I’m pretty excited to finally be able to share a micellar water formula I’m happy with. I’ve been experimenting with micellar water formulations quite a lot over the last year and while the concept is simple enough in theory, it took quite a lot of fiddling and refining to create something that is lovely in reality. The biggest part of refining this formula ended up being removing ingredients, which can be hard for a person with far too many ingredients (cough cough) to do. I can just hear my hydrolyzed proteins and extracts singing to me from the pantry, and my humectants saying “surely, a bit more of me can only make your product better“. Shhhhh, ingredients. Stop leading me astray.
Post updated March 2023.
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What is micellar water?
So, what is micellar water? It is, simply put, water with a wee bit of a surfactant added. It is used by applying micellar water to a cotton pad and swiping it across the face until the skin is clean. Since the skin is not rinsed afterwards, the tricky part is creating something that works (removes makeup, dirt, etc.) and can be left on the skin without driving you batty because it leaves your skin feeling sticky or tight.
The most fussy ingredient
The ingredient I fussed with the most was the surfactant/solubilizer. I tried five different ones: cocamidopropyl betaine, polysorbate 80, Olivem300, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, and PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides. Some experiments got down to 0.18% of surfactant and I still didn’t like the after-feel (and also found the performance was starting to drop off).
PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides quickly distinguished themselves (itself?) as the best surfactant for this project by a wide margin. It works beautifully and doesn’t leave my skin feeling tight or coated or sticky. Fun fact—this is the same surfactant Bioderma uses in their popular (and expensive) micellar water! Please do not substitute this ingredient. From my experiments I cannot recommend anything I feel performs as well… or even creates a product I’d actually use.
When shopping for this ingredient (and any ingredient, really, but especially this one!), please make sure you are looking at the INCI. I’ve had many people ask me if Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (aka Medium Chain Triglycerides) and/or Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside are the same ingredient as PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides. The answer is no—the INCIs don’t match. They’re similar because they’re from the same source material, but they’ve been processed differently and are not the same thing at all. Think of it a bit like corn: it can be transformed into all kinds of products like cornstarch, corn meal, and corn syrup, but none of those ingredients are interchangeable even though they’re all made from corn.
You also cannot use Crothix™ Liquid (INCI: PEG-150 Pentaerythrityl Tetrastearate, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Water) instead of PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides.
Though, to contradict myself a bit… you can find this ingredient sold as both PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (at Windy Point) and PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides (at Lotion Crafter), and those are the same ingredient 🤦🏻♀️ So when you’re googling, definitely google both of those options. PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides looks to be the more common version, but I purchased mine from Windy Point and I’ve got that “tri” stuck in my brain!
A wee moisturizing boost
I played with several different humectants as well, and settled on 0.5% each sodium lactate and vegetable glycerin. I found there is some more room to play in this category as long as you are keeping the total amount around 1%, so if you have a fancier humectant you enjoy that you’re itching to include, you likely could—though you may need to experiment to find what’s just right for you. For those experiments I’d recommend making smaller batches and using distilled water instead of a hydrosol to reduce waste. I certainly filled a lot bottles with similar smaller batches!
Add a bit of scent
Now, you can have plenty of fun with the hydrosol part! I’ve tried all kinds of different hydrosols, but tend to lean towards rose. Different hydrosols would work just as well, as would a blend. I found 15–20% to be more than fragrant enough (some of this micellar water leaked on my trip to Australia and my whole bag smelled of roses!), but you could use more if you prefer, reducing the amount of distilled water to compensate.
An accurate scale
You’ll notice the percentages of most of the ingredients are tiny. Please, please, please use an accurate scale to make this recipe. Something that’s accurate to 0.1g is ok, but 0.01g would be better. Read this encyclopedia entry for some links and suggestions on scales I like. You could scale up the recipe to work with a 1g scale, but then you’d be making a litre of micellar water, and that’s absurd, especially for a formulation you’ve never tried before (just because I love it doesn’t guarantee you will!).
How much does it cost?
Micellar water is the rare DIY that’s cheaper than store bought in every way. Most DIYs are cheaper by the gram; your homemade lip balm (or whatever) costs far less that $5 for one from the shop, but you definitely spent more than $5 on ingredients, so the savings are spread out over many tubes of lip balm. Not so with micellar water!
As of 2023, here’s the price breakdown for making unscented micellar water, shopping at Lotion Crafter.
- Distilled water: $1.19USD/128 fl oz (this is from Target—buy distilled water locally, the shipping would be nuts!)
- Glycerin: $5.95USD/10oz
- Liquid Germall™ Plus: $6.49USD/1.25oz
- PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides: $4.95USD/2 oz
With that investment of $18.58USD (+ tax and shipping, which will vary), you could make 4000mL of micellar water. The preservative is the limiting ingredient there; if you bump up to 5oz of Liquid Germall™ Plus for $9.95 you can then add another three gallons of distilled water; you’ll spend $25.61 and make 14,000mL (14 LITRES!) of micellar water before you run out of PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides
You will also need a bottle, but that can be re-used (and possibly re-purposed from something you already have), so I didn’t include it here. If you don’t have one you can pick one up for less than $2 and re-use it.
Compare all that to $18.99 for 500mL of Bioderma micellar water!
Once you have all the ingredients this is crazy easy to make; I just weighed everything directly into my bottle, capped it, and shook it to combine. The pH of this micellar water is ~5.5 as-is, so no pH adjustment is necessary. Enjoy!
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Relevant links & further reading
- Distilled water in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Vegetable Glycerin in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Sodium Lactate in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Propanediol 1,3 in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- Liquid Germall Plus in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides in the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia
- What’s up with hydrosols, distillates, and floral waters? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- How long will ______ last? What is its shelf life? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Can I use a different preservative than the one you’ve used? in the Humblebee & Me FAQ
- Other micellar water formulations:
83.1g | 83.10% distilled water
15g | 15.00% rose hydrosol
0.5g | 0.50% vegetable glycerine (USA / Canada)
0.5g | 0.50% sodium lactate (USA / Canada)
0.5g | 0.50% Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada)
0.4g | 0.40% PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (USA / Canada)
98.1g | 98.10% distilled water
Weigh everything into a 120ml/4oz squeeze bottle. Cap and shake to combine. That’s it!
To use, soak a cotton pad in micellar water, and wipe it over your face. Repeat with fresh cotton until it comes away clean (I usually need two).
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this micellar water contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.
- As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 100g.
- You can use a different hydrosol in place of the rose hydrosol, or replace it with more distilled water. You can also use more (or less) hydrosol, or a blend of hydrosols. Simply adjust the distilled water to keep the formulation adding up to 100%.
- You could also swap out some of the distilled water for other watery ingredients like witch hazel or aloe vera juice.
- If you choose to alter the surfactant you’re on your own. I experimented with many surfactants and this one was the only one worth sharing, recommending, or using.
- If you are looking for alternatives I’d start with the ingredient lists of well-reviewed micellar waters available on on the market.
- In general, I’d be looking for surfactants that are water-soluble emollients (PEGs of oils/emollients) rather than water-containing/water soluble foaming surfactants like glucosides, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, etc. Every surfactant I’ve tried that works well as a foaming cleanser surfactant in rinse-off products has not produced good results in micellar water (feels tight and sticky on the skin, does not remove makeup very well). You are certainly welcome to try it—you may not be as particular as I am in this department—but that has been my experience.
- I’ve had good results using Sodium Lactate, Vegetable Glycerin, Propanediol 1,3, and/or sorbitol for the humectant part—on their own or blended. Just keep it adding up to 1% and you’re good to go.
- You can use a different water soluble preservative at its recommend usage rate.