The Best Way to Remove Makeup, According to a Dermatologist

If we’re being honest, the very last thing we want to do before bedtime is often our skincare routine. It can be hard to steer away from our cozy bed and Netflix shows and towards the sink to wash away our makeup—especially after a long day or night out. 

But sleeping with our makeup (or sunscreen) on is a major no-no according to the rules of skincare. With help of board-certified dermatologist Dr. Alicia Zalka, founder of Surface Deep, we explain the importance of removing makeup and washing your face before bedtime—plus, the best alternatives to single-use cleansing wipes.


Removing your makeup before bedtime isn’t just hygienic (no one likes spotting mascara streaks on their pillow), it can also help prevent many of the most common skin concerns—such as dark spots and premature fine lines. “When we sleep, the body as a whole, including the skin, undergoes cellular repair and replenishment. Giving the skin a clean canvas to do its work further enhances this built-in mechanism,” says Dr. Zalka. 

There’s also acne. Whether we realize it or not, oil, sweat, dirt, bacteria, and other gunk can accumulate and adhere to the skin throughout the day. Mix those impurities with makeup (even non-comedogenic formulas) and you’ve created the perfect recipe for clogged pores and breakouts.

Cleansing the skin during the PM isn’t a bad habit to get into, either. “The bedtime ritual of removing makeup also provides the opportunity to apply moisturizer and other products that assist in keeping the skin hydrated so you wake up refreshed,” adds Dr. Zalka.


Makeup remover wipes are a quick and easy option if you’re always forgetting to cleanse before bed (or you’re feeling lazy—something many of us can relate to once we’re in sweats). They don’t even require a sink, after all. But while convenient, many of the cleansing wipes on the market contain harsh ingredients such as formaldehyde, alcohol denat, and methylisothiazolinone that are rough on the skin and its acid mantle. This can leave your face prone to irritation and breakouts

Additionally, single-use, disposable wipes are often made of materials like polyester that cannot easily break down—yes, even if it's marketed as “biodegradable”, which simply means the wipe will degrade at some point (even if it takes hundreds of years to do so). 

The bottom line? Opt for a cleanser over a wipe, if you can. “I find that [makeup remover wipes]  do not give the skin the full cleansing it deserves,” says Dr. Zalka. “But, in a pinch, they are way better than not cleansing the skin at all,” she adds.


As Dr. Zalka mentioned above, nothing truly compares to washing your face properly with a good cleanser. If you wear makeup (or simply sunscreen) look for a face wash that melts away makeup and impurities without stripping moisture from your skin. The Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm—infused with vitamin E and jojoba oil—is clean-rinsing, eye-safe, and melts away every last bit of makeup, from mascara to foundation.

If you’re particularly dry or acne-prone, you can also keep the Gentle Cycle Milky Cleanser in your arsenal. This hydrating wash contains balancing probiotics and blackberry vinegar that not only sweeps away makeup, but also helps suppress bacteria, strengthen the skin’s barrier, calm redness, and reduce inflammation.

(Psst: Both of these products are accepted in most curbside recycling programs. Follow our recycling guide and if not accepted near you, send the empties to our Recycle Responsibly program instead.)

If you want to ensure skin is truly clean, double cleanse by following up with a water-based gel cleanser like Wash It Out. You can also sweep away any remaining impurities when armed with a milky Hydrating Toner and Reusable Cotton Pad. This, micellar water, or cleansing oil is great to use on the eye area as well, as the skin there is extremely delicate. Avoid any rubbing (we recommend cleansing gently with your fingers or pressing a soaked cotton pad into the eyelid for a few seconds before sweeping away) to avoid red, puffy eyelids and irritation.

“I use a white washcloth or light-colored cleansing sponge which allows me to see that I have fully removed all of the day's makeup etc. When the sponge rinses clean of makeup residue with no visible evidence, I know I am all set,” says Zalka.

Shop makeup-removing cleansers and toner below.