French Pharmacy Micellar Waters and Cleansers

I’ve been loyal to La Roche-Posay Toleriane and Johnson & Johnson Purpose cleansers for many years, but I still like to test new products to see if there is something better out there. After all, skin changes over time, and so do product formulas. When I was recently packing for a trip, I discovered that I had accumulated quite a few skincare samples and testing notes and I thought that I’d share them here. These products are among the most popular ones at the European pharmacies.

Since everyone has slightly different skincare goals, I might as well mention what I like in a cleanser. As I’ve described in My Skincare Route, for my first cleanse in the evening, I use an oil-based cleanser such as DHC Cleansing Oil. For the second cleanse, however, I turn to a gentle foaming cleanser that doesn’t dry out my skin. It should leave it soft, with a comfortable, soothing feel. I use micellar water to remove makeup, refresh my skin after I get home in the evening, or during travels, when I need to streamline my routine and skip the oil cleanser. Even if some of these products haven’t passed the goldstandard test for me, many came close.

Micellar waters, by the way, are not the same thing as toners. The names comes from micelles, tiny spheres* of cleansing compounds suspended in the aqueous solution. One part of a micelle is hydrophilic, with an affinity to water, while another  is lipophilic, ready absorb or dissolve in oil, and as the argument goes, with skin sebum and dirt. Each brand uses a slightly different formula for the surfactants that aggregate into the micelles, but the idea behind all of them is similar–a water-based cleanser that requires no rinsing.

*Actually, micelles can come in shapes other than spheres; it depends on the molecule shape of the surfactants that make them. Just a chemistry geek note.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O

Bioderma is mentioned on every single list of skincare favorites, and I’m including it because it’s the micellar water I use the most. It removes makeup and sunscreen without leaving any sticky feeling. I wouldn’t use it to replace a regular cleanser, but as an emergency fix or a makeup remover, it works perfectly. To remove makeup, saturate a piece of cotton with the product and leave it on your face for 15-20 seconds. No rubbing is needed, but to remove eyeliner, you will need to follow the procedure at least one more time. This is a standard guideline for all micellar waters. However, Bioderma won’t remove waterproof makeup effectively.

The original Sensibio H2O now has a whole family of “flankers” for all skin types. I haven’t tried them all, but Sébium Micellar Water (for combination or blemish-prone skin) was too aggressive and drying, while Hydrabio (for dehydrated skin) left a sticky finish.

Erborian Cleansing Water With 7 Herbs

It was a gift from my dermatologist friend, the best vote of confidence. It advertises licorice, green tea, tiger grass, rosemary, chamomile, Japanese knotweed, and skullcap as part of its formula. I don’t care for the blue color, but this micellar water removes all makeup, even waterproof mascara. Light, pleasant herbal scent that vanishes instantly.

Payot Eau Dermo Micellaire Cleansing Water

Recommended for sensitive skin, Payot Eau Dermo Micellaire Cleansing Water cleanses gently, without leaving a tight sensation. It removes makeup, although not waterproof mascara. Like Bioderma, it’s fragrance-free.

Payot Eau Micellaire Express with Raspberry Extracts

I received a generous sample of Payot Eau Micellaire Express with Raspberry Extracts at my local pharmacy, and I tested it during my winter vacation. It will remove sunscreen, but it won’t do much if you wear heavy makeup. I liked how soft my skin felt when I was using it, but my main complaint is that it’s heavily scented with a sweet fruity scent, supposedly raspberry.

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

Inexpensive and widely available (at least in Europe), Garnier is one of my favorite gentle micellar waters. If you use this type of skincare without following it with another cleanser, note that it leaves a slightly sticky finish.

SVR Physiopure Eau Micellaire Make-Up Removing Micellar Water

Another inexpensive (7,90 € a bottle) option that combines the lightness of micellar water with the effectiveness of a regular makeup remover. It removes longwear lipstick, eyeliner and waterproof mascara. The floral-marine scent is not as strong in use as it appears in the bottle.

Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser

This cleanser looks like a light foam, and it’s so effective in removing makeup and sunscreen that I can use it alone, without my usual oil cleanser. It leaves my skin soft, but not nearly as soothed as my Toleriane cleanser. Caudalie recommends it for all skin types, but the formula might be too drying those with more sensitive complexion.

SVR Physiopure Gelée Moussante Cleansing Purifying Face Gel

SVR is a reasonably priced European pharmacy line, and I’ve started using it because their products come in neat, leak-proof packages that are perfect for travel. Physiopure Gelée Moussante is a gel that transforms into a luxuriously creamy foam and rinses off easily. Skin feels soft, without any tightness or dryness. It has a light floral scent that vanishes as soon as the product is rinsed off.

I’m interested to hear about your favorite cleansing products? Do note your skin type, too.

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69 Comments

  • Monica: Your timing is great, because I need to buy a new cleanser. February 5, 2018 at 7:58am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you found this list helpful. February 5, 2018 at 9:30am Reply

  • Severine: I am a creature of habit, with skeptical glance on pharmacy products! Over years I have used lots of different cleansers except miceller water. I wear makeup occasionally, and when I do, it is always a full face. So I use Boots botanicals hot cloth cleansing balm, as a replacement for my Lush Ultrabland, with Aurelia bamboo linen cloths. So old-fashioned! To wash face I have enjoyed using Marius Fabre argan green clay soap.
    As one chemistry geek to another, I consider certain saponins good for skin, which is why I am saving for Niod’s Sanskrit Saponins! Best, Severine. February 5, 2018 at 10:41am Reply

    • Severine: Oh: my skin is advancing towards showing age and stress, with oily blemished T-zone, with cheeks that can veer off to Sahara dryness, with melasma, the mysterious gift of female hormones. February 5, 2018 at 10:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t believe that the pharmacy products are superior to all others, but there are lots of good and inexpensive choices. February 5, 2018 at 11:25am Reply

      • Severine: Agree! I usually spend not more than $10 on cleanser. NIOD one is my splurge! February 5, 2018 at 12:50pm Reply

        • Victoria: As my mom says, you have only one face. So, why not? February 8, 2018 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Trudy: Timely post as I’ve been using a sample bottle of Lancome Micellar Water and I like the concept but want to try other brands as well. I will be looking for a couple of these to try. The SVR Physopure sounds like one I would like but not sure I can get that in the US. The Eborian product sounds nice too. I always enjoy reading the Bois de Jasmin posts. February 5, 2018 at 10:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Lancome’s is a good one too. I had a sample and I liked it, but for the price it doesn’t beat Bioderma for me. February 5, 2018 at 11:26am Reply

  • Debby: Had to change my normal cleansing routing recently as a completely out of character bout of extreme dryness meant I had to stop using my charcoal Biore wash. I’m blaming hormones and the bad winter we’ve been having in the Scottish Highlands. In desperation I grabbed some foaming micellar cleanser by a new brand in my local Tesco, Cosmetic Derm. It seems to be a Spanish company and is cheap as chips and very good. I was surprised how efficient it was when I’ve been using really quite harsh products for my normally very oily skin for years now. February 5, 2018 at 11:19am Reply

    • Victoria: That was my own discovery. Oily skin is a blessing in disguise, because it’s generally not as sensitive, but the best rule of thumb is to avoid products designed specifically for oily skin. They tend to be so harsh. February 5, 2018 at 11:27am Reply

  • lovestosmellgood: I love your skin care posts! I learn so much.
    I have sensitive skin, eczema in some spots and suffer from PD (peri oral dermatitis) and I manage all very well and you wouldn’t even notice I had any of these conditions because over the years I have managed the triggers.

    I love Purpose and Toleriane face wash as well, one of my friends gave me a face wash to try that she gets through a subscription company called Sei Bella and its really good and non drying.

    For Micellar waters I prefer Bioderma Sensibio H2O AR. AR is really hard to find in the USA

    Some game changers that have really helped my skin through reading your blog has been Biologique Recherche P50W. Because of my PD exfoliating has been really tricky and can aggravate it, this has been like nectar from the Gods

    The other treatment that has helped that I read was a treatment from Hada Labo, is a lotion but not a lotion in the traditional sense. I use it after I cleanse and before my serum and it adds a layer of moisture without bothering my sensitive skin.

    I see that Sisely doesn’t make the same eye cream anymore, have you tried the new version? Or any others you can recommend?

    I am also interested in trying those cushions that are makeup and sunblock, any readers recommend one that is non irritating and good for dry skin? February 5, 2018 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m using the new one now and I don’t know if I like it as much as the old version. It’s lighter, and that’s not necessarily what I want in an eye cream. But I have no others to recommend, because I was so happy with Sisley that I haven’t branched out. Now I will have to.

      So, any good eye cream recommendations are welcome. I like something hydrating. February 5, 2018 at 11:38am Reply

      • Silvermoon: Victoria, I don’t use eyecream, but I heard very good things about Chantecaille. They are a bit similar to Sisley, I think. February 5, 2018 at 1:06pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, I will take a look. Not sure where it’s available around here, though. February 8, 2018 at 1:11pm Reply

        • Tara C: The Chantecaille is good, but costs $178 USD. Yikes! February 8, 2018 at 7:12pm Reply

      • Eudora: Yes, eye cream recommendations please! February 5, 2018 at 4:42pm Reply

      • Pemberley: I love Drunk Elephant Shaba Complex Eye Serum and Zelen’s Triple Action Advanced Eye Cream(I buy Zelens from sites like Beauty Bay and LookFantastic because they’re much cheaper than places in the U.S.) I also have NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour(very thin) and Sunday Riley’s Autocorrect(has pigments that help cover dark circles). I tried the new Sisley eye cream, having never tried the earlier version, but I’m not impressed enough to repurchase it. Hope this helps! February 5, 2018 at 7:28pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much for these excellent suggestions. February 8, 2018 at 1:16pm Reply

      • Kayliz: I have no clue about creams but am well and truly hooked on NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate — it‘s made my eye area look like a continuation of the rest of my face rather than an area unto itself, if that makes any sense. February 5, 2018 at 7:29pm Reply

        • Austenfan: Perfect sense! 😉 February 6, 2018 at 4:18am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m using it too, but I also need something emollient on top. February 8, 2018 at 1:16pm Reply

        • Eudora: Perfect sense. It’s on my list then! It’s out of stock everywhere! February 8, 2018 at 2:45pm Reply

      • Delilah V: I adore using Suqqu eye cream for my (very) thin under eye skin. Very comfortable not sticky or drying and noticeable improvement of slight discolouration and fine lines.

        As an extra I also use Dr. Jart+ Cheek & Eye Lift masks 2-4 times a week. It helps with a little hollowness i have under the eyes. I travel occasionally and enjoy using them on flights, but beware if you’re self conscious as they’re quite alot larger than standard under eye patches. February 6, 2018 at 7:49am Reply

        • Lovestosmellgood: Suqqu is not sold here in the states February 6, 2018 at 8:30am Reply

          • Victoria: It surprises me that it’s still not available at Barney’s. February 8, 2018 at 1:24pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, Delilah! I love Japanese eye masks, and they’re perfect for travel, or for that matter, anytime. February 8, 2018 at 1:22pm Reply

      • Austenfan: I’ve finished my mini of PC’s new eye cream (not the gel, but the cream). I like it, but I think it works better at night as it’s quite thick. I find it hard to tell whether it has had any effects. I never look my best this time of year, and what with life in general and exams in particular, I’m certainly not in very good looks at the moment. It hasn’t irritated my very sensitive eyes however, which is a big plus, as almost anything will make them water. I also like and use the SubQ eye serum. But that’s more of a base for an eye cream. February 9, 2018 at 12:17pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, I will have to try it. For now, I’ve been using my Hada Labo Gokujun face cream, and it’s working really well. It’s emollient but not too heavy. February 9, 2018 at 12:29pm Reply

    • tomatefarcie: I’m a huge BR user. An eye cream I like is SVR Densituim. For cushion/sunblock I like the Erborian. February 5, 2018 at 3:03pm Reply

  • Silvermoon: Thanks for the list of micellar waters. I don’t take too much trouble with make up (I have only ever used moisturiser and after hitting fifty, I use serums underneath occasionally). For cleansing, I don’t feel clean unless water is involved (so no cream cleansers or cotton wool soaked pads etc). I used to use water activated / foaming cleansers (Lancome, Biotherm (pink tube), Clarins or Clinique). A couple of years ago I tried out micellar water based on one of Victoria’s posts. I really liked them but use on wet face and wash off with water (no other steps before or after). My three favourites are la Roche Posay cleansing micellar water, Ole Henrikson African red tea foaming cleanser and Caudlie instant foaming cleanser. I’m not sure if the latter two count as micellar waters but they feel and work very similarly to the first. I like to rotate a bottle at a time so skin doesn’t get lazy with just the same thing over and over. I intend to try the Bioderma listed next time. February 5, 2018 at 12:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds like you’ve tried a few interesting cleansers!
      It’s best to use micellar waters on dry skin, and if you want to rinse off with water later, it’s ok too. February 8, 2018 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I’ve been using several pharmacy foaming French pharmacy for years. My favourites are Bioderma Atoderm Intensive gel moussant, Bioderma Créaline DS gel moussant and Uriage Xémose Syndet nettoyant doux. Uriage does some rather nice cleansing oils as well. I don’t know how they compare to your favourite DHC, which I have a sample of, but haven’t used yet. I’m not so familiar with micellar waters, but my sisters stepdaughter loves the Bioderma. Your post reminded me of the fact that I haven’t been inside a French pharmacy in a long time, and I love browsing around those very tempting aisles. February 5, 2018 at 2:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Uriage oils are very good. I’d say that they compare to the DHC one. Just got a hold of Bioderma Créaline DS gel moussant, so I will be trying it out. February 8, 2018 at 1:12pm Reply

      • Austenfan: I just noticed that I left out a significant number of words in my first sentence, oh well.
        I still mean to try the Toleriane cleanser but I need to finish some other things first. Glad of your endorsement on the Uriage oils 😉

        Have a great weekend! February 9, 2018 at 5:28am Reply

  • Eudora: Hello, my combo is foaming gel+toner.
    I used micelar waters, Bioderma being the best for me. They do the job. But cotton pads irritate my sensitive skin. So foaming rinse with water formulas work for me.
    I’ve been using LRPosay Effaclar for years. It’s excelent: no dying at all, cleanses wonderfully… but my skin has changed a lot from oily acne prone to normal-mature. Do you recommend a no dying formula for sensitive skin? Thanks! February 5, 2018 at 5:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: I should have mentioned how I use micellar waters, because I don’t use cotton pads (except if I wear eye makeup). I pour some product into my hand and then rub it gently over my skin. No cloths, no cotton pads, no linen towels. It works well enough, especially since I use my regular cleanser afterwards.

      Do try Toleriane. It’s designed for sensitive skin, and I find it gentle and effective. February 8, 2018 at 1:15pm Reply

      • lovestosmellgood: AH! This is helpful
        How do you use the Biologique Rechereche exfoliant? Do you use anything to put it on and do you take it off? February 8, 2018 at 2:28pm Reply

        • Victoria: It has a water-like texture, so I just apply it with my fingers. I don’t rinse it off. February 9, 2018 at 5:14am Reply

      • Eudora: There’s a Toleriane cleanser with a foaming formula? Because I tried a “lait” but it felt a bit greasy… February 8, 2018 at 2:38pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it’s a foaming gel cleanser called Gel Moussant Adoucissant. February 9, 2018 at 5:15am Reply

          • Eudora: Ok, now I understand… I have never seen it. I cannot find it in Spain, it’s not in their web here. I will try to find it because it is what I am looking for. Thanks V!
            I like this posts a lot, very helpful.
            And my 6yr-old daughter and I do LOVE your Instagram. She is a fan! February 9, 2018 at 6:21am Reply

            • Gabriela: Hi there! You can find it online on Notino.es. I have this cleanser and its really worth it. Good luck! February 9, 2018 at 7:22am Reply

              • Eudora: Thanks Gabriela
                Que tinguis un bon dia! February 9, 2018 at 7:40am Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you so much! 🙂 February 9, 2018 at 11:28am Reply

  • Kayliz: I‘ve been experimenting for about a year now — ever since I first read one of your legendary skincare posts:)

    Many/most cleansers I’ve tried dry out my skin, which is menopausal and reactive. I loved Boots No7 hot cloth cleanser and the Hada Labo hyaluronic acid foaming cleanser, but they were both drying over time. The micellar waters I‘ve tried leave me feeling clogged.

    What works for me is a double oil cleanse: once with a proprietary cleansing oil and then with jojoba oil. I use a warm thick flannel and/or a microfibre mitt and follow with cool water and/or witch hazel water.

    (Anyone else see the Netflix series Feud? I was agog when Joan Crawford tipped a whole bottle of witch hazel into a basin of ice cubes for her daily face routine!) February 5, 2018 at 7:26pm Reply

    • Austenfan: Listen, Cleopatra used donkey’s milk to bathe in. February 6, 2018 at 12:49pm Reply

      • Kayliz: Poor thing, having to make do without champagne! February 6, 2018 at 7:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: You don’t find witch hazel water drying? February 8, 2018 at 1:15pm Reply

      • Kayliz: It may well be, I‘ll see. I started using it because of enlarged pores: a real problem now. February 8, 2018 at 7:50pm Reply

        • Kayliz: … oh, rubbish, not actually a problem — slight loss of perspective back there;) February 8, 2018 at 7:53pm Reply

        • Victoria: Be careful, though. Pores appear larger on dehydrated skin. February 9, 2018 at 5:16am Reply

          • Kayliz: Just caught up with this thread! Many thanks for the hint, I‘ll keep an eye on that. February 17, 2018 at 5:24am Reply

  • Iryna: Victoria, off-topic but could you make a post about perfumes for different skin tones (cold/warm), if this is something you believe in of course. This past year I see it mentioned a lot over the Internet. Since nobody writes more beautifully than you about fragrance, I had to ask. February 5, 2018 at 8:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your nice words, Iryna. As for this topic, I don’t find that one’s skin tone makes a difference. February 8, 2018 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Maria-Anna: Very interested to read this post, as your writing made me much more aware of the huge variety of products in cleansing, and I’ve wondered where you stood on miscellar waters!

    I’m still working out my skin type (would you believe it!), but I have a feeling it tends towards being sensitive. When I first encountered your writing on skincare layering, I tried some fairly complex routines, but my skin was eventually reacting, especially around my mouth and chin. I have recently been trialling a more simplified routine, which seems to be working quite well at the moment.

    I’ve been using Amie Radiant Dawn Exfoliating Wash as my second cleanse. In general I find it works fairly well and isn’t too irritating, although I don’t have too much reference for how it compares with other products. When it first got cold here and the heating kicked in, I got a lot of flaking around my nose and mouth, so at that stage it was definitely too strong.

    I tend to use a Garnier miscellar water to remove eye make up, but once I run out of the oil I use as first step, I might try how it works on a more regular basis. February 6, 2018 at 6:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Simpler is often better, even though sometimes it seems that if one puts everything on skin at once, it will be more effective. I will share my winter routine soon, but it’s also streamlined.

      It sounds like you’re following a very good, sensible routine. Yes, the extra exfoliating agents in cleansers is something to pay attention to, especially if you’re using other products for exfoliating. It can end up irritating. February 8, 2018 at 1:21pm Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for an interesting post, Victoria. I’m always on the look out for good and inexpensive cleansers, and some of these sound really nice.

    I have been using Nuxe Reve de Miel cleanser for years, and although it’s quite heavily scented I find it a lot less irritating than many ‘scent-free’ products. It’s also low-foam, with no sodium laureth sulfate – anything that froths is bad on my skin, basically, as it tends to both dry it out and trigger blemishes/black-heads.

    For removing eye-make-up I use Garnier micellar water – I love how cheap it is. I tried ‘Simple’ micellar water recently, which seemed like a similar product for slightly less money, but it actually stings my eyes…not good! February 6, 2018 at 7:07am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with your observation on the fragrance-free products as not being necessarily more gentle. I don’t like overly scented skincare, but if something works well, a bit of scent won’t stop me from using it. February 8, 2018 at 1:23pm Reply

  • Maria: My favorite cleanser for years is Clinique Take the day off Balm. It takes everything off, even eye make up, it is gentle enough for my reactive skin and it is very easy to travel with, because it doesn’t spill as oils do. I avoid to never do a second cleanser because my skin is too sensitive for that but. February 6, 2018 at 8:35am Reply

    • Victoria: I know many people who use it, and the formula is certainly very good. I can’t use balms on my skin, but it’s a good idea for dry skin, though. February 8, 2018 at 1:26pm Reply

  • maja: I use Biore Perfect Oil and Effaclar Creme Lavante by La Roche Posay. But will probably change to Toleriane. BioDerma and La Roche Posay Micellar Water are my favourites when I need to remove makeup quickly. I am now looking for a nice, light but efficient hydrating cream for my skin prone to aging and melasma. If anybody has any suggestions you are more than welcome. I quite liked the Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate by The Deciem but it is so often sold out, I really can’t bother. February 6, 2018 at 11:32am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s frustrating that it’s rarely in stock, because it’s a favorite. February 8, 2018 at 1:26pm Reply

  • D. K: I’ve never used a micellar water but I have used a micellar shampoo, Kerastase Aura Botanica. It seems micellar shampoos aren’t that well known but I’ve seen a few ones popping up in the market recently. February 6, 2018 at 5:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m sure we will see even more such products soon. February 8, 2018 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Aurora: These days it’s thanks to you that I am aware of new lines at French pharmacies, feeling a little homesick about it.

    Eye creams: I tend to use Clinique All about Eyes because it doesn’t make my eyes water so rather what it doesn’t do versus what it does.

    Micellar water: At the moment I use Decleor Aroma Cleanse (which I had wrongly identified as Guinot in a previous comment) and enjoying it quite a bit. It has jojoba and bisabolol, both ingredients I like and contrary to the name is not heavily scented. It does contain rose albeit far down the list. February 10, 2018 at 4:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I need to try more Decleor. It’s another widely available line here. February 10, 2018 at 7:01am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I use Avene micellar water for removing makeup and rinse off with warm water. My trusted cleanser is Aurelia which is a cream cleanser used with a muslin cloth. I only use cream cleanser as I find foaming cleanser usually dry out my skin. My skin is normal, neither dry, oily or sensitive. Liz Earle hot cloth cleanse and Polish is also very good, again used with a muslin cloth. February 21, 2018 at 3:42am Reply

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