Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What the heck is a "micellar solution"?

I know what a micellar solution is - "A micellar solution consists of a dispersion of micelles in a solvent (most usually water)" (from Wikipedia) - but I don't know why these words are being used to sell skin cleansers. As I mentioned the other day, I had occasion to visit a well known Canadian drug store chain to see if I could find some answers about my annoying messy mascara problem. I stumbled upon a few cleansers calling themselves "micellar solutions" or something similar. So what's the deal with these?


LaRoche's Physiological Micellar solution: Water (Aqua), Hexylene Glycol, Poloxamer 184, Glycerin, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Dihydrocholeth 30, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Parfum/Fragrance.

Vichy Normaderm Micellar Solution: Aqua, Hexylene Glycol, Glycerin, Poloxamer 188, Zinc PCA, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Chloride, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Disodium EDTA, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Citric Acid, Dihydrocholeth-30, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide.

This company notes that micelles "micro-encapsulate dirt on skin's surface and lift it up without rubbing, thereby maintaining skin's physiological balance."

As an aside, a poloxamer is "Poloxamers are nonionic triblock copolymers composed of a central hydrophobic chain of polyoxypropylene (poly(propylene oxide)) flanked by two hydrophilic chains of polyoxyethylene (poly(ethylene oxide))....Because of their amphiphilic structure, the polymers have surfactant properties that make them useful in industrial applications. Among other things, they can be used to increase the water solubility of hydrophobic, oily substances or otherwise increase the miscibility of two substances with different hydrophobicities." In other words, they are surfactants. In the case of the Vichy product that contains it, it works to remove sebum from our skin by making the oil on our skin more water soluble. Zinc PCA "inhibits sebum secretion and body odours". It's not part of the micellar cleaning as it's more about inhibiting oil production during the day. 

What I have seen thus far indicates that they generally contain water, a bunch of humectants, and a very mild surfactant. Bioderma uses cetrimonium bromide, a cationic quaternary compound that is generally used as a hair conditioner that could offer mild cleansing, possibly as a conditioning agent and surfactant, and polysorbate 20, a solubilizer and surfactant to actually remove the soils. (Polysorbate 20 is not a lathering or foamy surfactant, but it's still a surfactant.) LaRoche uses disodium cocoamphodiacetate, a very mild foaming and lathering amphoteric surfactant, as does the Vichy product. 

So far I think a micelle cleanser is a very mild cleanser containing non-ionic or amphoteric surfactants and a lot of humectants that doesn't need to be rinsed off after cleansing. The reason for the non-rinsing is the small amount of surfactants in the products. Skin should feel very hydrated thanks to all those humectants. 

The Vichy one notes that "thanks to its micellar technology combined with Zinc PCA, an antibacterial agent, it removes makeup, sebum and impurities without rubbing or rinsing the skin, while gently purifying it. Easy to use and extremely practical...
1- Cleanses all impurities. 
2- Balances skin’s pH.
3- Purifies the skin without the need to rinse" (From this blog.) 

BeautyGeeks has an article on the topic - click here - in which they note...
In simple-ish terms, a micelle is a type of molecule cluster. One end of each molecule loves water (hydrophilic); the other hates it (hydrophobic). In a water solution, they group to form a spherical shape with a water-loving exterior and a water-hating interior. When gently applied to a surface — the skin, let’s say — the micelle spheres split open against that surface. When the application pressure lifts, the molecule cluster closes up again, and in the process grabs whatever isn’t water from that surface. Essentially, micelles are kind of like mute Pac-Man types that wokka-wokka-wokka-wokka up all the makeup and dirt off your face in a jiffy.

I keep seeing the idea that the micelles "gobble up" grease or dirt from our skin. Is this valid? If you read how a shampoo works to remove the dirt from you hair, you'll see this sentence..."Micellular solubilization mechanism: The soils are solubilized into the micelles and washed away (this is dependent upon micelle concentration)." How is this different from what they are advertising and how is this different from other cleansers that aren't advertised as being micellar solutions? I think the key differences are the low amount of surfactants and the fact that you don't rinse it off. (To be honest, I don't know if I'd feel comfortable not rinsing those micelles from skin if they're full of dirt and grease from my skin.) If I made a cleanser with a ton of humectants and 5% disodium cocamphodiacetate, would I have a micellar solution?

Consider this when you want something that isn't rinsed off your skin - that tight feeling you get after washing might be caused by a failure to rinse the surfactants off your skin well. (Click here for a longer post on the topic.) 

All the ones I've seen have been incredibly expensive - $60 for the Bioderma one in my local shop - and I wonder if they are worth it. I'd love to hear from readers like you how they work and what you think of them. As you can tell, I'm curious about these products! As a final note, none of the ones I've listed above contain a broad spectrum preservative, which I find quite interesting! 


softshell said...

Very Interesting! Although the cost can be high on these products, I often like to try out some of the facinating beauty products that are out there. I have been researching Murad products the past few months (really great so far!), but this article was so interesting I may bump up the no need to rinse products! The only non rinsing type products I have ever used are cleansing oils, which are so great in the winter. Thanks for posting! Great Research!

MC said...

To my mind, this is just a very convenient product - wipe on, wipe off. And as it is essentially distilled water, it is very in-irritating.
I make my own for my eyelids as I suffer from blepharitis - 1 drop of baby shampoo in a small coffee cup of water. Wipe eyelids with cotton pad.
But for the cost and travel problems you'd have with such a big bottle, this isn't for me. I prefer my oil cleanser and rose water as a toner. Smaller and easier to travel with too.

Ann said...

I like the Bioderma product as makeup remover (I wash my face afterwards) and I thought I could try making something similar. There are recipes on French blogs suggesting distilled water, hydrosols, a preservative and something called babassu foam, which I had never heard of but it might be a mild surfactant. I think I might try water, cucumber extract, a little mild surfactant, allantoin, preservative and see what it's like. I wonder what the mannitol is for that Bioderma includes.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a scientist at Unilever (make of Dove, Simple, Lever 2000, Axe, etc.) and we are researching micellar solutions as well.

One point of distinction: all soaps/shampoos/detergents, etc. contain micelles and surfactants. These products all work on a similar concept where the surfactant molecules in the product form micelles and can either "absorb" dirt products or lower their surface tension enough to lift them off a surface. The fact that these companies are calling their products micellar solutions is purely an advertizing ploy and they charge premium prices for those.

The main difference between these products and traditional cleansers is the amount of surfactant present. In soaps and shampoos you would typically see anywhere between 10%-30% surfactant concentration whereas in micellar solutions you would see 0.5-5% surfactant.

We are currently testing the effectiveness of these products on the market on makeup removal, I can update you on our general results (I cannot disclose too much due to company policy).


Rogue Beauty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rogue Beauty said...

I've used the Vichy product for many years and it is by far the best daily cleanser I have ever used. It drastically changed my skin! I used to get many blemishes and redness.
I use it at night with a witch hazel toner. I tone in the mornings and only wash my face with soap and water once (maybe twice in the summer) a week. It's worked very well for me and I used to recommended it all the time to customers when I worked in the beauty industry and now as a make up artist. I'm fully confidant it will improve the clients skin and will not irritate it. It also promotes people to be consistent with their usage which is the key to healthy skin.
I mean it's very simple to remember to clean your face at night when it's so fast and easy.
Anyway, I can't praise micellar solutions enough. It might be a little pricey for some, but totally worth it.

Iris said...

Thank you for your very interesting post. I am on the hunt for more information so I can diy something similar to those on the market (I have only tried the garnier one), perhaps with more control over the ingredients.
Thanks again

Carol said...

Very interesting blog. I've been using the Bioderma micellar solution for a year or so and find that my skin has never looked so good. I am a 61 year old female with good skin (unlined and unwrinkled) and the Bioderma removes all traces of sunscreen and make-up (including mascara) that I routinely use. I'm currently looking for a less expensive option but am concerned that another product won't work as well.

c said...

Have you thought of trying to replicate the Bioderma formula? I am really interested since this product is so expensive and difficult for me to find. I saw the ingredients list: Water, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Propylene Glycol, Cucumber Extract, Mannitol, Xylitol, Rhamnose , Fructooligosaccharides, Disodium EDTA, Cetrimonium Bromide

I think I can do without the Rhamnose and the Cucumber extract for now but would love a basic formulation. Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Hi there
I'm wondering what's with the Xylitol? I've seen it listed in a few of these waters.... What are your thoughts?
Cheers Erica

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Erica. Xylitol is another humectant that offers slip and glide and might work as a thickener.


Good day everyone-I am a newly retired educator (so my love for learning never retires lol)and new to this site in an effort to find ways to make products for my daughter who suffers from very bad acne and has terrible skin discoloration along with reoccuring breakouts all over her body. In her senior year of high school the dermatologist suggested Acutane a very invasive medication treatmentxthat is done for six months. She must take a pregnancy test and blood work routinely followed by close physician supervision. I was totally against this but my daughter begged for the opportunity to healthier "normal" skin...well after a year, the acne returned!!! The side effect from the medication have left, what seems to me, her worse off!!! She now complains of excruciatingly dry skin resembling scales and tightness, and the pores remain clogged causing reoccuring acne outbreaks.
I have become addicted to this site and stay up all night reading all your post!!! in hopes of finding a solution for my daughter. This year she started college and a friend of mine suggested this as a way to allow her to make sure she cleans her face but not so cumbersome days she may be in a rush to class not having as much time for the whole cleansing process. My daughter began using it and says it is a great alternative that doesn't add to the dryness some cleansers have.
Ultimately nothing replaces washing but I wanted to see if there was a way I could make a spritz with the micellar solution and provide a alternative that would be beneficial for her use and works. Thank you for your time, your dedication and your passion to continuously provide resources and information. You are truly an inspiration !