We tested countless other makeup removers in this price bracket, and Garnier SkinActive Micellar All-in-1 Cleansing Water ranked far higher than anything else we tried in three important categories: cost per use, removal experience, and simplicity of ingredients. Add that it’s extremely easy to find at any drugstore or online retailer, works well across all skin types, and comes in several varieties — including one that removes even waterproof mascara — and we have ourselves a budget-pick winner.
First and foremost, this product just works so darn well. You don’t need to use a lot of it to get the job done, which means one bottle goes a long way. We needed an average of just two cotton pads to remove an entire face of full-coverage makeup (including lipstick), so a 13.5-ounce bottle of this stuff will last you months. Other products in this price bracket gave us less product for the money and required more product per removal to give us fully bare faces, making this micellar water an even better deal by contrast.
For the unacquainted, micellar water is a French pharmacy staple that’s part cleaner, part toner, and (you guessed it) part makeup remover. Micellar water works by using water and one or more surfactants — molecules that help cleanse the skin and, as dermatologist Dr. Anthony M. Rossi* explains, act as micelles. “Micelles are spherical structures that help to reduce the irritancy of other ingredients and can attract oil,” he says. “Micellar water is great for people who wear makeup regularly, as well as people with acne-prone skin who are prone to clogged pores.”
Legend has it that the French took to it because their tap water was so bad that people didn’t want to wash their faces with it and needed a gentle alternative. In recent years its popularity has gone global, and micellar water is beloved by everyone from dermatologists to lazy beauty fanatics looking to streamline their skin-care regimens. “This type of makeup remover is unique and different from water because [its] ingredients are able to attract oil, dirt, and makeup and remove that without stripping the skin or causing it to be overly dry,” Dr. Rossi adds. “It’s also good for people with sensitive skin.”
The product has thousands(!) of five-star reviews across the internet, and for good reason. One of our favorite things about this stuff is that it removes even thick makeup smoothly. No need for harsh scrubbing — just wipe a saturated pad over your face and the makeup melts right off. Plus, it doesn’t leave behind any oily residue. Oil cleansers are effective, but we’ve found that they work best for those with skin on the drier side. Micellar water moisturizes your face just enough, so if you have oily or acne-prone skin, the formula won’t feel too heavy. (If you do have dry skin and prefer an oil cleanser, we like Simple Cleansing Oil, a fragrance- and alcohol-free hydrating cleanser that’s a good choice for sensitive faces.)
Garnier Micellar Water contains no oil, fragrances, or alcohol — which means less irritation and a more universally skin-friendly formula, no matter how sensitive yours may be. It’s available in three varieties, including normal and “mattifying” for oily skin, but we chose the formula specifically designed to remove even waterproof makeup — because when we take our makeup off, we want it all off.
This bottle is well-designed, with a secure but easy-to-open cap; this also goes for its TSA-friendly travel-sized bottle (3.4 oz.), so you won’t have to worry about leakage. (Pro tip: For makeup mistakes, dip a small cotton swab into micellar water and boom — instant smudge eraser, with no pesky residue!) While you do need a vehicle for application, like cotton pads, if you’re concerned about creating waste, you can find eco-friendly options that do the job (like this set of bamboo pads).
For a gentle makeup remover that satisfies all budgets and skin types, Garnier’s Micellar All-in-1 Cleansing Water is our no-contest choice.
*Anthony M. Rossi, MD, FAAD, is the assistant attending at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, and the assistant attending at New York Presbyterian Hospital.