Asking for a friend: Is it gross to reuse makeup wipes?


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In an increasingly sustainable world where everyone is constantly promoting the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” lifestyle, people might be taking the slogan a little too far. Early this year, the CDC had to plead with the public to stop washing and reusing condoms (yep…)—and now there’s a skin-care PSA regarding your makeup wipes you should know about for the sake of your complexion.

First thing’s first: Makeup remover wipes can definitely be pricey. Biodegradable and natural options can run you up to $26 for a pack of 30, so it’s no wonder why those who want to get their money’s worth try to get a couple uses out of each of those precious towelettes. The only issue? According to Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist, doing so could totally disrupt the very fragile ecosystem of skin. “The purpose of cleansing is two-fold: The first is to cleanse the skin of oils, impurities, makeup, and pollution particles, and the second is to aid the penetration of the products you’ll be applying afterwards. Clean skin will allow active ingredients to penetrate better and work more effectively,” she tells me.

But when you’re reusing makeup wipes, watch out: You’re basically doing the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. “Using a makeup wipe over again will smear old makeup and bacteria back onto your skin instead of removing it. Leaving bacteria and toxins on the skin increases your risk of inflammation, clogged pores, and breakouts, and it can even accelerate aging over time,” she explains. So yep—it’s even a no-go when you’re not actually removing makeup: the previously-wiped-off bacteria is still there and ready to cause problems, even if the towelette looks squeaky-clean.

“Using a makeup wipe over again will smear old makeup and bacteria back onto your skin instead of removing it. Leaving bacteria and toxins on the skin increases your risk of inflammation, clogged pores, and breakouts, and it can even accelerate aging over time.” —Dendy Engelman, MD

If you can’t imagine a world where you can’t get more than one use out of your makeup remover wipes, don’t worry: There are some smart ways to keep your skin and your bank account happy. One of the easiest is going halfsies with each towelette: “You can always cut your makeup wipes in half, but make sure the other half is kept in a clean place,” Dr. Engelman says. Instead of contaminating your other wipes by cramming it back in the pack or letting it dry out on the bathroom counter, you could store it in a small airtight Mason jar or reusable baggie—like this eco-friendly option from Stasher—for safe keeping. You could also stock up on options meant for reuse that you can toss in the wash once a week, like the highly-rated Makeup Eraser ($20). They might be an investment upfront, but you’ll save in the long-run.

Honestly, though, the best way to keep your skin happy might just be ditching the wipes altogether. “Try switching to cotton pads and liquid makeup remover such as a micellar water. They’re smaller and can be just as effective,” Dr. Engelman says. “Especially because while makeup wipes are great in a pinch or to remove makeup first, I always recommend cleansing after anyway as the best way to wash away all impurities.” Whichever route you choose, just please promise me you’ll never rub a used, bacteria-filled cloth on your skin ever again. Okay? Okay.

Here’s how a makeup artist removes eyeliner that’s been fossilized into the lash line. Or, check out the pro-approved ways to wear makeup at the gym without wrecking your skin.

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