Cleansing waters, also known as micellar water, water cleanser, cleansing lotion, or just makeup remover, are water-based makeup removers that allow you to remove makeup just by wiping it off, as well as add a bit of moisture to the skin. Oil-free makeup removers can even be used on eyelash extensions as well as be used as a face wash! But with so many brands, such as Clue, Shiseido's Clé de Peau Beauté, Kosé, and the fact that they're sold at varying price points can make it difficult to choose the best Japanese makeup remover.
Our editors searched popular e-commerce sites in Japan, such as Amazon, Rakuten, Yahoo! Shopping, and @cosme SHOPPING, and chose the most popular products and tested them all.
We tested each product for the following:
Kaori is the representative director of Japan's Scientific Beauty Institute. She also runs the Beauty Science Blog, which sends out beauty science information in a way that's easy to understand. She operates with the mission of "wanting people to enjoy the process of finding skincare that works for them by offering a scientific perspective". Kaori broadcasts her expert knowledge from working with skincare and cosmetics societies and academic journals on her blog, social media, and more. She also works with PR, product development, and corporate support teams for cosmetics.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
Table of Contents
If you’ve never used cleansing water before, here are a few things you should know about what it is and what it does.
As the name implies, cleansing water is a type of cleanser that’s water-based and often comes in a plastic or glass bottle. You apply them as you would apply toner: by wetting a cotton pad and using that to wipe off your makeup.
However, unlike cleansing oils or cleansing creams, you can find products that don’t need to be followed by a face wash or options that double as toners and serums. These are wildly popular among the new, time-starved generation.
On the other hand, since you need to use a cotton swab, you do need to take into consideration how much friction you apply on your skin. Additionally, cleansing waters tend to have more surfactants, so this is something to consider if you have sensitive skin.
While cleansing waters aren't as strong in terms of makeup removal compared to an oil-based cleanser, since they don't strip excessive amounts of moisture from your face, they're best for those concerned about dryness.
If you have sensitive skin or usually have rough skin, check the ingredients list.
If a product lists divalent glycols such as DPG or BG as the second or third ingredient listed after water, it will likely help moisturize your skin.
Additionally, divalent glycols have a bacteriostatic effect, meaning the manufacturer doesn't need to use as many preservatives.
Some worry that surfactants are too harmful to use in skincare, but they’re not all bad. Most surfactants present in water cleansers are known as “non-ionic surfactants.” They aid in the emulsification and dissolving of cosmetic products and are considered to be mild and safe.
Cleansing waters and makeup remover wipes both remove makeup by wiping your face. So what's the difference?
Cleansing waters put less stress on the skin and are better for daily use. While they do often require you to use a cotton pad, they can help shorten your overall skincare routine, since many products also can be used as a facewash.
On the other hand, makeup remover wipes are more portable and are better for situations when you need to remove your makeup in a pinch. However, they tend to have a lot of preservatives, so they need to be used with caution if you have sensitive skin.
Different situations will call for different tools, so use the product that best suits your needs.
When buying a cleansing water, there are a couple of things to look out for. Here, we'll go over three big points to check before purchasing one.
More surfactants roughly equates to more cleansing power, but the amount you should look for in a product will vary depending on the type of makeup you wear and the type of skin you have. If you seek a more cleansing power, pay attention to the amount of nonionic surfactants as well as the name of the ingredient.
There’s no way to tell exactly how much of a certain ingredient is included in a cleanser, but you can guess. Remember that ingredients are always listed by quantity–from highest to lowest. Therefore, if surfactants are among the first few ingredients, you can assume that the formula’s brimming with them.
If moisturizing ingredients come first, however, then the product is a mild cleanser. We recommend you look for something mild if you have sensitive skin, as surfactants can often prove to be irritating. Below, we’ve listed some popular non-ionic surfactants that you can look out for.
You can expect a makeup remover to have a decent amount of cleansing power if it's formulated with nonionic surfactants such as Polyglyceryl-2 Triisostearate or Sorbitan Oleate.
On the other hand, if a product is formulated with surfactants with a large number, such as PEG-6 (Caprylic/Capric) Glycerides or PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, you can expect it to have mid-range cleansing power.
Of course, every product’s different. If you’ve got dry skin, then we recommend searching specifically for hydrating ingredients. If you’re looking to brighten your complexion, then look for cleansers that double as exfoliants or peels, which serve to clear away dead skin and unblock pores.
Below are a few skincare ingredients you should get acquainted with.
Then there are cleansers that are free of preservatives, including parabens. These seem gentle at first glance, but can also include antibacterials like propylene glycol (PG) and 1,2-hexanediol in high concentrations. Products that have these chemicals at the top of their ingredients lists can also prove irritating for certain skin types.
If you have sensitive skin, we heavily recommend conducting a patch test before applying anything to your face.
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Reize Gentle Bio Cleansing Water
An Extremely Cleansing Makeup Remover
Mild Cleansing Water
Mild and Refreshing, but Excellent Removal
The Perfect Daily Makeup Remover for All Skin Types
Ignis Sunny Sour Cleansing Lotion
Great at Removing Heavy Makeup
Unlabel Moist Botanical Micellar Cleansing
Only Requires a Few Wipes to Remove Heavy Makeup
Purevivi Cleansing Lotion
Quickly Removes Heavy Makeup, but No Noteworthy Ingredients
&be Clear Cleanse Water N
Wipes Off Heavy Makeup, but Not the Most Gentle
A Fantastic Makeup Remover, but Not the Best for Sensitive Skin
Clé de Peau Beauté Micellar Cleansing Water
A Moisturizing Micellar Water
Softymo Lachesca Water Cleansing
A Moisturizing Makeup Remover, but Not Strong Enough for Eye Makeup
ZERO's Reize Gentle Bio Cleansing Water has a slightly thick texture that helps minimize friction and enhances the feel of the product.
This product is unique in that it's formulated with oil as well as several beautifying ingredients. Its ingredients are also formulated to put as little stress as possible on the skin, allowing those with delicate skin to use this with ease.
In the makeup removal test, this product earned full marks, removing almost all of the makeup in one wipe. At five wipes, it even neatly removed eye makeup, suggesting that it can make quick work of layered mascara and eyeliner.
We think this is the best cleansing water for those who want to quickly remove their makeup.
Muji's Mild Cleansing Water is formulated with ingredients that are gentle on the skin, making it great for when you have sensitive skin.
It has a slightly thick texture, and after wiping off makeup, it makes the skin moist and dewy. This product is best for those who are concerned about tight skin after wiping off their makeup, but if you prefer a more refreshing feel, this might not be for you.
Still, in terms of makeup removal, this product earned a full score, demonstrating outstanding cleansing ability. WIth one wipe, it was able to remove our base makeup; at five wipes it removed eye makeup with ease.
This cleansing water is best for those who want to moisturize their sensitive skin while also quickly removing heavy makeup.
Kikumasamune is a Japanese sake brewery that also produces various types of cosmetics and skincare products. This Cleansing Lotion is a micellar water that the company claims to have several functions in a single bottle. While its small cap made it slightly hard to open, we liked how it made our skin feel moisturized.
In our makeup removal test, it was able to neatly remove our base makeup and eyeliner, with one wipe and five wipes, respectively.
Its relatively simple ingredients mean it's fairly gentle on the skin. While it's unique in that it's formulated with rice-based moisturizing ingredients, we felt that it wasn't formulated with enough of it to have an impact on its moisturizing ability.
This is a great makeup remover for those who usually don't wear heavy makeup and want something that isn't too harsh on the skin.
Albion's Ignis Sunny Sour Cleansing Lotion has a fantastically refreshing feel to it. It also has a citrusy scent that most will likely find pleasant.
However, this wasn't particularly packed with moisturizing or gentle ingredients. While it is formulated with basic moisturizing ingredients like BG and DPG, it isn't particularly formulated with beautifying ingredients, so it might be a bit lacking for those who want more out of their makeup remover.
Still, in our makeup removal test, its impressive cleansing ability earned it a full score. After a few wipes, it was also able to remove mascara, making it an ideal product for those who want to minimize the amount of stress they put on their eyes when they remove layered eye makeup.
JSP Labo's Unlabel Moist Botanical Micellar Cleansing comes in a large, 500ml push-style pump bottle.
When looking at the ingredients, it's packed with a ton of plant extracts, but aside from that, it didn't particularly have any moisturizing ingredients. However, its base ingredients, surfactants, and preservatives were all well-balanced, making it fairly gentle on the skin.
In our makeup removal test, it demonstrated that it has a fairly decent cleansing ability. While with only one wipe, it was only able to remove concealer, with five wipes, it was able to remove everything aside from mascara. Even heavy base makeup can be removed with a few wipes with this cleansing water.
Eve's Purevivi Cleansing Lotion has a smooth, watery texture that adds moisture to the skin without requiring a double cleanse.
In terms of moisturizing ingredients and ingredients that make it gentle on the skin, this cleansing water came a bit short on both. While it uses BG as its main moisturizing ingredient and is formulated with glycosyl trehalose and sodium hyaluronate as its beautifying ingredients, there just simply isn't enough of these ingredients in the product to reasonably expect them to do much.
However, its ingredients do suggest a strong cleansing ability, which was proven in our makeup removal test, where it was able to easily remove most makeup. After five wipes, it was able to remove eye makeup, making it best for those who want to quickly remove heavy makeup.
Clue's &be Clear Cleanse Water N is a cleansing water with the fresh scent of essential oils. Clue claims this product is a makeup remover formulated similarly to a toner, and we indeed feel that our skin was nice and moisturized after using it.
As for the ingredients, it earned a reasonable score for its moisturizing and gentle ingredients. However, since this product does contain essential oils for fragrance, this might trigger reactions if you have sensitive skin, so pay attention to changes in your skin.
In the makeup removal test, while it struggled to remove eye makeup with one wipe, after a few wipes, it was able to remove base makeup as well as eye makeup, meaning it'll work with heavy makeup as well.
Chacott's Cleansing Water claims to combine makeup remover, face wash, and moisturizing toner in one bottle. This fragrance-free product hardly has any scent to it, making it great for those who aren't fond of scented products.
Since this product is formulated with ingredients that may add stress to delicate skin, it lost points in our test. Additionally, it uses several plant extracts for its moisturizing ingredients, meaning it's probably best to avoid this product if your skin is sensitive.
On the other hand, it earned full marks in the makeup removal test. One wipe thinned down stubborn eye makeup, and five wipes removed everything cleanly. If you have regular skin and want something that removes makeup and adds moisture, this is the product for you.
Shiseido's Clé de Peau BeautéMicellar Cleansing Water claims to wipe off makeup and grime lodged deep in the pores, as well as moisturize the skin.
Unfortunately, we found that it didn't remove makeup as well as it claims, and when removing waterproof makeup, it's better to just use a product that's formulated for removing such makeup. Since it hardly removes any makeup with a single wipe, it'll require several gentle wipes.
However, it did earn high marks for its moisturizing ingredients. In addition to its base ingredients BG and DPG, it contains conditioning ingredients such as glycyrrhizic acid 2K, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize and cleanse the skin. However, it's not the most gentle product out there, so check the condition of your skin as you use it.
Kosé Cosmeport's Softymo Lachesca Water Cleansing is an oil-free makeup remover that doesn't require you to follow with a face wash.
In our makeup removal test, it succeeded in removing base makeup after five wipes, but hardly put a dent in the mascara. While it's great for removing lighter base makeup, it just isn't strong enough to remove heavy eye makeup.
When looking at its ingredients, it's not the most gentle product out there, but we did like that it's formulated with moisturizing ingredients like BG and Polyquaternium-51, the latter of which is a particularly effective moisturizing ingredient.
This is how we tested for those factors.
First, we tested how well each product removed makeup.
We applied several types of makeup to artificial skin. We then dispensed the cleansers onto cotton pads and gently wiped the makeup five times to see how well the makeup was removed. We then evaluated how well each product was able to remove makeup on a 5-point scale.
We tested using the following cosmetics. In order to give us a better idea of the maximum efficacy of each cleanser, we purposely chose long-wearing items.
Next, we checked and evaluated each product for their moisturizing ingredients. To do this, we invited a cosmetics R&D specialist to check each product's ingredients.
Some products that we tested are classified as quasi-drugs, which is a unique Japanese classification of products that sits in between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Manufacturers are not obligated by law to label all their ingredients for quasi-drugs, so we only evaluated those products based on what was written on the label.
We again asked our cosmetics R&D expert to analyze all the ingredients lists for us to see how gentle each product is on the skin.
※Keep in mind that a low score doesn’t equate to a dangerous product. It simply means that it was judged to be possibly irritating for folks with sensitive skin.
You want to be gentle to your skin, even when you're taking off makeup. To that end, we'll introduce ways to use cleansing water while still being kind to your skin.
It might seem like a waste, but if you’re really set on preserving the state of your skin, make sure that whatever you put to your face is pristine. Try to reuse cotton pads, and all you’re doing is rubbing that gunk back into your skin.
Also, make sure that your cotton pads are soaked through. Any dry patches will rub at your skin, which can irritate and wear it down in the long run.
Wet the cotton tips with your cleanser, then wipe off any makeup along your lash line by rotating it. This will keep you from swiping the same dirty surface back and forth across your skin.
Water cleansers are mild by nature, but because you’re also rubbing at your skin with a cotton pad, the act of cleansing itself can be harsh. If you just switched over to water cleansing and have sensitive skin, pay close attention the first few weeks and look out for any signs of irritation.
You could also start off by alternating between your old and new cleanser, gradually switching over.
Cleansing is only the start of your skincare routine. Cleansers are often followed by face wash (optional, but recommended if you have oily skin), then toner, serum, lotion, and cream. Learn more about all these products below.
No. 1: ZERO | Reize Gentle Bio Cleansing Water
No. 2: Muji | Mild Cleansing Water
No. 3: Kikumasamune | Cleansing Lotion
No. 4: Albion | Ignis Sunny Sour Cleansing Lotion
No. 5: JSP Labo | Unlabel Moist Botanical Micellar Cleansing
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