Are makeup wipes actually bad for your skin?

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Janell Hickman is In The Know’s beauty contributor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more.

I don’t know about you, but in the past few months (especially now that I work from home) wearing makeup has fallen very low on my priority list. But, when my days feel hectic, occasionally I find myself reaching for a makeup wipe instead of going through my full cleansing routine. Lazy? Perhaps. Effective? Debatable. 

I had to know — are makeup wipes actually bad for your skin or are they an important step in the cleansing process? I tackled the confusing topic with founder of Dermasaa and skin therapist at Brooklyn Face and Eye, Samantha Mims, hoping to settle this argument once and for all.

Do I still need to wash my face?

Despite my reliance on makeup wipes, they should only be a small part of your skincare equation. Essentially, makeup wipes are only responsible for removing visible products from the skin — nothing more, nothing less. 

“I’d always suggest following up with a good cleanse using a separate face wash,” Mims says. “Cosmetic wipes tend to leave a residue on the skin that can contribute to breakouts. If you’re someone with sensitive or oily skin, this may affect you.”

If you don’t happen to have wipes handy, Mims favors using an oil cleanser or micellar water as a substitution. “It’s gentler at breaking down makeup for an easier removal,” she says.

Wait, are makeup wipes wasteful?

This is a valid question — and one that is part of a larger conversation about the environmental impact of the beauty industry as a whole. Partly, yes, disposable wipes can be deemed as “wasteful.” But single-use items (especially in the midst of a pandemic) do offer some solid hygiene benefits. 

When possible, consider a few other alternatives to effectively removing your makeup like double-cleansing or oil-cleansing. If single-use is still your jam, there are biodegradable and reusable options on the market.

Are there any ingredients I should steer clear of?

Unfortunately, one of the most common ingredients in cosmetic wipes is sodium lauryl sulfate, a surfactant which is often used in household cleaning agents.

“It’s an irritant that strips the skin and can trigger the skin to respond negatively,” Mims says of sodium lauryl sulfate. “There’s also a list of preservatives that pre-moistened wipes contain to keep from forming bacteria, which can also cause irritation.”

Sensitive skin types, in particular, should also look out for fragrance. “It’s the one ingredient you should stay away from if shopping for cosmetic wipes — it can be the rooting causes of breakouts,” Mims says.

When can I use makeup wipes?

Makeup wipes are pretty exceptional for on-the-go use. If you’re having a long day (hello, marathon Zoom calls!) and need to refresh your skin, that’s where wipes should come into play.  

“The most you should expect from makeup wipes is for [them] to help with removing light applications of makeup,” Mims says. “You should always follow up with a separate cleanser to remove any additional product from the skin.” 

OK, so now that that’s settled, here are a few of my favorite makeup wipes on the market.

Shop: Lauren Napier Flaunt Brightening Wipes, $46

Credit: Lauren Napier Beauty

These facial wipes won’t just remove makeup — they’ll leave your skin looking glow-y AF, too. With ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin K and guava, you can use these wipes to brighten your complexion and reduce the look of dark spots. 

Shop: Billie Wonder Wipes, $9

Credit: Billie

The best part about these wipes? They’re biodegradable, so your skin can enjoy the benefits of makeup remover, hydrating hyaluronic acid and brightening vitamin C without feeling environmental guilt. 

Shop: Athena Club Soft Face Wipes, $11

Credit: Athena Club

These face wipes are so soft, I promise you won’t feel any irritation or skin-tugging when you’re trying to remove makeup. They’re also infused with vitamins B5, B3 and E for hydrated, supple-looking skin. 

Shop: Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes, $24

Credit: Ursa Major

These individually-wrapped face wipes are perfect for on-the-go — like when you need to do a quick, under-your-face-mask cleanse! With ingredients like aloe, sap and willow bark, these wipes are super soothing and are suitable for most skin types. 

Shop: Garnier Eco Micellar Water Cleansing Pads, $8.99

Credit: Ulta Beauty

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of face wipes, you’re going to love these micellar water-infused, reusable pads by Garnier. All you have to do is add water to stimulate these washable pads’ makeup-removing agents. 

Shop: Julep Exfoliating Cleansing Cloths, $20

Credit: Amazon

Remove makeup and exfoliate your skin at the same time with these cleansing cloths by Julep. The wipes are slightly textured, which means that they help exfoliate the skin while also leaving you with a radiant complexion post-use, thanks to the addition of rosehip oil.

If you enjoyed this story, check out this one-step beauty hack that will help revive your dried out mascara.

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