Why Should I Quit Using Wipes and Cotton Balls?

Woman holding a cotton ball

Cotton Balls: Toxic and Scratchy

Cotton is the most pesticide-doused crop on the planet. And the pesticides used on cotton are some of the most toxic and long-lasting ones used in agriculture. People think that cotton is a "safe" choice because it's natural, but cotton production is kind of scary.

Many cheap cotton balls, rounds, and pads have harmful pesticide residues on them, and they’re the kind of toxins that can get into your body through your skin. While you can wash your T-shirts and jeans before use, there’s nothing you can do about toxic cotton balls.

Cotton Doesn't Work for Skincare

Cotton is great for absorbing, but not so good for cleaning. Cotton pads hog products like toner, eye makeup remover, and cleanser. Less liquid touches your skin and more is trapped in the fibers (and thrown away). Relative to other fibers, cotton is rough. It’s not optimal for sensitive skin.

Cotton fibers are notorious for getting stuck in eyes, on eyelashes (especially extensions), and on skin. Also, cotton doesn’t do a very good job of picking up dirt—how many times have you used it on eye makeup, only to have raccoon eyes in the morning?

Lots of “cotton balls” aren’t actually cotton—many are made of synthetic fibers, so they're actually single-use plastics. Meanwhile, real cotton is a valuable fiber that has a lot wonderful qualities. We're not saying people shouldn't use cotton. What we're saying is, don't throw it away!

Jar of used cotton balls

Wipes Don't Clean

Experts warn that wipes should not be used as one-step cleansers. It's like rubbing cleanser around your face and not washing it off. Also, there are no regulations requiring wipe manufacturers to disclose the fiber content, so they don’t. Even if the label mentions bamboo or cotton, it’s usually a tiny percentage of the total. Most are made of non-woven plastic fibers that aren't good at removing grime.

Troublesome Ingredients

It takes a lot of liquid to saturate that fiber, so the cleansers used in wipes are usually poor quality. In addition, wipe makers add ingredients that change the skin feel of the product. These are often "meh" for skin.

All products containing water must be preserved (or they go bad). There is no such thing as a preservative-free wipe. There are some toxic preservatives out there and some good preservatives out there. You can guess which usually cost more. Expensive or not, preservatives and additives are famous for causing reactions and breakouts.

Hand grabbing a disposable wipes

Wipes Aren't Worth the Cost

It’s hard to keep wipes from going bad, but it’s even harder to keep the active ingredients fresh. You can find similar ingredients in bottles tubs, and tubes. In most cases, those bottles, tubs, and tubes are a lot fresher, cheaper, and more effective on a per-use basis. Anything a wipe can do, a bottled product can do better.

The worst wipes are toxic and ineffective. The best ones are harmless and inefficient (because you still need to wash your face). It's a lot of money to spend on something that isn't helping your skin.

Wipes and Cotton Balls Aren’t the Only Villains

The same information holds for any single-use product, ESPECIALLY if it comes in single packs. Think about the wasteful plastic packaging, fiber, preservatives, and getting-stale ingredients used in:

  • Single-use face masks
  • Eye patches
  • Tanning wipes
  • Single-pack treatments like glycolic pads

Almost all of these would work better, be cheaper, and be far more “green” if they weren't packaged for single-use.

Mittys are more effective, they cost less, they're gentler, they waste less skincare liquid, and they're far "greener."

Wipes Facts

“When marine wildlife eat plastic debris like wet wipes or discarded plastic bags, it just stays in the stomach of the animals and quite often they … die of starvation.”
— The Marine Conservation Society’s Charlotte Coombes, The Guardian

  • Most disposable wipes contain plastic fibers which, over time, turn into microplastics that are harmful to marine life and the earth’s food chain.
  • Every year, we produce as much plastic as the weight of all humans on the planet! Approximately half of this plastic production is meant for a single/disposable use, such as face wipes.
  • 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Wipes make up a large and growing segment of this number.
  • A recent cleanup effort at Kamilo Point, Hawaii, counted 84,000 pieces of microplastic in 11 square feet.
  • A UK study showed that wipes are responsible for 93% of sewer blockages.
  • Disposable wipes require large amounts of preservatives like parabens and formaldehyde to prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus. These ingredients are toxic and carcinogenic to wildlife, and marine life, and humans.
  • Wipes that say "compostable" are misleading--most won't break down in home compost piles. They require special chemicals that are only used at industrial compost facilities. So unless your municipality offers composting AND you place the wipe in the right compost container, the fact that it's compostable isn't helping anything.
  • No matter what the wipe is made of, it's being packaged in non-recyclable plastic. These containers quickly add up.

The bottom line: Wipes seem like convenient all-in-one cleansers, but they cause massive harm to our environment and the food chain.

Cotton Facts

“Cotton production also accounts for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use … Pesticides have been shown to not only harm the earth and its natural resources, but to also cause severe health problems like ADHD, weakened immune systems, and birth defects.”
— Amy Boone, This Tailored Life

  • Cotton is the world’s dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of pesticides. Pesticides and waste from processing wind up in our water supply, while some residue remains on the cotton itself.
  • The international non-governmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature lists inefficient and “dirty” agriculture as the world’s biggest environmental threat. Cotton tops their list of problem crops.
  • Child labor is common in overseas cotton farming. Often, child laborers are directly involved in cotton pesticide application, usually with no protection at all.
  • It takes 101 gallons of water to produce one pound of cotton.
  • In the US, eight of the top 10 pesticides most commonly used in cotton production are classified as moderately to highly hazardous by the World Health Organization.
  • The Aral Sea in Central Asia, once the fourth largest lake in the world, is now virtually gone, mainly due to cotton cultivation. Now 43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust is blown into the air each year, resulting in the highest rates of throat cancer in the world. It has been called one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters by the UN.
  • While organic cotton is less toxic to the environment, it takes over twice as much water to produce than conventional cotton.
  • The class of pesticides used on cotton is one of the main suspects in the worldwide bee die-off. Pollinators such as bees play a critical role in pollinating the crops humans rely on for food.

The bottom line: Cotton may be a natural fiber, but it's rough on the planet. We shouldn't use it for disposables.

How We Choose Our Fabrics

  • ALL manufacturing (even manufacturing of organic fabrics) has an impact on the environment. Because they result in less overall manufacturing, reusables are almost always "greener" than disposables. An organic disposable, like organic cotton rounds, is going to be "dirtier" than almost any reusable fabric item.
  • Since our fabrics work better than anything else we tried, they're the best at convincing beauty consumers to switch away from disposables.
  • We do a lot of math. Calculations show that because our fabrics last years longer than natural fabrics, they wind up having a fraction of the carbon footprint. Bottom line--our fabrics are "greener" than any natural fabric because of their long life.

“The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy - raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money.”

The EPA Website