Anyone who’s ever fallen asleep in a full face of makeup knows how important it is to take your makeup off at the end of the night. But the best makeup removers aren’t just the ones that get foundation, mascara and lipstick off: They’re made to remove the dirt and grime of the day, too.
“I’m a huge proponent of smart cleansing, not aggressive cleansing,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian. “Using the appropriate cleanser can effectively remove dirt, oil, makeup — even heavy Halloween makeup! — without irritating and inflaming skin.”
If you’re planning to pile on makeup for a Halloween costume, she says it’s a good idea to start working on your skin barrier now: “Switch over to gentler cleansers, avoid chemical peels or exfoliating products for a week prior, increase the use of humectants and emollients, such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, allantoin, glycerin.”
The mark of a good cleanser, she adds, is one that you don’t have to use aggressively for it to work effectively. “Oftentimes, that can trigger flares in underlying skin conditions, such as eczema and rosacea, and also worsen acne pimples, increasing the risk of scarring,” she says, noting that heavy makeup can make flare-ups even more likely. She recommends choosing one that’s formulated with calming and hydrating ingredients to improve the moisture barrier and strengthen skin, like antioxidants or aloe.
Dr. Avnee Shah, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Verona, NJ, says the best way to remove makeup is to start with a wipe before going in with a more thorough cleanser. “For my day-to-day routine, which typically consists of skin care and tinted sunscreen, I like using a makeup wipe to take off what has built up throughout the day on the surface,” she says. “Then, I’ll follow for a more thorough clean with liquid facial cleanser.” (On the contrary, Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, says makeup wipes are potentially irritating — especially for those with sensitive skin — so proceed with caution.)
Find the best makeup removers, including makeup wipes, balms, reusable pads and natural products that the experts swear by.
$9.79 at Target
A favorite of Shah’s, Simple’s makeup wipes have hundreds of 5-star reviews. They gently remove stubborn makeup and are great for travel.
$9.78 at Amazon
“I like using a makeup wipe to take off what has built up throughout the day on the surface,” says Shah, who says these towelettes from Neutrogena do the trick.
Another favorite from Shah is these wipes from CeraVe, which one reviewer says “are actually super hydrating” and they “don’t strip you and leave a hydrating feeling behind. You can feel how gentle they are compared to other big wipes. Definitely recommend!”
Makeup removing balms and cleansers
With hundreds of 5-star reviews and a cult following from editors, this cleaning balm — which Shah says emulsifies in water to remove makeup and dirt — melts in your hands while moisturizing your skin.
This cleansing balm, which celebrity makeup artist Melissa Hernandez calls her holy grail product, is packed with sunflower and ginger root oils. “It melts everything away, including stubborn waterproof products, and it’s super gentle on the skin,” she shares.
The sensitive-skin-friendly fragrance-free version of Farmacy’s cleansing balm is another expert favorite. “Start with applying a small amount of balm to dry skin,” says Shah. “Then, massage into skin for about 30 to 60 seconds and you’ll see the balm morph into more of an oil as it melts away makeup. Gently rinse away with warm water or a dampened cloth.”
$39 at Amazon
Less of a balm but just as effective, Nazarian recommends Cure Natural Aqua Gel. “It uses hydrogen-activated water to gently cleanse skin; the activated hydrogen has been shown to be effective for alleviating oxidative stress, and has improved antioxidant activity.”
“I have been a longtime fan of this, especially for theatrical and Halloween makeup,” shares celebrity makeup artist Neil Scibelli. “It removes all traces of makeup, even the most waterproof — leaving your skin with the soothing effects of Garnier’s gentle micellar formula.”
$19.99 $14.99 at Amazon
If you have dry skin, professional makeup artist Joann Solomon recommends a cream or oil-based makeup remover. You should also “make sure that it’s compatible with all skin types so that you can use it safely without any irritation or discomfort,” she explains. Award-winning special effects makeup artist Evilise Quijano’s go-to is this cleansing balm, adding that she usually “prefers [makeup] remover creams or balms to wipes,” which can sometimes leave the skin with a stinging sensation.
$16 $9.60 at Colourpop
“One of the best makeup removers out there is oil-based,” explains Solomon. They’re more gentle on the skin, which is crucial. And contrary to what might initially make sense, they’re a good option for those with oily skin, Solomon explains. This body cleansing oil is a go-to of makeup artist and content creator Brooke Ellis. “I highly recommend applying these removers and leaving them on the skin for a few minutes so they have time to break down the [makeup]” before rinsing off,” she instructs.
Skip the disposable pads or wipes and opt for a sustainable, high-quality option. A favorite of Shah’s, this reusable makeup remover has glowing reviews from customers, too. The soft towel wipes away makeup — even long-wearing formulas — with just water. But you’ll still want to follow up with a cleanser to make sure your skin is completely clean.
$21 at Amazon
One customer calls this pick — a recommendation from Shah — an “incredible product [that] takes all your makeup off without heavy exfoliation.” The pads are the perfect size for taking off eye makeup.
$13 at Biossance
Shah recommends these reusable bamboo cotton pads to remove face and eye makeup. They work great with micellar water and are easy to throw in the laundry to clean and reuse them.
From $16 at Sephora
Nazarian recommends that everyone — especially those with sensitive skin — “avoid scrubs or beaded cleansers, and choose unscented options, and those without added fragrances.” This coconut-oil-based pick from Drunk Elephant is sulfate-, cruelty- and fragrance-free.
From $4.99 at Burt’s Bees
“My favorite natural product to remove heavy makeup is organic coconut oil,” says Ciraldo, who advises patients to rinse the coconut oil off after using it to cleanse. This coconut- and argan-oil-based cleanser has glowing reviews, won’t leave a residue on the skin and is made from naturally derived ingredients.
$65 at Credo
Shah agrees that coconut and jojoba oils make great natural makeup removers, and this antioxidant-rich option is packed with the latter, along with other natural oils such as sunflower, grapeseed, avocado and more.
$32 at Sephora or from $16 at Charlotte Tilbury
Nazarian says this is a “great oil-based option that uses oil-based chamomile and botanical extracts to remove dirt, makeup and surface oils, but are less irritating and more calming than traditional scrubs and exfoliating cleansers. It should be applied on a cotton ball and gently swept along the skin surface to remove makeup.”