Are Makeup Wipes Bad for the Environment? 7 Quick Facts

Are Makeup Wipes Bad for the Environment

published on December 1st, 2022

With sustainability becoming more topical, makeup wipes have been criticized for accumulating unnecessary waste. 

Makeup wipes are not good for the environment as they’re single-use items and are usually made from plastic. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the environmental impact of makeup wipes.

1. What Are Makeup Wipes Made Of?

Makeup wipes are wipes coated in a cleanser to remove makeup.

The exact material varies per brand, but generally, they’re made from polyester.

You might also come across wipes containing polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, and rayon.

Many makeup wipes contain a blend of plastic and other fibers like cotton.

The exact cleansing agents will also vary per brand, but the following ingredients are fairly common:

  • Benzoic Acid
  • Carbomer
  • Ceteareth-12
  • Cetyl Ethylhexanoate
  • Cetearyl Isononanoate
  • Ceteareth-20
  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Cyclopentasiloxane 
  • Dehydroacetic Acid
  • Disodium Edta
  • Ethylhexylglycerin
  • Fragrances 
  • Fruit extracts
  • Glycerin
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Hexylene Glycol
  • Isononyl Isononanoate
  • Isostearyl Palmitate
  • Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate
  • Panthenol
  • Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate
  • Polyaminopropyl Biguanide
  • PEG-4 Laurate
  • PEG-6 Caprylic/​Capric Glycerides
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Sucrose Cocoate
  • Sodium Hydroxide
  • Sodium Citrate
  • Tocopheryl Acetate

2. How Do Makeup Wipes Affect the Environment?

The biggest way makeup wipes affect the environment is through single-use waste.

If someone used at least one makeup wipe a day, they would generate hundreds per year. 

So, there is a constant demand for new makeup wipes which requires energy and resources.

It can take up to 100 years for wet wipes to break down, so this can accumulate huge amounts of waste in landfills. 

This is concerning as makeup wipes are very popular. 

In 2017, research found that 27% of British women who took part in a survey used makeup wipes every single day, with 16% using them several times a week.

If they are not disposed of properly, they can cause pollution. 

Animals and marine life could mistake discarded makeup wipes and wet wipes for food.

This can be detrimental to their health by causing blockages in the digestive system, or if they are unable to pass the wipes, leave them struggling to get adequate nutrition as their stomachs are full of non-food items.

The materials also play a role in their environmental impact.

Makeup wipes are usually made from plastic and come in plastic packaging.

Plastic is non-renewable and is sourced via mining which can cause pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion, so it is not a sustainable material. 

While cotton, wood, and paper are renewable, there are still some environmental concerns about these ingredients. 

Cotton crops require a lot of water. It takes more than 9,464 liters (2,500 gallons) of water to grow a kilogram of cotton.

It also relies quite heavily on pesticide and insecticide sales, accounting for 5% and 10% of all sales of these products, respectively. 

This is concerning as pesticides can harm pollinators like bees.

Meanwhile, trees take decades to mature, so even though they’re renewable, poor forest management and high demand for paper can make it harder to replenish tree populations.

Some makeup wipe ingredients like sodium hydroxide may be harmful to marine life.

However, unlike soap or cleaning products, these compounds are not washed down the drain, so the risk of them entering the environment and potentially causing harm is lower if they are not littered. 

3. Are Makeup Wipes Biodegradable?

Since plastic is not biodegradable, most makeup wipes are not biodegradable.

Although some wipes contain a blend of plastic and natural materials like cotton or paper pulp, these wipes are still not biodegradable because you cannot separate the plastic from this matter.

As mentioned earlier, wipes can take up to 100 years to break down. 

4. Are Makeup Wipes Recyclable?

Makeup wipes are not recyclable. 

While some of the materials are recyclable, like plastic or paper, recycling facilities do not have the means to separate the contents and process those materials in this form.

Plus, the wipes have already been contaminated by the cleanser and makeup residue. 

5. Are Makeup Wipes Flushable?

Makeup wipes are not flushable. 

Toilet paper is septic-safe because it is specifically designed to break into smaller pieces in order to pass through the septic system.

However, makeup wipes are not designed with this in mind, so they can clog the system.

While some brands will claim their makeup wipes are flushable, they should be approached with caution.  

Research found that out of ten so-called flushable wipes, only one was actually flushable. 

So, even if your wet wipes or makeup wipes are labeled as “flushable,” it’s still best to dispose of them in a bin to be on the safe side. 

6. Are There Eco-Friendly Makeup Wipes?

There are some plastic-free makeup wipes that are more sustainable (read more about them here).

These makeup wipes are usually made from wood pulp, bamboo fiber, and even cornflour.

These materials are renewable and biodegradable.

However, so-called eco-friendly makeup wipes should still be approached with skepticism. 

Many products labeled as biodegradable are not actually biodegradable or do not break down in the way customers might have thought. 

Even if a product is biodegradable, this process cannot occur just anywhere, especially in landfills. 

Biodegradation requires the presence of moisture, bacteria, oxygen, the correct temperatures, and other factors. 

Not to mention, some of the compounds the wipes are saturated in may not be biodegradable either.

For example, cyclopentasiloxane is a type of silicone, so it is not biodegradable. 

While in most scenarios, disodium EDTA is not biodegradable either. 

7. What Can I Use Instead of Makeup Wipes?

Microfiber Make-up Removing Cloths

Many brands sell microfiber makeup removing cloths, which can be dampened and swiped over the face to remove makeup.

These are zero-waste; they can go in the washing machine and be reused again. 

Reusable Cotton Pads & Makeup Remover

Reusable cotton pads still require a cleanser.

These usually come in recyclable plastic packaging, but there is still less waste than using make-up wipes or single-use cotton pads. 

Some people use aloe vera gel, coconut oil, or petroleum jelly to remove their makeup instead of using store-bought products. 

Bar Soap 

Some people will use a bar of soap to remove their makeup, but it’s not the most popular option as it can be harsher on the skin than products specifically designed for the face.

You Might Also Like…