What is a makeup remover? The obvious answer is that a makeup remover is any substance claiming it can remove makeup. Many kinds of liquids and solvents can do this job. Most makeup removers are some sort of cleanser.

Formulating a makeup remover is not easy. Cosmetics, such as foundations and mascaras, are often very greasy and thick, formulated to be water-resistant and long-lasting. Complicating matters is the fact that we apply many of these products around the eyes, a very sensitive area. An effective makeup remover must remove heavy, greasy makeup without irritating your eyes. There are many strong soaps and detergents that can easily remove makeup from our eye area, or anywhere on the face for that matter, but you certainly don’t want to expose the sensitive eye area to harsh cleansing ingredients. Nor would you want to risk getting those potent chemicals in your eyes as that can cause irritation, burning, or inflammation. So how are makeup removers designed?

Solvency is a basic chemical principle. Ingredients that are similar in chemical structure to a liquid are more likely to dissolve in that liquid. The phrase used is “like dissolves like.” You can remove water-based makeup with water or a water-based makeup remover, like micellar water. Alternatively, you can remove oil-based makeup, which is heavier than the water-based variety, with oils. Different products use different types of oils, but mineral oil is probably the most common.  Makeup removers also use argan oil, jojoba oil, and others, with different products containing varying concentrations of fatty acids. Some individuals experience facial breakouts when using oil-based products. Acne sufferers beware!

Some makeup removers contain the same cleansing agents or surfactants found in facial cleansers. These surface-active ingredients or detergents surround the oily makeup, allowing water to rinse makeup particles away. Generally, manufacturers of quality makeup removers formulate their products with milder surfactants to avoid irritating the eyes. These types of makeup removers are usually found as liquids, but you can also find them as makeup remover wipes or pads saturated with the cleansing surfactant.

Another type of makeup remover we commonly see on the shelves in the store combine a mixture of water and oils that also contain a mild cleansing surfactant. Classic cold cream is an example of this type of makeup remover.  

If you choose not to wear makeup, or to wear water-based makeup, washing your healthy facial skin with water only is adequate. As a general rule, I use only water on my face. It is simple, easy, and inexpensive, and it cleans my face and removes my water-based makeup effectively.

Some might feel that heavier, oil-based makeup works better for you. In that case, you likely will need to use a product with oils to remove it. As an aside, there’s a lot of chatter online about the importance of removing your makeup before going to sleep at night. So-called “experts,” say that sleeping with your makeup still on your face leads to premature aging, clogged pores, and collagen degradation. Truth is, there is no science to prove any of those allegations. The worst that can happen is you will soil your pillowcase.


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