A mini-rant on the need for crittical thinking

So, I was looking into micellar water because I noticed the angry bumps on my skin haven’t exactly been happy with my cleansing routine lately. (This is probably more related to not changing the pillow cases on a regular basis, as my significant other is also prone to these breakouts.) I noticed that certain portions of my skin near my temple at the hairline would get bumpier when I washed them and the bumps that aren’t quite pimples would start to go down throughout the day. Treating said bumps with products containing salicylic acid would help them shrink but they really responded best to clean pillow cases.

I was looking into micellar water because it’s suposed to be a gentler cleaning process than foam cleanser or oil cleansing, and it seemed like a good cleansing step for my morning routine. Because really, how much cleansing do I need if I’m 1) sleeping 2) using clean pillow cases 3) taking regular care of my skin? To me, it seems like I don’t really need a lot and if I can notice my skin getting more irritated after just washing it, then it’s time to change things up a little.

So I was reading up on different micellar water products when the description of one really got on my nerves. Dermaclear was described as a “pure and natural all in one cleansing water” and my inner chemist went “What the hell are you smoking?” There is no such thing as a pure and natural micellar water. There is no bubbling fountain of micellar water deep in the mountains tended by unicorns where ancient monks make their annual pilgrimage to meditate at their magically cleansing shore. Micellar water contains micelles – fatty chains with polar heads. These molecules are quite literally bipolar in water – the polar, acid head of the fatty acid molecule likes water(hydrophillic) while its long chain of carbon molecules that make up the fatty end hates water(hydrophobic). So they form little spheres in water, with the polar heads on the outside (yay, water!) and the fatty chains on the inside (yay, no water!). It’s why oil beads up on the surface of water. It’s also got all sorts of fun implications, like cosmetics and medicines and origin of life questions. Seriously, there are researchers out there trying to calculate the odds of 1) micelles forming 2) micelles forming lipid bilayers like the kind you see in really simple cells 3) lipid bilayers forming around enough chemicals that self-replicate like RNA to form the building blocks of life. Cosmetics and medicine like micelles as a delivery vehicle for hydrophobic molecules that aren’t readily absorbed by your skin or your digestive tract.

What micellar water isn’t is “pure and natural.” Micelles form as a chemical property of polar fatty acids. Those micellar water formulations are carefully prepared by a team of chemists and chemisry technicians to make sure the conditions are right for forming micelles. THEN they have to add a bunch of other chemicals to make sure that micellar water cleans off the skin. Those chemicals are highly tested to make sure they meet very specific safety standards and purity regulations. Those chemical ingredients do not “naturally occur” at such clean concentrations (read no contaminants)  and high purity (read 99.99% just one chemical). If there was such a fountain of pure and natural cleansing water freely flowing off the side of a mountain, I imagine there’s a whole lab deep inside that mountain filled with techicians constantly monitoring the flow of the fountain going “Crap! We are down 20% compared to yesterday’s flow rate! Ask Jim why the hell the supplier hasn’t brought in his shipment today so we can up production. We don’t want the locals to think the spring is starting to run dry!”

In other words, pure and natural is a marketing gimmick. There is a system of checks all along the way of production for consumer products that make sure it’s safe to use. It’s not a perfect system, but it also means that the products only vaguely resemble the natural ingredients from which they were derived. Please think crittically about what you are buying and why. Is it going to achieve what you want it to achieve? Why is it safe for you to use? Does it contain things that might irritate you? Are the ingredients going to do what you think they will do? Ask questions, don’t just buy blindly. And yes, I’m still buying a sample of micellar water to see if it really is more gentle on my sensitive skin.

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