All sorts of beauty products show up on the shelves you pluck your self-care essentials from. These range from the must-haves (retinol-everything), the creative (cute, non-invisible pimple patches), and the downright strange (placenta serums). But if there's one thing I've deduced after six years of testing countless launches and chatting with hundreds of dermatologists in my career as a beauty editor, it's that there's one product category that should be obliterated altogether. In the battle between face wipes versus cleansers, the latter will — and I can't stress this enough — always reign supreme.
Ask any expert and you'll learn that the basis of a good skin care regimen is all about your cleanse. "Properly cleansing your face is of utmost importance in your routine," Dr. Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Bustle. While it can feel satisfying and look effective when you see all the grime come off your skin after using a facial wipe, you really want that dirt and debris to go down the drain. And that's not exactly what happens with these wipes: Unlike with a traditional cleanser, some of that gunk stays on your skin. *Shudders.*
"If you want to properly cleanse your face, removing all dirt, debris, and makeup, you need to use a traditional cleanser," Dr. Dennis Gross, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of his eponymous skin-care line, tells Bustle. "Unfortunately makeup and facial cleansing wipes just don't cut it. Because you don't rinse them off, they tend to leave a film on the skin, making it feel tacky and sticky. This can lead to clogged pores and blackheads." In his dermatology practice, every time he meets with a new patient that's struggling with clogged pores or breakouts, his first question is about which cleanser they're using. "It's so important, as it sets up the rest of your routine for success," he says.
I know what you're thinking. "But they're so easy!" "I need something quick!" "They're easy to throw in my bag!" Name a case for the facial cleansing wipe and I've heard it. It's not that I don't get the appeal. They're convenient and foolproof and take mere seconds to use, but your skin is going to be much healthier and happier — not to mention less breakout-prone — if you go the extra mile and use a facial cleanser from a bottle rather than a towelette. Face wipes are like the feather duster of the skin care world: They seem like they're doing what they're supposed to, but are actually just moving gunk around instead of getting rid of it. It's time that the product category be retired, IMHO.
Face wipes are like the feather duster of the skin care world: They seem like they're doing what they're supposed to, but are actually just moving gunk around instead of getting rid of it.
When you think about the ingredients in facial cleansing wipes, it paints a better picture of the problem. According to Love, they're typically formulated with a significant percentage of preservatives in order to prevent bacterial and fungal growth (since they're constantly exposed to air, she says). "So the wipes do remove makeup but they also leave a residue of preservatives, and these can be irritating to the skin," she tells Bustle. "Some people may eventually develop an allergy to these preservatives." Common preservatives used in wipes include methylisothiazolinone and diazolidinyl urea, both of which can irritate sensitive skin types. Her take? If you're going to use a facial wipe, never use it as a replacement for cleansing. Of course, that means that you should use a regular face wash after the wipe... which defeats the whole purpose of the measly cloth that can't do the job on its own.
I haven't even touched on the sustainability factor yet. Facial cleansing wipes are made for single use — and single-use products are not exactly friendly to the environment. They're categorized as "disposable wipes" according to the FDA, and are typically made from materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibers. The issue? Polyester and polypropylene are essentially forms of plastic, and the former doesn't biodegrade (the latter takes roughly 20 to 30 years to do so). According to a report by Zero Waste Europe, an organization that pushes for sustainability practices, the beauty industry alone produces at least 120 billion packages each year. Considering the fact that facial wipe containers come with about 30 towelettes per package, it adds up to a whopping chunk of that waste — all for a product that doesn't work all that well.
Ready to put down the cleansing wipe for good? Great. For those who still insist that using traditional face wash is a chore — you do have to get your hands wet and maybe even deal with water running down your arms as you rinse, after all — try to reframe it as a mini facial session. Or a massage. Just channel your inner Joanna Vargas, apply a cleanser of your choice (one that's meant for your skin type), and massage in circles over your skin before rinsing to reveal a fresh canvas that's ready to absorb the rest of your routine. I'll admit I've been annoyed in the past about the need to thoroughly wash my face, but — after mustering up the strength to get up from the couch — I tell myself that my glow will be beautiful as long as I manage this all-important step. I even do it after one-too-many margaritas or when I'm half-asleep. It's paid off, BTW.
For the sake of your skin and the environment, I hereby beg that facial wipes be retired as a product category come 2021. If the pandemic-induced quarantine has taught the world anything, it's that you do in fact have time to take care of yourself (case in point: I now moisturize the skin below my neck!). And so the new year is prime time to ditch the not-so-effective, landfill- and pore-clogging wipes for good. You'll thank me later.