When they first came on the scene, face wipes (whether infused with skincare or makeup remover) seemed like a remarkable idea: quick, easy, travel-friendly… who wouldn’t want to switch away from their time-consuming cleansing routine in favour of this simple method?
In our search for time-saving solutions, we as a society have become accustomed to face wipes, baby wipes, cleaning wipes, self-tan wipes, and more, but it’s only in recent years that the reality of this choice has become apparent.
The wet wipe, otherwise known as the “moist towelette”, first began its widespread use around the late 50s and early 60s, when Arthur Julius invented it, and later partnered with Colonel Sanders of KFC to provide a free “wet-nap” with every meal; the wipe was suddenly everywhere.
What are wipes made of?
Wipes fall into the category of “non-wovens”, which means they are not woven together like reusable cloths, but rather, made of a fibrous material bonded using either resins, chemicals or pressure. While non-wovens can be natural, the vast majority are made from synthetic fibres like different types of plastic, such as polyester or polyethylene. Why? Because this is the cheapest way to make sure wipes are durable.
Depending on what the wipe is to be used for, the plastic fibres offer different functions. Some are used for their softness, so are normally present in skincare wipes, while others offer absorbency and strength, meaning they are ideal for cleaning purposes.
What are they doing to the environment?
One wipe takes approximately 100 years to biodegrade, so in short, wipes are bad news for the environment. In some cases, they are seen as necessary, but studies show that wipes used for surgical and medical reasons, the most crucial, make up only 3% of the total use across Europe. Wipes used for hygiene and personal care use in Europe come in at around 44%, arguably unnecessary, so it’s frustrating to learn how much these small squares are affecting the world around us for almost no reason at all other than convenience.
The Marine Conservation Society reported that the number of wipes washing up on British beaches has increased by around 400% in a decade, and with an average of 80 wipes found for every mile of beach, it’s fast becoming a real threat to our environment that requires drastic change. If you’re wondering how these wipes end up on our beaches, it’s because people flush them down their toilet instead of discarding them in the bin. While some brands claim to be “flushable”, this doesn’t always seem to be the case.
And it’s not only affecting marine life and our oceans; the wipe crisis hits a little closer to home. Wipes turned out to be the cause of over 90% of all sewer blockages in 2017, according to Water UK. Despite packaging telling consumers that they are biodegradable, our sewer systems are just not equipped to handle so many discarded wipes.
What are they doing to your skin?
As if the damage to the environment wasn’t enough, the long term effects on your skin are also cause for concern. To keep facial cleansing wipes moist in the packet requires a lot of chemical preservatives, so you will find potentially damaging compounds like parabens, methylisothiazolinone (MI) and triclosan among the ingredients.
These chemicals all help to dissolve makeup and remove dead skin cells effectively, however for the most part you might find you are simply spreading this dirt around from one part of your face to the other, and then leaving it to absorb. In addition, the harsh scrubbing we sometimes have to do to remove eye makeup means we are aggravating the extremely delicate skin around the eyes and potentially speeding up the ageing process.
What could you use instead?
If you absolutely have to use wipes, try to stick to the ones made only of organic cotton, with no viscose. These wipes would count as “brown compost”, and can biodegrade within 12 months. Quite an improvement on 100 years.
And of course, in general, limit your use of wipes wherever possible. Clean with reusable cloths, switch to a gentle cleanser for your skincare routine, and embrace your new life without wipes in order to benefit both your skin and the world around you.
How do you avoid using wipes? Tell us your tips over on Instagram at @ohanacbd.