When I travel abroad, one of my favorite things to do is go beauty shopping, especially for items I can’t get back in the States. When La Roche-Posay first came out with their then-cutting edge, sun stable ingredient Mexoryl SX, which protects against those insidious aging UVA rays, it was available in Europe, but the FDA hadn’t yet approved it for the U.S. market. So naturally, I made a beeline for the La Roche-Posay counter when we traveled to Buenos Aires that year (yes, even South America had it before we did). In Italy, long before Sephora ever existed, the iconic Acqua di Parma fragrance was top of my list — either unavailable or so difficult was it to find in the States. And whenever I travel to Korea, Olive Young, a cross between your local drugstore and Sephora, is always on my list, as is the entire neighborhood of Myeongdong, known for their labrynthine beauty streets. (The competition is so fierce, you don’t even have to buy anything — just walk into most stores and they’ll ply you with free sheet masks just for stopping by.)
This year, I traveled to Turkey, sailing the Mediterranean coast on a traditional gulet. We only stopped at two ports during our 8-day journey, and surely, I thought, there’d be no beauty buys, only souvenirs and maybe some Turkish delight. So imagine my excitement when I came upon several beauty boutiques and pharmacies, loaded with sunscreen, hair dye and skin care galore. I wasn’t really sure what to get — L’Oreal clearly had this market covered — until I saw a big clear bottle with the label “Bioderma.”
Now, you have to understand, as an avid reader of American beauty mags and women’s publications in general, I know about Bioderma. American beauty editors are in love with anything French, and Bioderma is on the top of their list. Bioderma is a drugstore purchase in France (you can get a 250 mL bottle on Amazon for well under $20), but the micellar water makeup remover and cleanser is apparently in every bathroom and vanity in the Western hemisphere, so miraculous is its ability to soothe, remove and moisturize. (The company claims one bottle is sold around the world every 3 to 5 seconds.)
Needless to say, despite the fact that it was only sold in packs of two 500 mL sizes and our very limited luggage space, I had to get it. And I was super excited to try it when I got home. Maybe I was too excited — I was actually underwhelmed by it at first. It may have been because I had been using a couple micellar water cleansers before I tried Bioderma.
Micellar water contains tiny micelles, which are oil molecules suspended in water that draw out dirt and oil and dissolve them without drying out skin. Use a cotton pad (don’t use a cotton ball — you’ll get little filaments in your eyes, and you’ll need the real estate to cover your entire face), sprinkle about five drops onto it and gently swipe across skin. I like to remove my foundation first, using both sides of the pad, before using a second pad to gently press on each eye for about 5 to 10 seconds to “melt” water resistant eyeliner and mascara so you won’t have to swipe so hard. It usually takes a few passes to fully remove mascara, since you want to be gentle. Generally, it takes a minute to get all my makeup off (it’s that fast!), and though you don’t have to rinse micellar water cleansers, I double cleanse so I’ll always finish with a gentle cleanser and a facial brush.
So for those who can’t get to Paris, or if you’re looking for a good alternative, here are my reviews of Bioderma and other micellar water cleansers readily available in the States.
Bioderma Sensibio H2O, 250 mL (approx. 8.5 oz), $12.95
Ingredients: Cucumber extract, xylitol and only eight other ingredients.
Pros: Foundation comes off easily, and after a few passes, mascara and water resistant gel liner are gone. This doesn’t sting my eyes at all, and I can even clean my waterline with no problems. Afterwards, skin feels soft and clean, and ounce for ounce, you can’t beat the price. I like that there’s no discernible scent.
Cons: This squirts out a little too much if you squeeze the bottle, so make sure to tap onto the cotton pad. You’ll need to do several passes for water resistant eye makeup, and I find with this, I need to pull a little more than I’d like. I also find that in the morning, not every trace of eye makeup has been removed — trace elements of liner had settled between my lower lashes. Barring a trip to France (or some other European country), you can only buy Bioderma on a few online sites, which is always a cause for hesitancy in my book.
Belif Cleansing Herb Water, 6.75 oz, $26
Ingredients: A tri-herb tea complex — a blend of Saint John’s wort, burdock and dill — which are antioxidant-rich ingredients, along with a number of plant extracts. Even the fragrance is labeled “of natural origin.”
Pros: One of the better makeup removers I’ve tried, and not just in the micellar water category. This removes mascara and water resistant eye makeup with just a few gentle passes. Just don’t oversaturate the cotton pad when cleaning the waterline — a sudden surge of this into your eyeball will cause stinging. Though the “stiffer” bottle discourages squeezing and, therefore, accidental oversaturation of the cotton pad, limit it to about two to three taps on the pad, and make sure to hold the pad on each eye for about five to 10 seconds. There’s a slight “herbal” scent that is not at all unpleasant. This is available at Sephora, which is a plus for their easy return policy.
Cons: Really, not much, other than the fact that it’s double the price of Bioderma.
Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water, 10.15 oz, $39
Ingredients: Infused with mineral-rich hot spring water and six essential herbs: rosemary leaf, sage leaf, lavender, Japanese mugwort leaf, perilla and ginger root. White birch sap, harvested only three weeks each spring, adds minerals and xylitol.
Pros: My absolute favorite makeup remover, topped only by the brand’s Cleansing Spa Water Wipes for the convenience. This never stings my eyes, it removes everything with a little less pulling than other micellar waters. And I love all the anti-aging and nourishing add-ons. It’s also available at Sephora.
Cons: Ounce for ounce, it’s about twice as much as Bioderma.
Yon-ka Eau Micellaire, 6.76 oz, $42
Ingredients: Sea lavender oil, chamomile, bergamot and rose and mint essential oils.
Pros: This takes off foundation just fine.
Cons: For eyes, however, this created a major raccoon eye situation, smearing my water resistant eyeliner and mascara into bigger and bigger black circles around my eyes. I had to use another eye makeup remover just to get the mess off. This has a fairly strong herbal scent that may or may not put you off. And a quick Google search revealed few brick-and-mortars that carry this, and ounce for ounce, this is the priciest of the bunch.
I’d love to know what other micellar waters you’ve tried, and what your favorites are! As for me, it’ll take me a while to get through the giant bottles of Bioderma, and for now, I’m quite happy with Koh Gen Do.
Interested in trying a micellar water cleanser for yourself? Click here to buy my favorite micellar waters!