The trick that beauty experts never reveal: Don’t wash your face

How to get clean without soap and water.
How to get clean without soap and water.
Image: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
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Some of you may remember the #NoPoo movement, which, contrary to its worrisome name, is actually about not using shampoo. The idea is that traditional shampoos are fairly harsh on your hair and disrupt your scalp pH, so you just skip them altogether—washing your hair with just water instead. But what about washing your face—especially if you regularly wear sunscreen or makeup, or live in heavily polluted areas?

“I think you should wash your face twice a day,” New York City-based dermatologist, Sejal Shah, MD, explained on the phone. “As the day goes on, things build up on your skin. Plain tap water is not enough to get that off—and plain tap water can be very harsh on your skin.” She doesn’t mean you should start slashing your face with bottled water—many brands are too mineralized anyway—but she does think an inexpensive face cleanser is better than nothing.

Yet an informal conversation with my fellow female co-workers revealed that some of them—more than I can count on my fingers—don’t even wash their faces with soap and water. This shocked me as a beauty writer who’s always trying new ways to wash my face. Korean double cleansing, oil cleansing, foam cleansing, bar soap, electric sonic brushes, face wipes, crying over the kitchen sink—I’ve done it all (particularly since I suffer from acne).

But whether due to laziness or a belief that skincare is a scam, many of my co-workers reaffirmed their aversion to face-washing. And they all look great. Which means it is possible to not wash your face and have healthy skin— even if you wear a full face of makeup.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use anything at all.

What you need is micellar water, which is a clear liquid invented in France by Bioderma Labs in 1995 as an alternative to the “hard” tap water (aka, contains high level of minerals) found in the pipes of Paris. It looks like water because it is made of micelles, tiny balls of lipid molecules (aka microscopic oil cleansers), suspended in water. You simply squeeze a generous amount onto a cotton pad, and swipe away at your face. It instantly removes makeup, dirt, and extra oil from your face, no lathering or rinsing involved. Up until about five years ago, you had to go all the way to France—or have a generous jet-setting friend—to stock up on heavy and expensive bottles of Bioderma in order to clean your face like a Frenchwoman.

But now micellar water is ubiquitous—you can find it on Amazon, at your local pharmacy, at Sephora, or even indie direct-to-consumer e-commerce shops. It’s mess-free and foolproof, which means even if you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you should at least have the energy to swap a cotton ball across your face before passing out. “For a lot of people, it’s not a bad option,” Shah said. “If you wear heavy makeup or have oily skin, it might not be enough by itself.”

The problem with micellar water no longer being a French secret is that, well, now you have so many more choices from around the world. And the best news is that they’re just as good as the French original. You can skip the trip to Paris and buy the Bioderma bottle—which is the gold standard beloved by makeup artists—from Amazon ($15) But my cheaper go-to version is UK-based Simple Cleansing Micellar Water ($8) at half the price. (I wear heavy makeup and sunscreen and it works.)

If you, like anyone who has been to Sephora, is a sucker for good packaging, I started using New Zealand-based Girl Undiscovered Under the Water Crystal Cleansing Water ($42), which is a gold-tinted formula with two small crystals, rose quartz and citrine, inside the bourbon bottle. It so groovy, you could probably accessorize at Coachella with it. Australia-based Crop Micellar Water ($16) is made with vitamin E and aloe vera, and doubles as a post-cleansing toner if you prefer using something lathering first. And the last time I took a trip, I brought a travel-size bottle of Alba1913 Galenic Cleansing Micellar Water ($32), which contains hyaluronic acid and doubles as a rudimentary serum.

Lately though, I’ve been too lazy to squeeze formula onto cotton pads. But thank goodness, Korean beauty comes to the rescue again: first thing in the morning, before I’ve had coffee, I wipe my face with The Crème Shop Clear This Way Micellar Pre-Wet Towelettes ($8). No water, no problem.