I spend so much of my life researching beauty that I thought I more or less knew all of skin care’s cardinal rules. I’ve long applied my serums in order from thinnest to thickest (this allows for maximum absorption), I’ve participated in the great r/AsianBeauty debate on whether vitamin C should be applied before or after your exfoliant (still undecided), and I wear three carefully layered SPFs every day. I go to oo35mm weekly. I frequently DM the reigning queen of skin care herself, Fiddy Snails. I know stuff, in other words.
So imagine how I felt when, just a couple of weeks ago, I learned that cotton pads should be selected with as much thought and care as moisturizers or toners. According to Soko Glam’s blog the Klog, not all cotton pads are created equal. And American drugstore cotton pads, it turns out, are not particularly good for your skin. Their fluffy, fuzzy texture, it turns out, can leave behind debris that can clog up pores and lead to acne and irritation.
Of course, some quick research revealed that Japanese and Korean beauty companies began creating superior cotton pads for skin care years ago. Major Korean brands such as Innisfree, Missha, and Klairs have long formulated bespoke cotton pads to go along with their products. These cotton pads are softer and spongier, which makes them much gentler on the skin. And many of them are created with organic, unbleached material — most big U.S. makers use cotton that contain traces of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and toxic chemicals. Below, a list of my new favorite cotton pads.
These are among the most popular cotton pads in the K-beauty community for a reason. They’re organic, unbleached, and never, ever pill. These very large, ultrasoft, thin-yet-durable pads are so good at retaining product (from light Bioderma to ultrathick Snail Mucin essence), I’ve seen some K-beauty YouTubers douse one of them with a product (an acne-fighting toner, say, or a hydrating essence) and hold it on top of a problem area until the skin fully and completely absorbs it, like a DIY mini sheet mask.
This Klairs product actually comes with two types of pads: One is a compressed pad designed for gentle exfoliation, which is amazing for taking off makeup and removing any dirt. The other is a soft, spongy pad that does a really incredible job of transferring products to the face — I particularly love using this with essences and toners.
I picked these up the last time I was in Japan and immediately fell in love. These spongy pads are ultra-gentle and, best of all, transfer every single drop of product to your skin. It’s easy with cotton pads to feel like you’re wasting product, as a lot can get absorbed into the pads themselves; this pad does not steal all of your product from you. If you use pricey skin-care items like P50, and you want to make sure you’re really getting all that magic liquid into your skin, this is the cotton pad for you.
These cotton pads from Muji are interesting because they’re layered — if you want a thick, durable cotton pad for removing makeup, you can leave it as-is, and if you want a thinner, more delicate cotton pad experience for essences or toners, you can peel apart the layers. I absolutely love using the cotton pad at its thickest for removing eye makeup — it can hold a ton of liquid without breaking, and it pulls makeup off super gently.
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