Foolproof Guide to Makeup Removal

Dermatologists' tips for taking off even stubborn cosmetics.

Reviewed by Mohiba Tareen, MD on August 20, 2015

For many women, the holiday season means social gatherings that call for a more festive makeup look. And while you may focus on the application, removing any traces of mascara and red lipstick are just as important.

"If you don't thoroughly remove your makeup before going to bed, you can irritate skin, clog pores, and cause acne," says Gervaise Gerstner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. "Plus, any makeup left around the eyes can cause inflammation and redness."

Gerstner advises a two-step approach to your cleansing routine when you've got a full face of makeup to remove. First, use products designed to dissolve the mascara and foundation you've applied. Then, wash your face with your favorite cleanser. "If you're really tired, it's OK to squeeze the routine into one step -- as long as you do one or the other," she says.

When it comes to selecting an all-purpose makeup remover, look for one that's alcohol-free with a low acid concentration, says Dennis Gross, MD, a New York City dermatologist. "Be wary of harsh makeup removers containing alcohol if you have sensitive skin, and cleansers containing alpha hydroxy acids might be too strong to use around the eye area," he says. Gross suggests witch hazel for its gentle properties.

To speed the cleansing process along, he suggests you wet your hands and apply a non-foaming cleanser to dry skin. This will ensure the product latches onto makeup, dirt, and oil on the skin, giving you better cleansing.

Here's how to target stubborn makeup formulas.


Cream-based foundations can be harder to remove than liquid foundations. That's because they often contain mineral oil or wax that can settle into the skin, says Jake Aebly, a makeup artist in New York City.

You can use a cleanser or a wipe to remove most of the pigment, but follow with micellar water (a cleansing product that doesn't need to be rinsed) on a cotton round to get rid of every last trace of your foundation, he suggests.

Long-Wear Mascara and Eye Makeup

"Black eyeliner and mascara are always the toughest to remove," Gerstner says.

You want to avoid tugging or rubbing the eye area, she cautions. This skin is very fragile, and aggressive cleansing can lead to puffiness and irritation and even cause your lashes to fall out.

She suggests you dip a cotton swab in eye makeup remover to target eyeliner and areas of intense pigment.

Mascara also requires a gentle touch.

"Soak a cotton pad in a dual-phase eye makeup remover -- the oil cuts through pigment while the water phase soothes skin," says Jenn Blum, a makeup and special effects artist in New York City. "I gently press it into the lashes for 5 to 10 seconds and gently wipe."


Those tiny sparkles tend to cling to your skin. "Water won't do the trick, but a natural oil or oil-based makeup remove will grab glitter," Blum says.

She uses coconut oil that she removes with a makeup wipe or cotton pad. "You want to use a fresh side of the cotton or wipe every time you swipe, or you'll just redistribute the glitter particles."

Long-Wear Lip Color

To kiss your long-lasting lipstick goodbye, you'll need to exfoliate, because the pigments sink into the skin, Blum says. She uses a petrolatum-based balm like Vaseline or Aquaphor to loosen the lipstick.

"I apply a thick layer and let it sit for a few minutes," she says. Then she uses a very soft toothbrush to lightly remove the pigment. A washcloth will also do the trick, Gerstner says.

Show Sources


Gervaise Gerstner, dermatologist, New York.

Dennis Gross, dermatologist, New York.

Jake Aebly, hair and makeup artist, New York.

Jenn Blum, makeup and special effects artist, New York.

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