’t getting confused between the two products—rather, they’re blending the benefits to create an all-in-one skincare experience.


Looking to get your hands on a bottle of the good stuff? Try these on for size…


Anti-Pollution Micellar Cleansing Water

Calling all those with sensitive-skin—we have the cleanser for you. Chanel’s Anti-Pollution Micellar Cleansing Water is formulated to cleanse and balance through its incredible blend of botanical extracts, micelles and stimulating prebiotic molecule. Your skin will be left fresh as a daisy (and pretty as one, too).



This luxurious cleanser harnesses the power of saponins, natural cleaning agents that have detergent-like properties (they foam up very well). With the help of soothing echinacea flower extract, this cleanser leaves the skin both clean and revitalised.



La Mer

The Cleansing Micellar Water 200ml, RM210

Harness the wonders of the sea with this cleansing micellar water—containing their hallmark Miracle Broth™ together with an array of Marine Micelle Waters™, this is a formulation that works as efficiently on dirt as it does on waterproof makeup.



Drunk Elephant

E-Rase™ Milki Micellar Water, RM180

This micellar cleanser does more than just remove makeup. Its mild formulation has a milky texture that effectively removes makeup and grime without leaving your skin feeling tight or dry, and it’s even barrier supportive so you can skip the follow-up cleanse! Plus, it doesn’t sting your eyes—a win!



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