Makeup Wipes are Sabotaging the Hell Out of Your Skin / by Kate Palisay

It’s the fundamental rule of beauty and skincare that everyone learns from their mother at a young age: If you want good skin, always wash your face before bed.

Supposedly, it’s that simple. Or, depending on what kind of person you are, that hard.

By college, we mostly learned to embrace it. After a few too many hungover mornings waking up with eyelashes stuck together and a foundation-smeared pillowcase, we got the picture. A pack of makeup removing towelettes became as essential as Gatorade and ibuprofen, and was always kept within a drunken arm’s reach of the bed we passed out in every night.

Makeup wipes: AKA how to get all of the benefits with virtually none of the effort. Right?

Unfortunately, not quite.

I personally never believed that a wipe could replace actual cleansing at the end of the day. Instead, I used them to scrub off makeup before washing my face. According to another piece of universal beauty knowledge, soap alone isn’t enough, especially when it comes to waterproof products.

Except it turns out that makeup wipes are pretty much garbage at actually removing anything from your skin, period. Even after wiping and cleansing, I was still turning my white towels beige as I dried off my face.

And according to a recent Refinery29 article that I came across while writing this post, my suspicions were correct. “Cleansing” cloths mostly just spread around makeup, dirt, and whatever other crap has found its way onto your skin

If you rinse your face after using a wipe, you’re at least slightly better off. But even then, you’re not escaping the harsh (and kinda scary) ingredients that most towelettes contain. And that brings me right into my next argument for why makeup wipes are sabotaging the hell out of your skin.

For whatever reason, Neutrogena’s Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes are more popular with overly trusting consumers than cheaply done tramp stamps are with drunk 18-year olds getting their first tattoo on Prom Weekend. And if you’re still using them, I’m going to need you to stop reading this article, go get those wipes, and immediately throw them in the trash. I want to tell you to then set them on fire, but considering the nature of some of their ingredients, I have a feeling that won’t end well. And I can’t be liable for that kind of science experiment, nor do I encourage arson.

You can see these ingredients for yourself on Neutrogena's website, though apparently they can't guarantee their own site's accuracy.


If you know how to pronounce any of the ingredients listed between "water" and "fragrance," I'll assume that you're a chemist.

A number of these ingredients are known skin irritants/allergens, including PEG 4 Laurate and Phenoxyethanol, both of which the Environmental Working Group considers moderate hazards. Oh, and Cyclopentasiloxane is likely toxic.

The so-called "natural" options are really no better, which I learned for myself from using Burt's Bees' Facial Cleansing Towelettes. I found that my skin would feel irritated and even like it was burning after using these wipes, and my face often looked red and splotchy. For comparison, the ingredient list of the BB cloths looks like this:


Despite consisting of slightly more familiar ingredients, the Burt's Bees wipes actually received the same rating from the EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database as the Neutrogena wipes did. They both are rated 4, which is considered a Moderate Hazard. And there's one key ingredient that is the same in both products: Fragrance.

If you've ever read the ingredient list on the back of virtually any beauty product, you've probably asked yourself, "WTF even is fragrance!??"

The nomenclature is intentionally vague, unlike the rest of the ingredients you'll find on labels, which adhere to strict, universal naming rules. I recommend checking out this article from Well + Good to get the full low-down. Basically, "fragrance" is a combination of any number of 5,000 different fragrance molecules. And there's a good chance that at least one of those is irritating your skin. In fact, the EWG rates the hazard of fragrance as high, at level 8.

So, what are the alternatives to these pieces of trash being sold for $7 a pack? It mostly comes down to either micellar water or a cleansing oil, the latter being my preferred method for removing the day's dirt and grime. I've really enjoyed AmorePacific's Treatment Cleansing Oil and One Love Organics' Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil + Makeup Remover. 

But not everyone likes the slick feeling of oil as they cleanse, which is where micellar water comes in. When you start to look more closely at labels, you'll find that even Simple Skincare's increasingly popular Micellar Cleansing Water contains DMDM Hydantoin, an antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser used as a preservative that carries a level 7 rating from the EWG, which is considered a high hazard. Still, it's better than drying makeup wipes. My personal favorite is Bioderma Créline H2O.

I know how badly you really just want to be lazy. And I know that the beauty industry catering to "lazy girls" like you is pretty much the stuff of your dreams (which you have a lot of, because you love naps). I get it, I do. But you were smarter than your friends who got those really, painfully awful tramp stamps (and the infections to match). It's time to be smart again, this time not for the sake of the skin on your lower back, but for the skin on your face. Because there's no hiding that.