Why You Should Stop Using Makeup Remover Wipes ASAP

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

Three white disposable makeup remover wipes with red lipstick stains on a pink background
Photo: Getty Images

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, rinsing, and wiping. That's why so many people love the convenience of disposable makeup remover wipes—no soap or water required. The problem is that these single-use wipes are horrible for the environment.

"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 individually wrapped in plastic, doubling the waste. Of course, that's just what's in our landfills; many people flush 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 explains. "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.

This 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, [and] rayon," says Fabian Lliguin, co-founder 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 (known to be endocrine disruptors) and other ingredients, like fragrances, that can irritate the skin. In addition to being harmful to your health, the accumulation of these ingredients builds up in the water systems and landfills and can create environmental damage.

Makeup Wipe Alternatives

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; find ones that are truly compostable or proven to be environmentally friendly, and 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, co-founder of clean makeup brand Vapour. Alternatively, you can purchase makeup remover wipes alternatives like these zero-waste, reusable, washable cotton pads. We admit that you might not be saving as much time, but you'll definitely be helping the environment.

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