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Cleansing waters used to be staple in my skincare routine; I'd stockpile Bioderma whenever I could get my hands on it (it wasn't a staple in every Boots store back in the day, it was a prize brought back from trips across the Channel). However, it really operated as a bridge for me, from face wipes to proper cleansers, and over time I just found myself... not really using them any more. But over the past year or so, quite a few brands have launched cleansing waters and it felt like time to revisit this kind of product...
Cleansing waters are typically made with purified water, humectants (to draw water into the skin) and gentle surfactants (cleansing agents) that are designed to be left on the skin, rather than washed away like a traditional cleanser. The famous Bioderma formula was actually created because much of France has very hard water, which can obviously be harsh and drying on the skin. By reaching for micellar waters instead, people could avoid having to use tap water on their skin. Micellar waters - as their name suggests - contain micelles: particles with a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and lipophilic (oil-loving) tail. This combination allows the micelles to trap and break down makeup, oil and the general grime of the day.
Micellar waters should be used alongside a cotton wool pad (go for the reusable kind if you’re switching to micellar waters as a more sustainable option than makeup wipes) and if you’re using a product like this to remove eye makeup, it’s really important not to tug and pull at the skin. Instead, saturate the cotton pad with the cleansing water and hold the pad on your eye area to let the product soak and break down the makeup. Then you want to gently wipe away the makeup and softly brush the cotton pad against your eyelashes to ensure all the mascara has been removed.
I personally think cleansing waters are best used as a first cleanse, meaning: you remove your makeup and / or sunscreen using the cleansing water, then follow it with a traditional cleanser. I tend to believe that the number of cotton pads and the time it would take to completely cleanse the skin every single day with this sort of product makes them a lot more effort than simply using a traditional cleanser. I am also not convinced that leaving surfactants on your skin every single day is going to do it many favours in the long-run.
This doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t see a time and a place for micellar waters. I personally often use them in the morning before going out for a run so I can quickly get rid of whatever’s on my skin from the night before and follow up with a bit of sunscreen. As I said, I think they’re fine as a first cleanse, but they also come in handy for other scenarios. For example, if you’re travelling or you're at a festival without access to running water. Or, if you’re in hospital or you’re disabled and you’re not always able to make it up to the sink with ease: a micellar water and a pack of cotton pads can be left in a bedside drawer for easy access to quickly cleanse the face. At the end of the day: on their own, they’re still better than nothing, they’re still more effective than face wipes and they produce less waste. I think they’re the perfect way to transition from face wipes, as they just feel like water on the skin (I can appreciate that not everyone loves the feel of a cleansing balm or oil) and they still give you that satisfaction of wiping away the day - just make sure you’re gentle with your skin.
They’re no longer an everyday essential for me, but I do still keep a cleansing water on-hand for when it’s going to be the most practical option. They’re certainly not a bad product to have in your arsenal and can definitely form a regular part of your routine if you use them as a first cleanse.
Bioderma Sensibio H2O* | from £5.30 | I obviously have to start with the classic! It’s a super-simple, fragrance-free formula specifically formulated with sensitive skin in mind. It really does feel just like water but effectively removes makeup (including mascara and eyeliner). It isn’t drying on my skin and it doesn’t leave any kind of residue. There’s a reason it’s been a staple in so many bathroom cabinets for so many years!
Fresh Kombucha No-Rinse Cleansing Treatment* | £19 | This is your cleansing water with a little something extra, which makes sense given these products are generally intended to be left on the skin. This cleansing water is a little more hydrating and weighty than something like the Bioderma, so I recommend it for dry / dehydrated skin. That being said, it does still have a water-like feel on the skin but has the added benefits of kombucha (a fermented ingredient) and a prebiotic, to contribute towards a happy, healthy skin barrier. This one does contain fragrance, so stick to the Bioderma if you’re very sensitive, but if you’re looking for a more luxurious, elevated take on the cleansing water: this is for you.
Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Cleansing Water* | £15 | This is another very simple formula for more sensitive skin types but it does have a bit more to it than the Bioderma. It contains glycerin, for added hydration and an anti-inflammatory to soothe and calm redness. I find it incredibly gentle and non-drying for my skin. It has the texture of water and doesn’t leave behind any residue but I actually think it’s a little more effective than the Bioderma for removing makeup, in my personal opinion!
Do you use cleansing waters in your skincare routine? If so, how do you like to use them?