Back in the (beauty) dark ages, all you needed to wash your face was a little soap and water. Oh, how times have changed.Between cleansing oils and balms and scrubs and cloths, there are about a million different ways to get your face clean. One of the newest contenders? Cleansing waters—clear solutions that claim to get rid of makeup, cleanse and tone all in one step, while leaving your face free of irritation and residue.“Cleansing waters are detergent-free solutions that can be used without the need for a sink or running water, so they’re great for patients who are on the go,” says New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. “And because they’re non-foaming, they’re not as irritating as sudsy cleansers.”
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Foaming cleansers rely on traditional detergent (or surfactant) ingredients to get the cleansing job done. “They’re identifiable on ingredient lists as chemicals like lauryl sulphate,” says Dr. Fusco. Cleansing waters, on the other hand, tout something called “micellar technology” as being responsible for their dirt- and makeup-zapping power.
A micelle, explains YouBeauty Cosmetic Chemistry Expert Ni’Kita Wilson, is a tiny particle that looks like a bunch of balloons grouped together in a circle, with all the strings pointing toward the middle. “The balloons love water and the strings love oil, so they’re constantly forming and breaking apart,” Wilson says. “Dirt and oil get trapped in the center of the micelle, and can then be wiped away easily. It’s a more gentle approach to cleansing.”Technically, cleansing waters are meant to be used alone, but they can also serve as a first step before using a traditional cleanser.
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“Using them as a pre-cleanser is a good option for women who wear a lot of makeup, heavy foundation or very thick moisturizers or sunscreens,” says Dr. Fusco. “The physical wiping stimulates circulation and the product helps to dissolve, degrease and prep the skin for the subsequent cleansing.”The only inconvenient thing about cleansing waters? You need a cotton ball or pad, so they’re not quite as effortless as cleansing cloths. Some makeup artists, though, find that’s actually part of the appeal.
“Cleansing waters are a mainstay in my makeup kit,” says New York City makeup artist Charlie Green. “I can use them on a Q-tip to clean up makeup mistakes, and I can refresh my models at the end of a long day in front of the cameras by using saturated cotton balls. I think makeup remover wipes are very convenient, yet somehow cleansing waters seem more luxurious and are just as quick and effective.”
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The final word? Cleansing waters are a good choice for sensitive skin types or anyone who needs quick, no-sink-required cleansing. Read on for the low-down on five cleansing waters we thought, well, held water: