Why are Makeup Wipes Bad for the Environment

Why are Makeup Wipes Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated on August 11, 2023 by Krystine

Many view makeup wipes as a convenient cleaning shortcut.

But convenience comes at a cost both environmentally and for skin health.

Understanding the issues behind wipes highlights better choices.

Why Are Makeup Wipes Bad for the Environment?

Used makeup wipe
Makeup wipes don’t really clean your skin. Mostly, they smear around whatever makeup, dirt, and dead skin is hanging out on your face, leaving a trail of irritated skin in their wake. Image Credit: Glamour

Is it really bad for the environment?

Yes, makeup wipes are very detrimental to the environment because they contain plastics and materials that do not biodegrade, accumulating in landfills and waterways.

They clog wastewater infrastructure and leach chemicals toxic to ecosystems.

Reusable makeup removers like organic cotton pads avoid this pollution and waste from single-use wipes.

Key Points

  • Makeup wipes pollute wastewater systems and waterways because they do not break down.
  • Wipes take decades to decompose in landfills while releasing microplastics and methane emissions.
  • Polyester wipes derived from petroleum increase air pollution and VOC emissions during production.
  • Reusable organic cotton pads, clothes, and cleansing balms provide eco-friendly makeup removal alternatives.

Why Are Makeup Wipes a Problem for Wastewater?

Most makeup wipes contain polyester fibers and plastics that do not biodegrade.

When flushed, these synthetics accumulate in wastewater streams.

In the U.S. alone, around 20 million makeup wipes per day end up in wastewater from flushing.

Wipes snag on treatment equipment, clogging up sewers.

They also escape filtering to pollute rivers and oceans.

Additionally, some wipes contain preservatives and chemicals toxic to aquatic life.

Disrupting natural breakdown processes, they persist indefinitely after single uses.

How Do Makeup Wipes Harm the Environment When Disposed of in Trash?

Sewage pipes clogged by wipes
The environment is not a big fan of cleansing wipes, since most makeup wipes aren’t recyclable or compostable. The average makeup wipe takes a staggering 100 years to decompose. Image Credit: Washington Post

Like most non-biodegradable wastes produced by humans, it has a great impact on the environment.

Tossed in landfills, used makeup wipes pile up tons of non-biodegradable waste.

Most wipes take decades or longer to break down, leaching preservatives over time.

Wipes also release microplastics as they slowly disintegrate.

These microfibers spread readily through ecosystems, discharging chemicals absorbed by animals who ingest them.

Furthermore, wipes produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they languish in landfills.

Preventing waste protects ecosystems vulnerable to accumulation effects.

Can Makeup Wipes Contribute to Air Pollution?


The polyester in most wipes is derived from petroleum.

Producing this material accounts for significant air pollution and carbon emissions.

Additionally, wipes contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas from landfills into surrounding communities.

VOCs react with sunlight to create smog, respiratory irritants, and ground-level ozone pollution.

Switching from wipes to reusable makeup removers avoids these manufacturing and waste impacts that degrade environmental and human health.

Are Reusable Facial Pads and Cloths Good Alternatives?


Washable cotton pads, microfiber cloths, and other reusable options prevent waste while exfoliating the skin gently.

They save money long term too.

Look for organic, sustainably grown cotton, hemp, and bamboo materials to avoid pesticide use.

Making your own from old t-shirts or towels repurposes waste.

The key is washing reusable removers only when needed in cold water using an eco-friendly detergent.

This minimizes water and energy usage while reducing pollution.

Can Cleansing Balms and Oils Replace Makeup Wipes?

Yes, plant-based oils and balms remove makeup superbly without straining ecosystems.

Oils require only cotton pads or cloths for wiping away, avoiding disposable wipes.

Look for organic, cold-pressed oils like coconut, olive, avocado, jojoba, or sunflower.

Shea or cocoa butter balms also work well. Rinse cloths used after washing your face.

Beyond sustainability, oils improve skin texture, nourish complexions, and cleanse gently without harmful wiping motions.

Makeup melts away easily.

Are DIY Makeup Wipes a Sustainable Option?

Self-made reusable wipes reduce pollution from single-use wipes while allowing customization.

Cloth wipes stay sturdier than paper options.

Sew together squares of organic cotton, hemp, or flannel fabric.

Choose tighter weaves to increase longevity and cleaning power.

Add a drop of cleansing oil before use.

DIY wipes also make thoughtful gifts paired with homemade balms or oils.

Make them extra special by embellishing them with embroidery.

Are face wipes bad for the environment?

Yes, most makeup and face wipes are very detrimental to the environment.

The plastics and polyester that make up standard wipes do not biodegrade.

So they accumulate indefinitely in landfills and waterways after single uses, leaching toxins over time.

Wipes also release microplastics as they slowly disintegrate, allowing chemicals to enter ecosystems.

And they contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gases during manufacture.

Reusable options like organic cotton rounds avoid disposal issues while benefiting the skin and saving money.

Overall, single-use wipes pose substantial sustainability issues.

Why you should ditch makeup wipes?

There are many reasons to ditch conventional makeup wipes.

Wipes pollute wastewater infrastructure and can clog sewers.

The materials linger for decades in landfills while emitting methane.

Most wipes contain plastics made from polluting petrochemicals.

They also frequently have preservatives that are toxic to aquatic life.

Reusable alternatives like microfiber clothes prevent this waste and avoid irritating skin from wiping motions.

Ditching wipes saves money while being gentler on your skin and the planet.

Are makeup wipes sustainable?

No, the vast majority of standard makeup wipes are the opposite of sustainable.

They contain plastics and materials that do not biodegrade, persisting indefinitely after a single use.

Most wipes are made from polyester derived from petroleum, contributing to air pollution during manufacture.

The wipes also leach chemicals and microplastics when breaking down.

And they generate emissions when discarded in landfills.

While convenient, makeup wipes generate substantial waste and pollution that is very unsustainable for the planet.

Key Takeaways:

  • Makeup wipes cause substantial environmental issues from production through disposal.
  • But reusable eco-friendly alternatives keep beauty routines planet-friendly while benefiting the skin and saving money.


What are non-disposable makeup removers?

Great reusable and non-disposable makeup removers include washable microfiber clothes, organic cotton rounds, bamboo pads, and hand-knit reusable wipes. Cleansing oils and balms also removes makeup without any disposable wipes or pads.

What can I use instead of makeup wipes?

Excellent sustainable alternatives to single-use makeup wipes are microfiber clothes, cotton rounds or pads, hemp towels, and reusable silicone pads. Plant-based oils and cleansing balms remove makeup effectively without wipes. DIY reusable wipes made from cotton or flannel provide a customizable zero-waste option.

Is micellar water sustainable?

Micellar waters are gentler on the skin but contain plastics and preservatives that harm ecosystems when washed down drains. However, formulas certified organic or packaged in glass bottles have less impact. For sustainability, reusable options like microfiber towels with cleansing balms are recommended over most micellar waters.

The team at GreenChiCafe is passionate about our natural world and preserving our planet for future generations.

Please check out our website for more content on living sustainably.

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