Not many people think twice before they run a makeup remover wipe over their face at the end of the day. And while the wipes may be convenient after a long night out, are you willing to trade that convenience for skin and other health conditions later down the road?
Now, before you answer yes to that question, you might be asking – but why does it matter? Why does it matter what we put on our skin and what does it have anything to do with our long-term health?
Your Skin and Your Health
Your skin, if you don’t already know, is one of the largest organs in the human body. Adults carry over 8 pounds and 22 square feet of it (1)!
Our skin acts as a waterproof, insulating shield that helps our body manufacture vitamin D for converting calcium into healthy bones. Skin also acts as a massive sensory module packed with nerves to help our brain understand what is happening around us.
And while our skin helps protect the body, it is also incredibly porous, meaning that chemicals you put on your skin have the chance of being absorbed into your bloodstream.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked into the skin’s absorption rates of chemicals found in drinking water. They found that skin absorbed an average of 64% of total contaminant dosage (2). Other studies found the face to be several times more permeable than broad-body surfaces and an absorption rate of 100% for underarms and genitalia (3).
And while different chemicals have different absorption rates, the combinations of chemicals used in beauty care products can make some ingredients more absorbable (when they aren’t meant to be).
For example, ethanol (alcohol), is a common additive in skin care products that actually increases the absorption rates of other chemicals. Alcohol breaks down the skin’s natural barriers, and actually pulls apart chemicals into their individual constituents, so that they are small enough to absorb into the bloodstream (4).
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ingredients found in popular makeup remover wipes.
Ingredients in Makeup Remover Wipes
I’d like to introduce to you a list of ingredients in a few brands of makeup remover wipes, so you can get an idea of what’s going on your skin, and entering your bloodstream.
Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes
Water, cetyl ethylhexanoate, isostearyl palmitate, pentaerythrityl tetraethylhexanoate, isononyl isononanoate, cyclopentasiloxane, hexylene glycol, PEG-4 laurate, PEG-6 caprylic/capric glycerides, sucrose cocoate, carbomer, sodium hydroxide, benzoic acid, dehydroacetic acid, phenoxyethanol, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, fragrance (EU 1279).
Garnier Start Afresh Refreshing Make-up Remover Wipes
Aqua / water, glycerin, ammonium polyacryldimethyltauramide / ammonium polyacryloyldimethyl taurate, benzylalcohol, benzyl salicylate, butylphenyl methylpropional, cetyl alcohol, citric acid, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, disodium edta, glyceryl stearate, isopropylpalmitate, linalool, myrtrimonium bromide, peg-100 stearate, phenoxyethanol, prunus amygdalus dulcis oil / sweet almond oil, sodium benzoate, tocopherol, vitis vinifera extract / grape fruit water, xanthan gum, parfum / fragrance. (fil. b162635/2).
Cetaphil Gentle Makeup Removing Wipes
Water, isohexadecane, dicaprylyl ether, octyldodecyl stearoyl stearate, hexylene glycol, aloe barbadensis leaf juice (aloe vera), cucumis sativus (cucumber) fruit extract, chamomilla recutita matricaria flower extract (chamomile), camellia sinensis leaf extract (green tea), tocopheryl acetate (vitamin e), centaurea cyanus flower extract, glycerin, ethylhexyl hydroxystearate, lauryl glucoside, polyglyceryl-2 dipolyhydroxystearate, aminomethyl propanol, phenoxyethanol, sorbitan laurate, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, disodium edta, ethylene brassylate, citric acid, propylene glycol.
Aveeno Positively Radiant Makeup Removing Wipes
Water, isononyl isononanoate, pentaerythrityl tetraethylhexanoate, cetyl ethylhexanoate, isostearyl palmitate, cyclopentasiloxane, hexylene glycol, peg-6 caprylic/capric glycerides, phenoxyethanol, fragrance, sucrose cocoate, acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, sodium hydroxide, peg-4 laurate, benzoic acid, butylene glycol, dehydroacetic acid, ethylhexylglycerin, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, polyaminopropyl biguanide, glycine soja (soybean), protein.
Water, cyclomethicone, isohexadecane, hexlene glycol, isopropyl palmitate, methyl glucose sesquistearate bio-compatible, arginine, disodium EDTA, fragrance, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, isopropylparaben, pobutylparaben, butylparaben, sorbic acid.
Sephora Rose Cleansing Wipes
Water, caprylic/capric triglyceride, glycerin, peg-40 hydrogenated castor oil, phenoxyethanol, benzyl alcohol, ethylhexylglycerin, fragrance, rosa damascena flower water, sodium lauroyl lactylate, glyceryl stearate, lauryl glucoside, panthenol, cetearyl alcohol, sodium stearoyl lactylate, citric acid, sodium benzoate, tocopherol, potassium sorbate.
The active ingredients in these makeup remover wipes include things like surfactants, which dissolve makeup, as well as solubilizers and emulsifiers that help lift makeup, oil and dead skin. But without actual water to rinse these ingredients off your face, you’re leaving behind not only a mixture of makeup grime and dead skin cells on your face, but a pile of chemicals that sit on your face until you wash it next.
The chemicals that are left behind on your face have potential to absorb into your bloodstream, all while drying out the skin and potentially irritating it. A good percentage of wipes also contain alcohol, which can cause stinging, and as mentioned before, increase the chance that these chemicals will make it through your skin, and into your blood stream.
Makeup remover wipes are also designed to last a long time, which requires added preservatives to increase shelf life. That means you’re exposing yourself to formaldehyde-releasing chemicals (like 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, found in your standard makeup wipe sold at CVS), which are commonly used as preservatives. And just so you know, formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen (5).
Another common ingredient in these wipes is fragrance, which is incredibly harmful on its own. Fragrance can be concocted from a list of over 3,000 different chemicals, and the FDA doesn’t require companies to list all the chemicals to create said fragrance.
Fragrance can cause symptoms like headaches, difficulty breathing, wheezing, skin allergies (like contact dermatitis), sneezing, a tight feeling in the chest, and a runny and/or stuffy nose.
On May 2nd, 2018, Neutrogena came under fire after a Facebook user by the name of Jamie Potts made a post that has since gone viral. Potts warns others about the Neutrogena product “makeup remover cleansing towelettes” that allegedly gave her daughter, Alyssa, a severe allergic reaction.
The five-star product reviews of the Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes have mysteriously taken a turn in the last year. Individuals who have used and praised the product for years have suddenly started having adverse side effects. You can see some of the product reviews below (6):
“I bought these at Target 2 weeks ago. I’m a business owner and Chef and need convenient products to remove makeup after 16-18 hr work days.
I now have massive blotches and a severe allergic reaction all over my face and neck. Never in my life have I had a reaction from any skin product and have no known allergies. What the heck is going on? Isn’t neutrogena supposed to be hypo-allergenic? I’m a business owner that has to be in front of companies frequently and I have to now cancel meetings and lose a lot of money because I can’t even handle the itchiness if my eyes, neck and face. I have used your facial gold bar for years. I never ever will support your company again. Thank you for forcing me to waste money on an allergist and taking days off of work. I’m sure you won’t compensate me for my loss of work. Appreciate it.”
“I’ve been using this product for a few year. I’ve never had any problems till now. I got the 125 box, like I always do and I noticed my skin was getting a bit red. I didn’t realize it was the towelettes causing the problem till I went to the doctor and found out I had an allergic reaction on my skin and eyes. If I could get my money back, I WOULD!!”
“I bought this last week to try something new as a makeup remover and boy was that a mistake! I only used it ONCE on my eye area and immediately felt a burning sensation. The burning sensation was so severe I had to immediately rinse my face with water. The next morning, I woke up with burns on my eyelid skin, swelling, redness, and scabs forming. Do not use!!!”
“I used to swear by these, but not anymore! I feel very VERY lucky as I didn’t develop a rash like many of the other reviewers. But last night I was removing my makeup and my face started tingling. It wasn’t excruciating but it was definitely uncomfortable. It felt like the tingly feeling you get when you use lip plumper, but all over my cheek that I had used it on. I immediately washed my face with soap and hot water, maybe that’s why I didn’t break out. But I don’t plan to use them again. It’s a shame because I LOVE their other products!”
“I went to the dermatologist literally yesterday (May 10, 2018) for a serious rash around my eyes and down my cheek. I had no idea about the “viral” post (I’m not on any social media). My dermatologist quickly pinpointed the Neutrogena makeup removing cleansing towelettes. I bought the “fragrance free” product only to have my dermatologist show me that they are, in fact, not fragrance free. I’m now on day two of a prescription to try to clear up my rash. Very disappointing.”
Based on these reviews, it is clear that everyone should be staying away from the Neutrogena makeup wipes. But what about other brands? I personally wouldn’t trust them, given the long ingredient lists. If you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, why would you put it on your skin?
Thankfully, there is a much better alternative that work betters and actually nourishes your skin instead of depleting it and inflicting skin damage.
What To Use Instead of Makeup Remover Wipes
Makeup wipes don’t even really do much to cleanse your face. According to Yale dermatologist, Mona Gohara, makeup remover wipes are “basically the equivalent of swirling dirty toilet water around your bathroom, so it’s up to you if you really want that.”
Makeup remover wipes are a major trigger for breakouts, blackheads and acne, too. They even contribute to wrinkles. With constant rubbing and irritation of the delicate skin in and around your nose, mouth and eyes, makeup wipes cause an increase in fine lines, wrinkles and hyper-pigmentation.
One of the best ways to remove makeup, naturally, is by using an oil like jojoba, coconut, almond or olive oil. They are a great way to cleanse the skin and remove makeup, dirt and grime without over-drying your skin. They’re tough, too. They can remove pretty much all kinds of makeup, from pigmented lipsticks to waterproof mascaras.
All you need to do is put a little jojoba, olive, almond or coconut oil on a cotton pad and rub all over your face until your makeup is gone. Next, wash your face with some natural soap, and rinse off with some cool water. Follow with some rose hip seed oil to leave your skin soft, supple, and nourished.
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