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Why The Makeup Wipe Status Quo Will Get Wiped Out

In a lighthearted Harper’s Bazaar video on her nighttime skincare routine posted in August of last year, Rihanna weighed in on a serious topic: the effect makeup wipes are having on the environment. “I used to use a lot of makeup wipes, a lot, and I didn’t really realize what that was doing to the planet,” she said. “And, so, I think it’s kind of a wrap for makeup wipes.”

When the “Umbrella” singer, who singlehandedly changed the conversation about foundation shade ranges, calls a product over, the beauty industry should be listening—and it is. The single-use makeup wipes category is undergoing a transformation as brands selling the throwaway sheets transition to sustainable materials and emerging players pop up to provide longer-lasting substitutes for traditional wipes.

The transformation is driven in part by mounting consumer interest in lessening the environmental damage wrought by products, but also by retailers and governments taking action. Beginning in 2022, wipes sold in the European Union with plastic content will have to divulge that they contain plastic and can’t be flushed down the toilet. The move is intended to prevent plastics from entering into and hurting marine ecosystems.

In September 2019, Holland & Barrett became the first retailer in the United Kingdom to ban wipes from its assortment. Joanna Cooke, director of beauty and sports nutrition at the health and beauty chain, was inspired to push for the ban after reducing her personal environmental footprint by shopping at local stores and buying zero-waste merchandise. In the U.K., recognition of the deleterious consequences of wipe overload swelled after a bus-sized fat berg or mass made up to a great extent of wipes and diapers clogged the London sewer.

“I always thought that we would get a positive reaction from customers—and we did,” says Cooke. “The awareness of all of the environmental issues caused by the amount of waste we all produce has been massively increasing in profile over the last couple of years,” says Cooke. “Lots of people are happy to switch their purchasing to more environmentally friendly alternatives once they know they exist.”

British retailers The Body Shop and Selfridges followed Holland & Barrett’s lead in prohibiting wipes. In the United States, retailer momentum in the anti-wipes area has been slower. However, it’s picking up a bit of speed. As of June this year, Credo is eliminating single-use plastics, a category that encompasses wipes in its definition. Mia Davis, VP of sustainability and impact at Credo, says wipes will be replaced by reusable cloths or pads.

Face Halo recently rolled out to Ulta Beauty stores nationwide with its reusable makeup removers. In total, it’s available at over 5,000 retail doors worldwide. Preceding Ulta Beauty, Liberty London, Harrods, Selfridges and Net-a-Porter decided to stock the brand. Around the globe, Face Halo sells 1.4 reusable makeup removers per minute.

Face Halo Founder, Lizzy Pike, suggests the biggest hurdle to getting consumers on board with reusable makeup removers is they simply don’t know about them. She says, “To be honest, our research shows that the U.S. does not have as much awareness about makeup wipes and the harm they do to the environment yet. The U.K. and Australia are all about sustainable beauty, and the beauty editors in these countries just want to talk about this.”

To help convince consumers to swap their wipes for reusable makeup removers, Face Halo shares that its remover is the equivalent of 500 makeup wipes. The removers last up to 200 machine washes. Face Halo calculates it’s kept a billion makeup wipes from going to landfills.

“If you are using a single-use product, that can add up to be very expensive as well and, once you become aware of the fact of how much time they take to break down and that they go into landfills, because of the guilt that you have from putting a makeup wipe in the toilet, you have the thought in your head, ‘There must be a better way,’” says Pike. A plastic wipe is estimated to take 100 years to decompose.


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