Our editors searched Japanese e-commerce sites (such as @cosme, Amazon, and Rakuten) for the best cleansing water (also known as micellar water). We then chose the 21 most popular products and tested them for the following:
1. Cleansing Power
2. Hydration (that is, how hydrated your skin is after cleansing)
We made sure to take into consideration skincare benefits–exfoliation and brightening, for instance–and also talked to a cosmetic R&D specialist about options for folks with sensitive skin. What we ended up with was a definitive list of and buying guide about the best Japanese cleansing waters available online (and in drugstores).
Top 21 Best Japanese Cleansing Waters to Buy Online 2019
We tried the cleansers out on swaths of makeup. We measured moisture levels. We asked an expert in cosmetic ingredients to pick out options for sensitive skin. And based on how they performed on these tests, we ranked the top 21 Japanese cleansing waters available online.
※Japanese prices for the products are given; they’ve merely been converted into USD for easy viewing.
1. CHACOTT Cleansing Water
The Best All-Around Cleanser: Powerful Enough for Stage Makeup, Formulated for Sensitive Skin
Chacott started off as a brand for ballet dancers, before expanding into rhythmic gymnastics, ballroom dance, and cosmetics. They blew us away with their cleanser, which was free of fragrances, dyes, oils, parabens, and alcohol. It not only removed makeup, but also functioned as a face wash and toner.
We could see how it’d work magic on stage makeup. We wet a cotton pad with the cleanser, gently passed it over makeup, and everything–even the waterproof mascara–slid right off. Texture was light and silky, but the formula wasn’t drying in the least.
Chacott did its best to only include ingredients so gentle they could be used on a child’s skin. However, everyone has different sensitivities, so double-check before use.
2. Bioré Make up Remover Suhada Tsururun Cleansing Water
The Ultimate Stress-Free Cleanser: Convenient Packaging and Effective Formula
Bioré reopened our eyes to the importance of good packaging. To dispense product, all we had to do was press down on the lid with a cotton swab; there was no tilting, fumbling, or dropping of the bottle.
The formula wasn’t sticky and a few swipes took care of most makeup. Yet, it was still moisturizing and skin felt smooth and supple after cleansing. It’s worth a try if you find most makeup removers too drying.
There was hardly any scent to it. As long as you aren’t sensitive to any of the ingredients, Bioré doesn’t leave you with anything to complain about.
3. NOV AC Active Cleansing Liquid
If You’re Looking for Some Extra Skincare: Boasts a Formula that’s Both Exfoliating and Hydrating
NOV’s an entire brand targeted at sensitive skin; AC Active is their line dedicated to adult acne. This product was a liquid makeup remover that didn’t quite fall under the category of “water cleanser”; however, it was oil-free and safe for eyelash extensions.
The formula featured AHA, an oil-absorbing exfoliant, but it wasn’t drying at all. It’s meant not only to remove makeup but also to strip away dead skin cells and clear pores.
You can apply it with wet hands and simply rinse off after, which makes this cleanser a perfect bath time companion.
4. Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water
If You Like Skincare Derived from Nature: Thermal Water + Botanical Formula that Actually Cleanses
This cleanser was spun out of mineral-rich water from Japan’s hot springs. It was full of herbs and other botanical extracts meant to hydrate and tone skin–which was great, though you may want to look twice at the ingredients list if you have sensitive skin.
A few swipes got rid of most makeup; only the waterproof eyeliner and mascara left behind a bit of residue. There was no tackiness, and skin felt soft and hydrated afterwards.
A single pump dispensed more than enough product, and there was virtually no scent.
|Japanese||Koh Gen Do クレンジングウォーター||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
5. Kikumasamune Rice Made+ Cleansing Lotion
If You’re Looking for Cheap and Effective: The Strongest Drugstore Cleanser that Isn’t Harsh on Skin
To hydrate skin, this formula relied on Rice Complex, a patented ingredient largely based off of rice ceramide. It shared many ingredients with toner (smelled like it too), but the scent didn’t linger long enough to bother us.
The cleanser felt light but didn’t leave us with any tightness. We can’t say it worked well as a moisturizer, but as an effective drugstore brand, Kikumasamune had no parallel.
|Japanese||菊正宗 Rice Made+ クレンジングローション||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
6. BEAUCLAIR Cleansing Lotion
Best For Oily-Skinned Folks: Primed to Remove any Kind of Oil- or Water-Based Impurity
This product featured ingredients that both moisturized and cleansed and mixed well with both oil and water. It was able to clear skin of any type of makeup, including waterproof mascara.
Skin felt cold and refreshed after cleansing. It wasn’t the most hydrating cleanser, but it’d be good for those with oily skin looking for an efficient makeup remover.
The lip of the bottle was quite wide. It smelled a bit like alcohol, though the formula itself claims to be alcohol-free.
7. HANAJIRUSHI Deep Cleansing Lotion Moist
If You’re Looking for Gentle Ingredients at a Low Price: A Safe but Effective Cleanse
Our expert judged the ingredients to be unlikely to trigger even sensitive skin, yet the formula had plenty of cleansing power. It was unscented, though there was still a smell to it.
This cleanser was neither particularly drying nor moisturizing. We also admit that the cap was a bit stiff and product dripped as we were dispensing it. Still, where else are you going to find a makeup remover that’s efficient, gentle, and comes in a 380 ml bottle that’s under 1000 yen?
8. BCL Cleansing Research AHA Aqua Cleansing
If You Have Dry Skin, but Would Like Some Exfoliation: AHA-Based Hydrating Cleanser
Texture was light and silky and a bit similar to oil.
The formula contained fruit acid, a popular exfoliant, but it still received a full score for hydration. If you have dry skin and have always avoided peels and pore cleansers for fear of dehydration, this might prove to be a turning point. We also liked that it smelled of apples.
Waterproof products may take more time to work off. You may want to consider pairing this cleanser with an eye makeup remover.
9. Remei Thermal Water Cleansing
If You Like Your Cleansers Thick and Slick: Moisturizing Formula that Won’t Rub at Your Skin
This featured thermal water drawn from the famous hot springs of Yubara, Okayama prefecture.
The formula included three types of ceramides as moisturizing ingredients, earning the cleanser a full score for hydration. Texture was incredibly thick; those who liked it compared it to a massage oil, while those who didn’t said it felt slimy.
The cleanser was unscented, though the ingredients gave off their own natural smells. It was a gentle, planty fragrance, though there’s a small chance that you won’t like it if your nose is just that sensitive.
10. Orbis Cleansing Liquid Oil Cut
Worth Buying: An Oil-Free Formula that Feels like Oil
This didn’t contain any oil, but it felt as thick and slick as one. It gradually blends into makeup as you massage your face, smoothly lifting up impurities. While there was a bit of residue left over, even a few swipes proved to be effective on waterproof eyeliner and mascara.
And, like many other products on this list, it was unscented but you still got a whiff of the ingredients. Whether you love this product largely depends on your personal preferences re: texture and smell.
11. Creer Cleansing Water
Worth Buying: Leaves You Feeling Light and Refreshed. Works Fine on Everything but Waterproof Mascara
This had a light, silky texture. The packaging had warned us this would happen, but the cleanser didn’t work on waterproof mascara. However, everything else came off just fine. If you are a regular user of waterproof mascara, we’d just say you need to pair this with a dedicated eye makeup remover.
Skin felt a bit tight after cleansing. We’d recommend this if you like a lighter cleanser or if you have oily skin.
12. HADALABO Gokujyun Premium Micelle Cleansing
Worth Buying: Easy-to-Use Drugstore Cleanser That Moisturizes and Does Its Job
This cleanser was silky without being tacky. It was a bit thick, but that helped it blend smoothly into makeup, cleansing as it moisturized. The dispenser also worked well.
Overall, Gokujun’s micelle water had enough cleansing power for anything that wasn’t waterproof; it’d be a good choice if you’re looking for a decently-priced drugstore product that also offers skincare benefits.
|Japanese||肌ラボ 極潤プレミアム クレンジング||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
13. Chifure Cleansing Liquid
Worth Buying: Thinner Cleanser that Works like Magic on Anything That’s Not Waterproof Mascara
Texture was a bit thin, but it still left skin feeling moisturized after cleansing. Everything disappeared without a trace… with the exception of waterproof mascara. Again, you may need to pair this with an eye makeup remover.
It smelled a bit like alcohol. Your makeup habits, skin type, and personal preference will determine whether this product is a hit-or-miss.
|Japanese||ちふれ化粧品 クレンジング リキッド||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
14. softymo Honey Mild Cleansing Liquid
Worth Buying: If You Want a Gentle Cleanser. Low-Friction, Low-Irritation Formula
This is just one of softymo’s many cleansers. It was quite thick–more of a watery gel than a jelly water. That minimized friction during application, and it helped a lot that the formula was moisturizing as well.
The ingredients were judged to be unlikely to irritate even sensitive skin. Try the cleanser if you just want something mild.
|Japanese||ソフティモ クレンジングリキッド ハニーマイルド||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
|Eyelash Extensions||Conditional Yes||Cleansing||2.0|
15. Bifesta Cleansing Lotion Bright Up
Worth Buying: A Cleanser that Doesn’t Lack in Anything
This was formulated to cleanse your skin not only of makeup, but also dead skin cells and blackheads. It’s free of dyes, perfumes, mineral oils, alcohol, and parabens.
It performed better than average on all our tests. Texture wasn’t too thick, and the dispenser was easy to use. It’s just a good cleanser and a safe choice.
|Japanese||ビフェスタ クレンジングローション ブライトアップ||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
16. PureVivi Cleansing Lotion
Worth Buying: A Cheap Drugstore Brand with Intense Cleansing Power
This was light in texture, yet efficient when it came to cleansing. Just a few swipes was enough to eliminate everything but waterproof mascara (and even that faded quite a bit).
We struggled a bit with the cap and hydration wasn’t the most impressive, but if you want something cheap that works, then this cleanser’s good enough. It contained a lot of botanical extracts, which could help tone your skin–just make sure you don’t have any sensitivities.
17. Sing Organic Fermentation Cleansing Water
Caveat Emptor: Light and Refreshing, but Not Strong
This smelled sweetly and faintly of roses. Texture was thin and skin felt a bit taut after application, but the formula was actually quite moisturizing. That was pleasantly surprising, as a lot of lighter cleansers also tend to be dehydrating.
This also featured a lot of botanical extracts, so we recommend conducting a patch test first to make sure you aren’t sensitive to anything.
18. Takano Yuri Esthe Fact Cleansing Water
Doesn’t Quite Make the Cut: Hydrating but Not Effective as Cleanser
This cleanser was moisturizing. However, it wasn’t powerful enough for long-wearing products, and it smelled of alcohol (though the formula itself was unscented). The pump was also poorly designed, and product squirted out of it.
19. Bionista Cleansing Water
Doesn’t Quite Make the Cut: Moisturizing but Not User Friendly
This cleanser was thin and smooth in texture, but it still left skin plump and supple. However, the cap was too stiff and the lip too wide. It took time to work residue off our skin. Final verdict? This product may be more frustrating than it’s worth.
20. Dérizum Water Cleansing
Doesn’t Quite Make the Cut: Only for Those Who Wear Light Makeup
This flowed like water. It wasn’t scented, but it smelled like skincare. While the formula moisturized, it also left behind a sticky residue. Cleansing power was sub-par, though you may like the product if you 1) only wear light makeup and 2) want something hydrating.
|Japanese||デリズム モイストリッチ クレンジングウォーター||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
21. Bifesta Cleansing Lotion Moist
Doesn’t Quite Make the Cut: Includes Skincare Ingredients, but Isn’t Too Moisturizing or Effective
This cleanser featured ingredients that moisturize as they cleanse; the formula’s supposed to lift impurities off your skin as it softens and washes away dead skin cells. It was free of dyes, fragrances, mineral oils, alcohol, and parabens.
Thanks to the hyaluronic acid in the cleanser, skin felt a bit tacky upon application (it smoothed itself out later). However, hydration didn’t last for long. If you don’t wear heavy makeup, we guess you could still use this as a toner/makeup remover combo, as long as you follow up with a good moisturizer.
|Japanese||ビフェスタ クレンジングローション モイスト||Double-Cleansing||Unnecessary|
How We Tested Our Products
We determined that the best water cleansers needed to be powerful enough to remove makeup (even waterproof products), yet gentle enough to keep skin hydrated. They also needed to be compatible with your skin type, whether you be oily, dry, or sensitive.
This is how we tested for those factors.
Test ①: Cleansing Power
We applied makeup to our arms. We then dispensed the cleansers onto cotton swabs and gently massaged into our skin. We compared the state of our skin before and after cleansing and graded each product on a five-step 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.
- Waterproof Mascara
- Waterproof Eyeliner
- Lip Tint
- Liquid Foundation
We found that thicker cleansers that massaged well into skin were most efficient. On the other hand, you shouldn’t expect too much from products that are both thin in texture and don’t contain many surfactants.
Test ②: Hydration
We used a moisture analyzer to measure water levels in our skin before cleansing and five minutes after cleansing. We then compared the two values and graded all our cleansers on a five-step scale.
Again, thicker cleansers proved to be the most hydrating. They reinforced our skin’s natural barrier, which keeps moisture from escaping. However, many of these same products also contained oils, which could make them unsuitable for those with eyelash extensions.
Test ③: Ingredients
We asked a specialist who used to work in cosmetics R&D to analyze all the ingredients lists for us. She then graded each product on a five-step scale, with those she deemed to be safest for sensitive skin earning the highest scores.
※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.
We learned that (generally speaking) the simpler the ingredients list, the better for sensitive skin. Be wary of overly watery products, however, as even the friction that comes from the rubbing of cotton swabs could be irritating. Also be on the lookout for any essential oils or botanical extracts that might be triggers.
Tips on How to Choose Japanese Cleansing Water – Buying Guide
Here are three big things to look out for.
① Do You Need a Lot of Surfactant? Depends on What Makeup You Wear
More surfactant roughly equates to more cleansing power.
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 you’ve got yourself 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.
<Some Common Non-Ionic Surfactants>
- PEG-6 (カプリル/カプリン酸) グリセリル: PEG-6 (Caprylic/Capric) Glycerides
- ヤシ油脂肪酸PEG-7グリセリル: PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate
② What Other Ingredients Do I Look out for? Depends on Your Skincare Goals
Many water cleansers act not only as makeup removers but also as toners. That’s why you’ll find a lot of formulas that include skin-healthy ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides.
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 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.
<Common Moisturizing Ingredients for Dry Skin>
- ヒアルロン酸: Hyaluronic Acid
- BG: Butylene Glycol
- グリセリン: Glycerin
- コラーゲン: Collagen
- セラミド: Ceramides
<Common Exfoliants for Clogged Pores and Dullness>
- AHA (乳酸・リンゴ酸) : AHA (Lactic Acid, Malic Acid)
- パパイン酵素: Papain Enzyme
- ビタミンC誘導体: Vitamin C Derivatives
③ Is There Anything I Need to Avoid? Depends on Your Skin Type
Make sure nothing’s going to be too harsh for your skin. There are cleansers with fragrances or ones that contain a whole bunch of botanic extracts. While these ingredients aren’t intrinsically bad, know that formulas that feature multiple botanic extracts can sometimes be irritating when applied to sensitive skin.
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.
For Those That Don’t Already Know: What is Cleansing Water?
If you’ve never used cleansing water before, here are a few things you should know.
It’s a Makeup Remover, but with More Features
Cleansing water is a type of cleanser that’s usually watery in texture (go figure) and often comes in a plastic or glass bottle. You apply them as you would apply toner, by wetting a cotton swab and using that to wipe off your makeup.
There are five main types of cleansers in Japan; oil’s said to be the strongest, followed by liquid, gel, cream, then milk. Cleansing water is a subset of liquid cleansers. Many (but not all) are free of oils, which makes them safe for eyelash extensions.
Nowadays, 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.
Are Surfactants Safe?
Water cleansers aren’t all water; they wouldn’t work if they were. Most rely on surfactants to provide cleansing power.
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.
How to Use Cleansing Water and Be Kind to Your Skin
You’re stuck with the skin you’ve got, so treat it well.
Switch out Your Cotton Pad when You Switch to a New Part of Your Face
Remove the makeup around your left eye. Flip the cotton pad over and use the clean side to remove the makeup around your right eye. Then reach for a new cotton pad.
It seems 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.
Use Q-Tips for Any Stubborn Bits
Cotton pads and a good cleanser can rid your lids of heavy makeup in a matter of seconds–or most of it. For your lash line, we recommend using a Q-Tip.
Wet the cotton tips with your cleanser, then wipe off any makeup along your lash line by rotating it like a pig on a spit. This will keep you from swiping the same dirty surface back and forth across your skin.
Wipe off Any Sticky Residue
Generally speaking, water cleansers don’t need to be followed by face wash. But if you’re worried about any surfactants that may be left over or you just don’t like the feel of residue on your skin, then feel free to rinse off with warm water. Or you could use toner to wipe off your face.
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.
Finish up the Rest of Your J-Beauty Skincare Routine with These Products
Cleansing’s 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.
We rounded up members from our editing department, purchased the 21 most popular Japanese cleansing waters, and tested them all.
Water cleansers can be powerful or mild, thick or thin, double as exfoliants, toners, or face wash. Take some time to figure out where your priorities lie, and you’re sure to find a cleanser that doesn’t disappoint.
Original by Rio Sasaki; Translation by Jasmine Li
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