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Is micellar water damaging your skin? Here's what a dermatologist says

Jan 17, 2024

Micellar water is an accessible skincare fave. A popular option for all the skincare girlies that just don't have time for anything too complex, it removes makeup and cleanse skin in one step.

Forget waiting for a courier delivery from a French pharmacy or drugstore across the pond: micellar water can typically be found on supermarket shelves.

It's the perfect, no frills fix. Or is it?

One TikToker has issued a warning and it's bad news for any micellar stans. When she went for a regular facial, skincare and makeup fanatic @iamkareno's specialist noticed that she had what she describes as "raw spots" on her cheeks. The reason? Micellar water.

‘The facialist said that I have these raw spots on my cheeks because my skin barrier is so weak there’, she shares in the video. ‘Because I’ve been using micellar water and a cotton pad to rub my face. Don't do that – I’ve learned the hard way.’

This isn't the first time micellar water has come under fire. PHMB – polyhexamethylene biguanide – is a preservative used in cosmetics and is listed as an ingredient in a few popular micellar waters. However, one 2014 study proposed that PHMB be classified as a ‘category 3 carcinogen.’

In other words: it's suspected that this preservative might cause cancer – based on human and animal evidence – but the findings aren't sufficiently conclusive.

So, why did @iamkareno experience these raw spots? Is it really harmful to use micellar water in combination with cotton wool pads? Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, notes that people with sensitive skin might react differently to products like micellar water.

‘Many people will have absolutely no problems using micellar water to remove make up. However, very sensitive skin can react to many different factors: abrasion of cotton pads, flannels and many different chemicals’, Dr Wedgeworth explains.

‘I advise gentle, fragrance-free micellar water. Make sure you soak the cotton pad well and then wipe gently without excessive rubbing.’

But if we take Dr Wedgeworth's advice and the problem persists, what next?

Sadly, it might be time to put the micellar down. ‘If you are finding that micellar water irritates, stop using [it]’, she says.

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‘Take stock of your skin care routine to see if anything is oversensitising your skin, such as acids or retinoids. Ensure you are using a rich moisturiser to boost your barrier function, and use a gentle cleanser designed for makeup removal.’

The next time you pick up your micellar water, note how it makes your skin feel. Feeling sparkling and fresh? Great! Worried you too are seeing raw spots? It might be time to re-evaluate your skincare routine.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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Do you have a story to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].