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The Sad Truth About Makeup Wipes

Makeup wipes, cleansing cloths, moist towelettes and more – how they affect your skin and the environment

Written by: 100% PURE ®
main_woman using makeup wipes

The makeup wipe: what started as a quick fix has since graduated into one of the most adored skin care products in our collection. It’s our convenient camping companion, our impossibly easy late night rescue when double cleansing is downright daunting.

But when it comes down to skin health, are these all-in-one wipes all they’re cracked up to be? Makeup wipes are more like a one-hit-wonder: easy to like, but not much more to offer. They don’t fully cleanse your skin, and they’re not on good terms with the environment.

It’s time to wipe the slate clean and reveal how makeup wipes really affect the skin. If you’re dedicated to that makeup wipe life, we’ll share some jaw-dropping facts: like how long it takes a makeup wipe to decompose (you’ll be floored)! We’ll also reveal some truly clean, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly options so that you can make a responsible choice in the makeup aisle.

The Trouble with Makeup Wipes

Makeup wipes are pre-moistened towelettes that are lightweight, versatile, and travel friendly – and ever so convenient! But wipe it or not, most conventional makeup wipes aren’t good for your skin or the environment.

The problem with most makeup is that they don’t effectively cleanse skin or properly remove makeup. Many wipes actually just push dirt and makeup around your face, without fully lifting or rinsing them away. The chemicals used to preserve wipes can also irritate your skin – and that goes for fragrances, too.

The environment is not a big fan of cleansing wipes, since most makeup wipes aren’t recyclable or compostable. The average makeup wipe takes a staggering 100 years to decompose. While it’s tempting to swipe off makeup then toss them away without a second thought, that waste adds up quickly.

With reports suggesting that millions of pounds of makeup wipes are being trashed or flushed, it’s easy to see why this single makeup staple is rapidly wreaking havoc on the planet.

Used makeup wipe
Why Most Makeup Wipes Aren’t Good for Your Skin

While makeup wipes may seem like the holy grail of makeup removal, they may also be the culprit of breakouts, irritation, and allergic reactions.

Most makeup wipes are either made from or contain non-biodegradable plastic and synthetic fibers such as polyester, polypropylene, or rayon.

The types of ingredients used in makeup wipes can be unfriendly to your skin. Most of them contain fragrances, chemical preservatives, alcohol, and surfactants that will not be rinsed away when you're done. This can not only be drying for your skin, but the rubbing action and pressure itself to remove makeup can irritate your skin.

Makeup wipes and the environment
From a sustainability standpoint, these fibers can also contaminate oceans and water sources since they are unable to naturally biodegrade. In addition to the material used for the wipe itself, the ingredients in some makeup wipes can also bioaccumulate in our environment.

Compostable/ biodegradable wipes are an amazing start, but remember one very important fact: the type of products you're removing play an equally important role. Certain cosmetic ingredients like silicones, plastics, and heavy metals can bioaccumulate in the environment and won't break down, even if your makeup wipes do. Plant-based makeup and skin care products are the true starting point for reducing your beauty footprint.

Do Makeup Wipes Really Clean Your Skin?

You can see the makeup on the wipe, you can feel the sudsing action – but are facial wipes actually cleaning your face? With makeup wipes, you’re skipping that essential “rinse” step, so dirt and grime are left behind.

There is no rinsing away with a wipe. While they can swipe away a lot of makeup and debris, they also move and redistribute it around your face. They cannot completely remove everything, as a traditional water-based cleanse would do.

Fragrances and other preservative ingredients from your wipes will also be left to sit on the skin overnight. This could be a major precursor for clogged pores and breakouts!

Now enter textured facial wipes: the idea seems effective, but they don’t do a great job of sufficiently cleansing the skin. They can only reach so far into pores to remove dirt and bacteria – even with their added texture. So if you’re really worried about your pores, use a powder cleanser or konjac sponge to remove deep-set debris.

Should I stop using makeup wipes?
At the end of the day, we don’t think makeup wipes should be the end-all-be-all in your cleansing routine. Much like hand sanitizing in place of hand washing, makeup wipes should be reserved for situations where using a face wash isn’t an option (camping, gym, etc). Or, you can use them supplementally to remove stubborn makeup before washing your face.

The Best Eco-Friendly Makeup Wipes

There are some brands that do makeup wipes right. Here are five great eco-friendly makeup wipes that get the job done, while being gentler on the environment and your skin!

Simple Compostable Cleansing Wipes
There are several reasons why Simple Compostable Cleansing Wipes won a 2020 Allure Readers’ Choice Award for Innovative Beauty. They’re as kind to your skin as they are to the environment, with no artificial colors or perfumes, harsh chemicals, or preservatives.

Made from soft, renewable plant fibers and sustainable wood pulp, Simple makeup wipes gently cleanse skin but are tough on stubborn makeup – all while lessening wipe waste on the planet. When composted, one of these wipes will biodegrade in just 42 days! In case you forgot: the average wipe will hang around for 100 years, so that’s quite an improvement.

Burt's Bees Sensitive Facial Cleansing Towelettes
These cleansing towelettes remove dirt, oil, and makeup without harsh detergents while toning and softening your skin. Formulated with cotton, white tea, and rice extracts plus cooling cucumber and aloe, these 98.5% natural cleansing cloths soften and soothe skin.

Specially crafted for sensitive skin, Burt’s Bees makeup wipes are fragrance free, hypoallergenic, vegan, and cruelty-free. Gentle enough to use daily, these towelettes were also allergy tested and awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance. We think this makes them one of the best makeup wipes for sensitive skin!

Acure Brightening Coconut Towelettes
These towelettes are designed to give you a gorgeous on-the-go glow. They gently remove makeup, dirt, sweat, and environmental toxins while being biodegradable to boot.

Formulated with plant extracts and antioxidants to improve skin appearance, these towelettes help minimize uneven skin tone while enhancing radiance. These coconut-infused wipes give your face a solid cleanse without toxic ingredients, preservatives, or drying alcohols.

Kaia Naturals: The Vitamin Cleanse
Vitamins are just one of the perks of Kaia Naturals Bamboo Facial Cleansing Cloths. Drenched in nourishing honey and clinical grade essential oils, these pH balanced wipes are designed to deeply nourish the skin. They’re made with 100% bamboo fiber and feel cashmere-soft, yet are tough enough to remove dirt and makeup from skin’s surface.

These natural cleansing wipes are totally biodegradable and compostable; after use, compost the cloth and watch it biodegrade within 90 days! Always clean, cruelty-free, and void of synthetic fragrance, Kaia Naturals makeup wipes are an eco-friendly alternative to conventional competitors.

Shea Moisture African Black Soap Clarifying Facial Wipes
These cruelty-free and biodegradable makeup wipes are catered to oily or acne-prone skin. They’re formulated to remove makeup, dirt, and impurities in one simple swipe. These naturally-infused towelettes require no rinsing, as they contain none of the drying alcohols found in common treatments for oily or acne-prone skin.

African Black Soap is a unique ingredient made from the bioavailable ash from African plants – in this case, from cocoa pod ash. Combined with tea tree oil, these two balance oily skin for a clear, purified complexion. Calendula oil calms redness and inflammation so that skin is left feeling balanced and refreshed.

Makeup wipes might be a quick fix for removing dirt and impurities, but it takes them a much longer time to break down in our environment. At the end of the day, we still think that water and face wash should be the gold sink standard for thoroughly removing makeup for a clean, clear complexion.

We carefully hand-select products based on strict purity standards, and only recommend products we feel meet this criteria. 100% PURE™ may earn a small commission for products purchased through affiliate links.

The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.

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