They may be convenient, but disposable wipes wreak serious havoc on our environment.

By Jennifer Benjamin
Updated: June 26, 2019
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At the end of a long day, removing your makeup—possibly with the best eye makeup remover—can feel like a chore, made worse by the seemingly endless process of washing and rinsing and wiping. That’s why so many people love the convenience of disposable makeup remover wipes—no soap and water required.

The problem is that these one-use pads are horrible for the environment, so bad that if you care at all about Mother Earth, you’ll want to ditch them right now.

“The biggest environmental problem with makeup remover wipes is the sheer volume,” says Diana Felton MD, state toxicologist with the Hawaii Department of Health. “One group estimates that 20 million pounds of single-use wipes (including baby wipes and disinfecting wipes) are disposed of every day in the U.S. Many wipes are disposed of in landfills, and despite claims to the contrary, most are not biodegradable and do not rapidly break down, creating too much trash to fit in our landfills.”

What’s worse is that some are actually individually wrapped in plastic, doubling the waste.

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Of course, that’s just what’s in our landfills; many people end up flushing wipes, which is devastating to the sewer systems, even if they claim to be “flushable” sheets.

“Cities, sewage providers, and wastewater treatment plants are suffering massive sewer blockages caused by collections of flushed wipes,” Felton says. “Termed ‘fatbergs,’ the wipes collect and combine with fat particles, causing sewage back-ups and spills that are not only gross, but expose humans and wildlife to unhealthy bacteria.” She adds that many wipes can’t be removed during wastewater treatment and end up in our oceans and beaches.

Which brings up another issue: The plastics used in the wipes can leech into our oceans and water sources, creating an ecological hazard. “The most popular makeup remover wipes are either made from or contain non-biodegradable plastic fibers such as polyester, polypropylene, rayon, etc.,” says Fabian Lliguin, cofounder of the environmentally-friendly beauty brand Rahua. “These fibers contaminate the environment, especially when they’re being flushed into our water systems.”

Plus, Felton points out that these wipes contain chemicals such as phthalates, triclosan, and parabens, which are known to be endocrine disruptors, plus other ingredients like fragrances that can irritate the skin. In addition to being harmful to your own personal health, the accumulation of these ingredients builds up in the water systems and landfills and can create environmental damage, as well.

So what should you do?

Well, obviously, the first step is to stop buying and using disposable makeup remover wipes. If you simply can’t give up the convenience, Felton recommends doing your research and finding ones that are truly compostable or proven to be environmentally friendly and to never flush them. Still, the best solution is to skip wipes (including cleaning wipes) altogether.

“Use a simple, environmentally friendly washcloth, or an organic cotton fiber cloth to clean your face, along with a pure, organic cleanser and makeup remover,” says Kristine Keheley, cofounder of clean makeup brand Vapour. Vapour’s Clarity Organic Makeup Remover is organic, non-toxic, and vegan, made from gentle botanicals that won’t strip the skin. You can even purchase a pack of reusable, washable cotton pads that you wet with water and use with your cleanser or makeup remover to scrub away your foundation and mascara. (That’s a zero waste alternative if we’ve ever heard of one.)

We admit, you might not be saving as much time, but you’ll definitely be saving the environment.

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