At the end of a long day out, makeup is one of the last things you want to deal with. It's an essential part of your daily routine, and while a lot of modern makeups are relatively safe for your skin, that only applies to their normal usage. You're still supposed to remove them at the end of the day before you go to bed. If nothing else, you don't want all that makeup rubbing off on your pillows, do you?
Thanks to the convenience of modern science, there is all manner of possible solutions to the problem. One of the most common is the simple, humble makeup remover wipe.
There's just one problem: what's in those wipes? They're very good at removing makeup, but why? Is there some caustic chemical in them that makes them harsh on the skin? Are you actually doing more harm than good by using one of those wipes instead of the messier, longer process of removing makeup the more natural way?
Let's dig in.
What's in Wipes?
The good news is, there's actually very little difference between makeup remover and makeup remover wipes. All makeup removers use surfactants (soaps, generally) to dissolve, break down, and remove stuff on your skin, including makeup, dirt, and oils.
Now, there's generally nothing wrong with a little surfactant in your life. You use cleansers and soaps to clean your body all the time. You use them to wash your hands to protect yourself from environmental contamination. Why not use them on your face?
There are a couple of reasons here. The first is that your face is your presentation to the world. People won't notice a small blemish on your side or on your hands, but they'll notice it much more readily on your face. That alone is enough to turn many people away from using a makeup remover, or at least a synthetic makeup remover.
The other reason is that your face is generally more sensitive to chemicals than other parts of your body. The skin of your face has a lot of motion inherent in it, with all the muscles below it. There are also openings in your flesh there; your nose, your eyes, your mouth, they can all get irritated by chemicals you apply to your face.
One option many people choose is to simply not use a synthetic makeup remover at all. We've written a guide specifically for you if that's your opinion: 15 natural makeup removers.
Why Wipes Might Be Bad
We're not going to argue that makeup remover wipes don't have drawbacks. They do, and we'd like to actually expound upon what they are. The truth is, you see, makeup remover wipes can be used safely and effectively, if you understand the concerns and why they are concerning.
Some makeup remover wipes have dangerous chemicals in them. Now, usually, this kind of claim is overblown. There are a lot of people who have absolutely zero understanding of how chemistry works, assuming that anything with a 50-character name is obviously going to be dangerous. For example, if we told you that some of the food you eat is high in levels of "(5R)-[(1S)-1,2-Dihydroxyethyl]-3,4-Dihydroxyfuran-2(5H)-one", you might get worried. After all, that's a scary-looking name for something, right? Well, sure, but it's also just the chemical name for Vitamin C.
One of the common issues you see is formaldehyde. Yes, formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical, but it's also present in a lot of other chemicals as a preservative, in doses far too small for your body to even notice. In fact, your body produces formaldehyde naturally as a byproduct of certain parts of your metabolism. It's impossible to not have formaldehyde in your body.
So, when you see a news article like this one that warns you of the dangers of CVS-branded makeup remover wipes because one of the chemicals in them breaks down into formaldehyde, keep in mind that there may be sources out there that exaggerate the reality of things.
Now, all of that said, there ARE dangerous chemicals in makeup remover wipes, sometimes. Those chemicals are potent enough to dissolve the bonds between molecules that make up makeup, and if they're used in sufficient quantities, they can damage the skin. That said, for simply using makeup remover to wipe down your face? You're probably safe enough. You'll just want to follow our advice elsewhere in this article.
And, you know? There's nothing wrong with using an organic alternative. If you want to use aloe or oil or another natural surfactant instead of a synthetic soap to wash off your skin, that's just fine as well. Just remember; just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe. Poison Ivy is natural, and you don't want to rub it all over your face, right?
Makeup remover is often harsh on the skin. As mentioned, some of the chemicals used in makeup removers can damage the skin. Generally, what you're going to see is dryness, with some possible irritation and redness. This sort of inflammation can be dangerous in the long term, and unsightly in the short term. What you're not going to see is melting flesh, chemical burns, or hives, unless you have a horrible allergic reaction to the chemicals in the makeup remover, or you just dunk your face in a vat of surfactant and leave it there. You know, wildly implausible scenarios.
Makeup remover residue needs to be removed. So, if the chemicals in a makeup remover wipe can be harsh if they're left on the skin, what should you do? Remove the residue! It's pretty simple, in retrospect, huh?
You use hand sanitizer when you're out and about, but when you get home, you still wash your hands, right? It's the same deal. Use a makeup remover wipe when you need to, like when you need to remove makeup but don't have access to the facilities, tools, and cosmetics you normally do. There's no real harm in using it when you have to.
Then, when you're done, rinse it off! The lingering chemicals aren't, like, attached to your skin or anything. You can just wash them off with some water, maybe a hint of soap, and a moisturizer to replace the oils they strip away. It's easy enough, simple, and effective.
Makeup remover wipes can be abrasive. Perhaps the more pressing concern, especially for those who have sensitive skin, is that makeup remover wipes aren't always very soft. These things aren't made of silk, you know.
Now, to a certain extent, they need to be mildly abrasive. That's how they wipe away the makeup residue, after all. The chemicals dissolve it, but the wipe still needs to wipe it away.
Some wipes are made of micro-plastics or scratchy, abrasive fabrics. They might not feel like it, but they might be lightly scratching or abrading your skin as you use them. Again, used once, this isn't really a problem. Used consistently, and you're more likely to experience issues.
Keep in mind that this applies to just about everything you might be using on your face. Cotton balls aren't even necessarily cotton, did you know that? They might be micro-plastic. Even if they are pure cotton, tiny threads of cotton can get stuck and work their way into your eyes or just make you itch later. It's no surprise that many people turn to softer and more comfortable options to remove makeup.
There's also the environmental impact of plastics and cotton balls. They don't necessarily biodegrade, and they can't be easily recycled, so you're just left throwing all these things into a landfill. Some people don't care – after all, what is one individual's environmental impact compared to that of a megacorporation? – but some people do, and if you're one of those people, it's definitely worth paying attention to.
Makeup remover wipes don't restore the skin afterward. This is the real most damning thing working against makeup remover wipes. They're single-use items with a single task. They remove makeup. They're good at what they do, and they do it well, but that's all they do.
As anyone who has been in the cosmetics game can tell you, there's more to skincare than cleansing. When you remove makeup, you need to cleanse the skin beneath, to remove residue and clogged pores. That leaves your skin vulnerable, so you need to apply a moisturizer and protective layer, possibly something with SPF protection.
You might also want to take the evening opportunity to do a face mask as well. There are tons of different actions you can take with skincare, and they all involve a lot more than just a simple chemical wipe.
They're expensive. How much does it cost you to buy a simple cloth and a bottle of makeup remover? Now, how much does it cost you to buy a whole box of makeup remover wipes? The costs may be pretty similar, but remember that the wipes are one-use items. You can't re-use a wipe. You're going to spend more and more money on wipes over time.
How to Use Wipes Responsibly
So now that you know the whole story, more or less, what are you going to do about it? Well, you have a lot of options.
First up, you can simply choose not to use wipes. There are alternative ways to remove makeup, and while they're less convenient to use when traveling, they're still available. Makeup remover doesn't have to be packaged in a one-use packet to be convenient, either; you can make up your own wipes as well.
Another option is to pick up a less chemical-packed option, like these organic makeup remover wipes. They get rid of the harsh chemicals in favor of more organic aloe vera to help remove makeup and moisturize the skin. They're soft, pliable, and they're not made with synthetic surfactants.
After you remove your makeup, however you choose to do it, you should follow up with a dedicated skincare routine. Here's what we recommend.
- Use your makeup remover to remove makeup from your face. Remember that in some cases if you use wipes, they might not be removing all of your makeup. You'll want to be extra thorough, and you may need to use more than one wipe if you have heavy makeup on.
- Rinse your face. Simple warm water will usually do the trick, but you may want to make sure you've gotten all of the makeup off. Being thorough here, and maybe using a bit of light soap or cleanser, will help make sure you've gotten everything off of your face, including makeup and oil.
- Use any optional cosmetic treatments, including masks and peels, that you prefer. A light exfoliant might not be a bad idea to use occasionally, but it shouldn't be part of your daily routine.
- Once your skin is prepped, use a moisturizer. Since you're generally removing makeup in the evening, a moisturizer meant to restore your skin throughout the evening is a good choice.
Of course, there are thousands upon thousands of skincare products out there, and everyone has different kinds of skin. You might find that you need to add extra steps to your skincare regimen in the evening, or that you don't need to use a moisturizer every night, who knows. You'll need to experiment and adapt to different products, different procedures, and different reactions your skin has to them.
At the end of the day, yes, makeup remover wipes have chemicals in them. Then again, so does everything else. Everything is chemicals, after all. It's just a matter of how much those chemicals react with your skin. Skin is a solid barrier and is generally quite good at keeping things from reaching the sensitive flesh beneath, but skin doesn't care for its appearance when doing so. That's all you, friends.
Are you worried about makeup remover wipes? If so, why? Is it the waste, the chemicals, or the abrasiveness? Is it something else? Let us know below.