I’ve been playing around with my skincare routine lately, and one of the things I’m toying with is the notion of gentler cleaners. I’ve been using African Black Soap a lot for the last three months (or so), and that was working brilliantly for a few months, but now it’s … not. Boo. I don’t know if it’s ’cause I’m more stressed than usual (new puppy ownership + lack of sleep will do that) or if it’s because my skin is no longer liking African Black Soap. Since the whole puppy thing isn’t going away, and it’ll take a while for the sleep situation to improve, I thought I’d try a gentler soap alternative. I’ve had quite a few requests for a micellar water recipe, so I figured this would be a good time to try one!
Micellar water sounds fancy, but it really isn’t. It’s basically water with an emulsifier/surfactant in it. Emulsifiers and surfactants are two sides of the same coin. Both are double ended molecules that grab water with one end and oils with the other (soap also does this). In different applications, this creates emulsions by binding oil and water, and cleans by binding the oils on our skin to the water we’re washing with.
Instead of fluffy lather-making surfacants, micellar waters rely on small amounts of emulsifiers and gentler surfactants (things like Amphosol CG, Polysorbate 20, and water soluble esters) to get the cleansing job done, resulting in a gentle cleanser with a very watery consistency. You can use a micellar water much like you’d use a toner, though depending on how I’m feeling I may rinse my skin off with a bit of water after use, which I wouldn’t typically do after using a toner.
So, let’s talk about this particular micellar water. My top priorities were acne battling and hydration. Ever since I started using a face cream in the winter instead of my much-loved oil serums I’ve really realized how dehydrated my skin was, despite never feeling or looking it. The heated portion of this project is water with some added humectant and skin-soothing goodies. Vegetable glycerin and sodium lactate are both great humectants, and sodium lactate has the added benefits of helping battle acne and boost exfoliation. I’ve also included some soothing aloe vera and allantoin, and moisturizing, regenerative silk.
For the emulsifiers/cleansing bit, I’ve elected to use a blend of olivem300 and amphosol CG. Olivem300 is a water-soluble ester derived from olive oil. It’s technically “oil free”, but blends seamlessly into both oil and water (very cool, no?), making it an excellent choice for a micellar water (I also love it in bath/shower products like bath bombs and bath oils). (Also, olivem300 is a liquid and olivem1000 is a shard-y, waxy solid, so they are in no way interchangeable!) I boosted that up with a bit of Amphsol CG, which is a mild, low-foam surfactant. If you don’t have either of these you could try using Polysorbate 20 or 80 instead, or even Turkey Red Oil, though I haven’t tried either, so I can’t comment on how successful they’d be in reality vs. hypothesis world.
The bulk of the acne blasting power of this micellar water comes from a white willow bark and calendula tincture. White willow bark is astringent and contains salicylic acid, which is a fantastic acne-fighting ingredient. The calendula in the tincture helps boost healing, which is always a good thing if acne is rearing its ugly red head!
I’ve rounded this creation off with a hefty dose of rose water (feel free to use a different floral water/hydrosol if you prefer!) and a touch of cypress and michelia alba essential oils. The end result is an effective, lightweight cleanser that smells lightly of roses with a hint of juicy sunshine and spicy cypress. I love how velvety it leaves my skin, and I definitely think you should give it a try!
White Willow Micellar Water
20g | 0.71oz water
8g | 0.28oz vegetable glycerin
2g | 0.07oz sodium lactate
0.5g | 0.018oz aloe vera 200x concentrate powder or 20g (0.71oz) aloe vera juice (use 20g less rose water)
1g | 0.03oz silk peptides (wondering about substitutions?)
1g | 0.03oz allantoin
10g | 0.35oz Olivem 300 (USA / Canada)
5g | 0.18oz Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Amphosol CG) (USA / Canada)
5g | 0.18oz white willow bark and calendula tincture (learn to make it here)
56g | 1.98oz rose water
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the water, glycerin, sodium lactate, aloe vera, silk, and allantoin into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to allow everything to dissolve (the allantoin will be the stubborn ingredient here).
While that part heats through, combine the olivem300, amphosol CG, white willow/calendula tincture, and rose water in another beaker and whisk to combine.
Once the heated mixture is uniform and you don’t see any solid bits kicking around, remove it from the heat and stir in the rose water mixture.
Leave the micellar water to cool for 15–20 minutes before stirring in the preservative, and then decant the entire solution into a 100mL (3.3fl oz) bottle. To use, wet a cloth, cotton pad, or jumbo cotton ball with the micellar water, and wipe that across your face. Repeat until it comes away clean, and follow up with your favourite moisturizer. Enjoy!