Are Facial Wipes the Enemy?

I get it. Facial wipes are a super convenient way to wipe off your makeup after a long day or to clear the dirt off your face without a trip to the sink. But the truth is that this apparent convenience is actually doing way more damage than good, and should be used sparingly & selectively – if at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m with you. Our nighttime rituals are long enough, and shaving a few minutes off of that routine by using facial wipes seems like an excellent alternative to actually cleansing. I mean who can resist the ease and convenience of simple sweep across your face? No water. No towel. No fuss. Simply swipe, toss and jump into bed. But let me break down what’s really going on when you smear that wipe across your skin.

Tiny Scratches

If you’ve ever tailgated with a car enthusiast, then you may know to never rest your purse on the hood of your car. Why, you ask? Because purses, as well as any object really, carry tiny particles of soil, sand and dirt, which can rub against the car and form tiny scratches in the paint. The exact same thing is true for facial wipes, especially poorly made wipes that have an inherent rough texture. You might feel that a rough wipe helps the exfoliation process, but in truth it’s doing barely perceptible damage to your skin, making it irritated and susceptible to further damage.


The point of a wipe is to speed up the process of cleansing, so it would make sense that the company producing the wipes has to find a way for the process to be fast-acting. In other words, it has to dry quickly. The way they do that is by adding alcohol into the mix. If it wasn’t hidden within the convenient shape of a facial wipe, would you ever think that you should be rinsing your face with alcohol? Probably not.  Alcohol damages the skin and takes away moisture. Taking that moisture away is like laying your pet fish out on the deck to tan. Not a good idea.

Harsh Chemicals

Face wipes aren’t magic. They have to somehow dissolve the dirt and makeup, all without water. The way they do that is with harsh chemicals. Since they are intended to stand on their own and don’t require rinsing afterwards, those harsh chemicals simply stay on your skin. If you follow up your wipe regime with a nighttime moisturiser or anything, you are rendering that lotion useless since the chemicals prevent any additional products from penetrating your skin.


Sounds nasty, doesn’t it? Because it is. Facial wipes smear a lovely concoction of dirt, oil, bacteria and old makeup all across your face. And since there’s no rinsing after, it’s just you, this concoction, and a handful of chemicals curled up in your bed. Not the stuff of pleasant dreams.

Halfway There

Have you ever used those cute foaming bubbles to clean your shower? You spray them on so that they can dissolve all the buildup, but then what do you do? You rinse your shower, of course; and that’s when it’s actually clean, when all the unstuck dirt is washed away. Using just a wipe is only the first half of what it would take to clean your face. The cleansing agents it’s designed with break down all the debris, but then the broken down debris has nowhere else to go but down into your pores. So you’re actually closer to a break out than you are to clean skin.


I’m not talking about the freshness of your skin here, but that facial wipes have to somehow maintain a standard of “freshness” in order to be able to withstand going from the factory, to store shelves, to your own bathroom counter and still be effective. In other words, they need preservatives. These preservatives leave an unhealthy residue on the skin, which can lead to eczema and allergies.

My Recent Real-Life Experience

I recently went away on a girls’ weekend with a group of friends. After the first day, I noticed one of my trendiest friends was using facial wipes to remove her makeup at the end of the day. As a skin therapist, my insides were roiling at the thought. I couldn’t help analysing her face afterwards and noticed the telltale red blotches. So I questioned her about the wipes and the sensitivity of her skin. She replied, “I’ve used facial wipes for 10 years and never had a problem.” So I dropped it. But the next night, I saw her do the same thing. Again my inner skin therapist couldn’t resist, and without being too pushy, I tried to suggest she simply try giving up the wipes for 6 weeks just to see what would happen. I wasn’t sure if she’d accept my challenge or not.

One week later, I had my answer. She sent me a message saying that she had given up the wipes! It had only been a few days, but she noticed that her skin was already feeling less stripped and more moisturised. It was only after experiencing the difference that she realised how harsh the wipes had been on her skin. I’m confident there are no more facial wipes in her future.

Convenience Comes at a Price

So as you can see, facial wipes are the bane of skin therapists’ existence. There’s no doubt they are marketed great, but this is the price.

  • The surfactants and chemicals found in wipes are most likely the reason you have facial redness, irritation, sensitivity, tightness and sore skin.
  • Anyone with rosacea or eczema is causing their problems to get worse and/or spread by using wipes full of irritants.
  • Remember the schmear-age? All of that spreading of dirt and oil is causing the skin to prematurely age.
  • If you have breakouts, using a wipe spreads the bacteria everywhere the wipe goes. If by even complexion, you mean you want just as much acne on your right side as your left, than keep smearing.
  • The preservative methylisothiazolinone MI, (common in wipes) can cause blisters, swelling and rashes, and experts believe to be the main cause of eczema.
  • Using wipes will leave oil and dirt on the skin preventing products from penetrating.
  • A common chemical found in wipes is formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen and allergen.
  • Many women use wipes to remove eye makeup since typically eye makeup remover is gentler and takes longer to work. However, this rubbing back and forth motion is causing premature aging under the eye and damaging that delicate skin. If you want the fast-acting results, simply hold the pad under the eye to dissolve. Then rinse.

Our final say on wipes is this. Use wipes sparingly. They’re fine to use to remove make-up mistakes or as a touch up tool. They’ll even do for quick refresh if you’re on a plane ride. And they’re actually great at some things, such as removing stains from clothing, pesky deodorant marks from shirts, and residue hair dye and self tanning streaks from skin. And if you’re going to use them at all, please make sure to invest in a good quality wipe. Rinse with water after using your wipes to wash away the gunk. And avoid the delicate area around your lips and eyes. But as for your regular regime, this is one instance where the nightly trip to the sink is absolutely worth it.