Woman wiping face with cleansing cloth

Prepare to be wiped out by this beauty factoid: The skincare market is growing about 6 percent (annually), while the facial cleansing wipes market is growing at 10 percent. I can personally testify to an inbox teeming with press releases about magical, skin-transforming cleansing wipes — the latest being from Kleenex. So what is behind the wipes trend? Why would saturated pads clean up the cleansing business? And should you be switching from good old fashioned face wash to a new-fangled “exfoliating cushion”?

When you think about it, wipes have been around for a while. We have them to remove makeup, nail polish, clean makeup brushes — not to mention the antiperspirant and self-tanning wipes. Giovanni even makes a towelette for split ends.

Yet, while there is a wipe for every niche need, the one thing that seems to be driving the trend is that these things are multitaskers and finding a multi-functioning beauty product to supplement our regimens may save us time and money. I was chatting with a friend about the Kleenex Exfoliating Cushions (as one does), and she said that she absolutely loves them for cleansing, removing makeup and even taking off the last remains of nail polish.

This alarmed me slightly. Would you want to clean your face with nail polish remover? What was in these things? The Kleenex Exfoliating Cushion is a double-sided pad with a water-activated cleanser inside. It's claimed that it will give a healthy glow with just one use. Exfoliation is partly due to the “nubby” texture of the pad itself, but there are also two fruit enzyme-based exfoliators, pineapple and papaya extracts. These fruits both contain pepain, a proteolytic enzyme that digests proteins. Someone once told me that papaya enzymes “eat” skin cells. 

Not surprisingly, for a cynical soul such as I, Kleenex wipes are not exactly squeaky clean. The first ingredient is PEG-100. A PEG, which is the abbreviation of polyethylene glycol, is usually associated with another compound classified by its molecular weight (100 in this case). PEGs of all sizes may penetrate through injured skin with compromised barrier function and should be avoided if your skin is not in tip top condition. Next up is propylene glycol, which is classified as an irritant and penetration enhancer and should not be used on damaged skin. Happily, the foaming, sudsy stuff is disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate, a relatively gentle surfactant.

I don’t think Kleenex has enticed me to give up my Dr. Dennis Gross Antioxidant Cleansing Cloths ($18 in the shop). I am a little intrigued by those Giovanni hair wipes, though. Anti-frizz on the go seems like a cool idea. I couldn’t find the ingredients for them, but did come across Giovanni Anti-Bacterial Wipes ($10.99), which despite being billed as germ-killing mini machines, are a pleasant looking mix of natural oils with only phenoxyethanol to dislike.

The market leader since 2015 is Neutrogena with its towelettes that cleanse, remove makeup and hydrate  all for $6.99. At your peril as there are a number of known irritants like isonyl isononanoate, a couple of PEGs, and some harsh preservatives such as sodium hydroxide, phenoxyethanol and iodopropyl butylcarbamate (which is toxic at more than 1 percent). The lesson seems to be that the formula of a wipe needs to be scrutinized just as much as you would a cleanser.

While I would personally give Neutrogina a miss, I was pleasantly surprised by Honest Beauty’s Refreshingly Clean wipes ($5.95) and First Aid Beauty Radiance Pads ($30). Finally, check that your wipes are biodegradable. The growing wipes trend is creating an environmental hazard. Three million dollars was spent cleaning up wipes from beaches and waterways in northern New York alone.

If you fancy a swipe from the Truth In Aging selection, check out these picks:

Dr. Dennis Gross Antioxidant Cleansing Cloths ($18 in the shop)

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Peel ($88 in the shop)

Dr. Dennis Gross Original Alpha Beta Peel ($88 in the shop)

Dr. Dennis Gross' Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body ($45 in the shop)

Clarity MD (formerly Envy Skin) Clarifying Acne Treatment Pads ($25 in the shop)