By now, you’re likely familiar with the skin-care phenomenon that is micellar water, the no-rinse cleansing solution that first became a staple in French pharmacies more than a century ago before gaining popularity in Korea and boomeranging back around to the U.S. After all, you know a niche product has reached fever-pitch status when countless versions start popping up at your local drugstore.
But in case you haven’t come across a bottle at your local Walgreen’s, or seen the many, slightly hysterical headlines—including our own—proclaiming micellar water’s skin-transforming capabilities, here’s the deal: Microscopic oil molecules called micelles are suspended in soft water and naturally attracted to dirt and oil, thereby gently drawing impurities away from your skin—without stripping it dry.
Since the solution doesn’t require actual water to work (just a cotton pad with which to swipe it on) and rinsing is discouraged, it’s the ultimate lazy-girl hack for removing makeup, cleansing, and toning in one fell swoop. While that explains micellar water’s wild popularity, the only remaining question is: Which one should you be using? To that end, we tried four different versions in our search for the best drugstore micellar water currently out there.
Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water, $ 6.99
It’s pretty hard not to like this thoroughly solid option, which delivers on everything it promises. Removing primer-enforced eye makeup required little to no effort, and my skin actually felt clean with zero tightness.
Anyone who’s weirded out by the whole no-rinsing concept (as I admittedly was) will enjoy the surfactant-like quality of Garnier’s micellar water, which leaves behind a slight foamy trail and a cooling sensation. It’s also the best ounce-for-ounce value of any bottle on this list.
Photo: La Roche-Posay
La Roche-Posay Micellar Water, $ 13.49
Imagine it’s a hot summer day, you’re parched, and you reach for a bottle of ice-cold H2O—only to discover that it’s one of those weird flavored Dasani waters. That’s how I felt when I discovered this micellar water has a subtle fruity-floral scent. Don’t get me wrong, the fragrance is lovely, it just seems a little unnatural (and unnecessary) for a product comprised of thermal spring water from La Roche-Posay, which, as it turns out, is an actual place in Western France.
Olfactory offenses aside, this product does what it sets out to accomplish: remove dirt and makeup, leaving skin feeling clean. While I wouldn’t say my face felt dry after using it, this micellar water definitely had the driest finish of the bunch, which I’d attribute to that added fragrance.
Vichy Pureté Thermale 3-in-1 One Step Cleanser, $ 17.49
Another Gallic option, Vichy incorporates thermal spa water from the hot springs of its namesake city in central France in all of its products, and this micellar water is no exception. The product purports to do three things—cleanse, tone, and remove eye makeup—and it comes through on all of those promises, although not necessarily in equal measure.
Where it truly excels is as a toner; my skin felt balanced and quenched, almost to the point of saturation, making this a stellar option for those with dry skin. Its next-best skill is cleansing, with makeup removal coming in dead last as I found myself having to retrace my steps in the under-eye area a few times in order to fully rid myself of mascara smears.
My only other knock would be the top-heavy bottle, which makes application a little awkward (and messy) as it forces the liquid to gurgle out haphazardly, but it’s a nuisance easily rectified by squeezing at the center to help the nozzle generate a smooth stream.
Simple Micellar Cleansing Water, $ 7.29
If we’re sticking with our bottled water comparisons here, consider Simple the Evian of micellar waters: clean, clear, pure, and incredibly refreshing. It’s said to be formulated with triple-purified water, and I’m inclined to believe it based on tactile evidence alone.
This was the closest I got to feeling truly cleansed as if I had washed my face with soap and water, minus the stripped-down sensation that would have me reaching for my nearest moisturizer. It also removed makeup with the least amount of effort, dissolving mascara and shadow like a Magic Eraser for my eyes.