best in class

The 14 Very Best Makeup Removers

Photo-Illustration: Getty Images / Jacobsen / Stringer

In this article

After a long, tiring day, sometimes you just want to crawl into bed without bothering to take off your makeup. But it’s important to cleanse your skin so it can breathe and renew itself while you sleep; not doing so can lead to acne flare-ups, lines and dullness, and even premature aging. So it’s pretty paramount to invest in a good makeup remover.

Perhaps you need one that can cut through full-coverage foundation and long-lasting lipstick without irritating your skin or drying it out. Or maybe waterproof mascara and eyeliner are your primary targets, and a different formulation is in order. Even if you’re a makeup minimalist, you’ll still want something that’s both appropriate for your skin type and effective.

To find the best makeup removers, we spoke to dermatologists and makeup artists who offered suggestions based on skin type as well as makeup type. The wipes, gels, creams, and balms below can help you worry less about clogged pores and irritated complexions, all while giving your face a clean slate for the rest of your skin-care routine.

What we’re looking for

Solvent type

Since the point of removing your makeup is to prevent breakouts and irritation, using a makeup remover with a formula or ingredients that don’t agree with your skin type is pretty counterintuitive. It’s important to pick one that isn’t too harsh or stripping and can remove makeup without exacerbating preexisting conditions or causing new concerns. Makeup removers can either contain oil-based or water-based solvents; according to NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, those with dry and sensitive skin should look for an oil-based makeup remover, which won’t strip dry or sensitive skin of natural oils. But if you’re oily or acne-prone, a water-based makeup remover can deliver a deeper clean and manage excess oil.

Makeup type

Remember that “like dissolves like” — a water-based makeup remover will work more effectively on water-based makeup, and an oil-based makeup remover will work more effectively on oil-based makeup. Another factor to keep in mind is how much makeup you wear on a daily basis. If you’re more of a “BB cream and tinted balm” person, you can likely choose a remover that’s fairly light and gentle. If you’re wearing full-coverage, long-lasting foundation, waterproof mascara, and matte liquid lipstick, you’ll want to reach for something more heavy-duty.

Product type

Makeup removers come in multiple forms, including micellar water, cleansers, cleansing balms, and makeup wipes. The one that best suits you not only depends on your skin, but on when and where you plan to take off your makeup. If you’re washing your face at home before bed, a traditional cleanser should work fine. Need something on the go? Wipes might be your best bet.

Best overall makeup remover

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Light-to-medium makeup | Product type: Micellar water

Almost all of the dermatologists and makeup artists we spoke to recommended micellar water for all kinds of skin types — including normal, sensitive, acne-prone, and dry skin — because, as King explains, the micelles in micellar water “draw out impurities without drying out the skin.” They cling to “dirt, oil, and makeup on your skin and dissolve them while leaving behind a hydrated finish,” she adds. Micellar water “can therefore be used as a facial wash, makeup remover, and moisturizer all in one,” she says.

While each expert had different favorites, this French pharmacy option with a cult following came up the most. Bioderma’s Sensibio’s micellar water “gently breaks down makeup and oil without stripping the skin,” says makeup artist Mary Irwin. It’s what Dr. Lily Talakoub, founder of Derm to Door, uses on her own face: “It’s the only product that can take off my hard-to-remove mascara without losing any precious eyelash hairs.” Talakoub also likes that she isn’t left with that post-wash, dry-and-tight feeling. And dermatologist Dr. Y. Claire Chang at Union Square Laser Dermatology thinks it works well for sensitive skin because “it’s alcohol-, fragrance-, and paraben-free” on top of being “lightweight and non-greasy.”

Best makeup remover for dry skin

Solvent type: Oil-based | Makeup type: Heavy makeup | Product type: Cream cleanser

Sarah Lucero, Stila Cosmetics global executive director of creative artistry, loves this Algenist cleanser for those with “dry, dull, and lackluster skin.” Although it’s a cleanser and not specifically a makeup remover, Lucero notes that it “dissolves all traces of makeup,” including so-called long-lasting and waterproof formulas, while hydrating and improving your skin’s radiance. It’s her personal makeup remover of choice, and she always carries it with her when she’s traveling in dry climates and spending time in hotels: “The air vents dry me out, and this always helps my skin feel and look better,” she says. It’s soap-free, noncomedogenic, and hypoallergenic, and it even came recommended to us before as the best cleansing oil for dry skin.

Best makeup remover for oily skin

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Light makeup | Product type: Micellar water

This La Roche-Posay micellar water was specifically formulated with oily skin in mind. It’s oil-free, so while it removes excess oil on top of the skin, it won’t add any back in. Chang notes that it is also “hydrating and lightweight,” and “gently removes makeup, dirt, and oil” without stripping the skin or leaving it with a tight or dry feeling. It’s noncomedogenic, so those with mild acne can consider it too.

Best makeup remover for combination skin

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Light-to-medium makeup | Product type: Gel cleanser

Combination skin means you have certain areas of your face that are dry and others that are oily, so you’ll want a remover that can work for both. Talakoub likes this option that pulls double duty as a cleanser and makeup remover. “This cleanser takes everything off with one swoop, so you don’t have to wash your face twice,” she explains, pointing out that it doesn’t strip the skin the way some products that are specifically designed for oily skin might. And because it contains willow-bark extract, it can simultaneously clean up pores in oily or acne-prone areas.

Best makeup remover for sensitive skin

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Medium-to-heavy makeup | Product type: Liquid cleanser

Drugstore brand Cetaphil is always popular among dermatologists, and their makeup remover is no exception. Chang recommends it because not only is it “hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin,” but it is extra gentle and lightweight. The formula includes “soothing and anti-inflammatory botanicals,” according to Chang, like aloe, green tea, and ginseng, so it won’t cause irritation. Despite how gentle it is, it is still effective because it’s formulated with a very lightweight and nondrying detergent, so you won’t have to scrub to get your makeup off.

Best makeup remover for eczema

Solvent type: Oil-based | Makeup type: Light-to-medium makeup | Product type: Cleansing oil

If your skin isn’t just easily irritated but “Über-sensitive,” perhaps prone to eczema or dermatitis, then Irwin recommends this Avene cleansing oil, which is approved by the National Eczema Association. It’s even a suitable cleanser for children and infants because it contains nothing but the basics — no extracts, no fancy ingredients, just water, a lightweight detergent, and cleansing oils. “It’s hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and deeply soothing,” Irwin promises.

Best makeup remover for acne-prone skin

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Medium-to-heavy makeup | Product type: Liquid makeup remover

If your skin is specifically acne-prone, not just oily, this oil-free eye-makeup remover promises not to clog pores. “It’s non-greasy and won’t cause breakouts,” says Dr. Malini Fowler, dermatologist at Texas-based Westlake Dermatology. Much like La Roche-Posay’s formula, this makeup remover is oil-free, which makes it particularly effective for acne-prone skin that’s already struggling with excess oil. Chang adds that it’s “gentle and lightweight but effectively removes makeup, including waterproof makeup,” thanks to its low percentage of alcohol and surfactants. And although it’s technically formulated to remove eye makeup, plenty of online reviewers attest that you can use it for removing foundation and lipstick, too.

Best makeup remover for melanin-rich skin

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Medium-to-heavy makeup | Product type: Gel-to-oil cleanser

We pegged Eadem’s Dew Dream cleansing balm as a likely to sell out item when it first launched — and sure enough, it quickly went out of stock (and then racked up a waitlist of more than 2,000 people). Now that it’s finally available again, I’m happy to report that the cleanser more than lives up to the hype. Though labeled a balm, it comes out of the tube more as a translucent jelly, before melting into a milky, opaque oil that smoothly dissolves all traces of makeup, SPF, dirt, and sweat, zero scrubbing required. The formula contains a cocktail of skin-saving ingredients such as tiger grass, moringa, allantoin, and licorice root, which help rebuild damaged skin, support cell turnover, and fight hyperpigmentation. That makes it an especially effective cleanser for women of color with melanin-rich skin, who may be more likely to over-exfoliate to address dark spots and melasma.

Best makeup remover for mature skin


Solvent type: Oil-based | Makeup type: Medium-to-heavy makeup | Product type: Cleansing balm

“Mature skin tends to be dryer, more fragile, and may have more prominent pores or wrinkles where makeup can stick,” explains Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics in Nanuet. Waldorf calls Albolene “an oldie but a goodie” since the company has been around for more than a century, and notes that this cleanser has been used by her grandmother (and other grandmothers and great-grandmothers). The cleanser liquifies on the skin to dissolve makeup without scrubbing, she says. “If Vaseline petroleum jelly and Pond’s cold cream had a baby, it would be Albolene.” Waldorf describes it as “less thick and greasy than Vaseline” while requiring less massaging than Pond’s — once wiped off, any residual cleanser can be left on the skin for extra hydration. She points out that with a short ingredient list that includes mineral oil and petrolatum, the fragrance-free cleanser works for sensitive skin too. Waldorf even keeps a jar of it in the office for times when she has trouble removing a patient’s makeup before a procedure.

Best anti-aging makeup remover

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Light-to-medium makeup | Product type: Cleansing jelly

Strip’s Caviar Jelly makeup remover contains nourishing ingredients meant to plump, smooth, and revive aging skin, including a prebiotic-enriched complex derived from rose petals to help minimize fine lines, and vitamin A and pomegranate extract to support the production of collagen and new skin cells. What intrigued me the most, however, was its gloppy jelly texture; this makeup remover has the exact same consistency as raspberry jam (it even comes with a small plastic spoon to scoop out dollops). It’s full of tiny “caviar” beads that burst upon application, delivering an extra boost of moisture, which felt thoroughly delightful when I tested it myself. I found it to be most effective as the first step of a double-cleanse — especially when I was wearing stubborn eye makeup — but my complexion was so glowy and hydrated afterward that my skin felt nearly tacky to the touch.

Best makeup remover for waterproof makeup

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Heavy makeup | Product type: Liquid makeup remover

Waterproof makeup is meant to be tough to remove — but this popular Clinique remover is up to the task. Makeup artist Misha Shahzada rotates her makeup remover depending on her clients’ skin type, but she tends to use this one the most. “It removes everything without irritating the eyes and does not leave a greasy residue,” she says. It’s a part of makeup artist Hannah Biddle’s arsenal because “it’s suitable for most skin types, is unscented, and doesn’t sting your eyes like others,” she notes. It can tackle anything from water-resistant mascara to long-lasting liquid eyeliners to budge-proof lipsticks. Just keep in mind: While some of the makeup removers on this list can work as a cleanser, not just a makeup remover, that’s not the case here. Biddle stresses that this formula is just a first step and “meant to be used on dry skin before a traditional facial cleanser.”

Best makeup-remover balm

Solvent type: Oil-based | Makeup type: Heavy makeup | Product type: Cleansing balm

After trying several different makeup removers, this cleansing balm from Farmacy is my personal favorite for its smooth, velvety texture that starts out solid and melts on your face. I love its clean, herbal fragrance (though if you prefer your beauty products to be unscented, this one may not be for you). It requires zero elbow grease; I just massage a small dollop into my skin, rinse it off, and voila — I’m fresh-faced and makeup-free. It’s well-suited for normal, oily, combination, and dry skin, thanks to its ultrahydrating ingredients like sunflower and ginger-root oils that will dissolve even your most stubborn makeup without stripping or drying your skin.

(If you’re looking for an even more luxurious cleansing balm experience, this Eve Lom option was one of the first-ever cleansing balms on the market and boasts a dedicated fan base, according to Waldorf. “It not only worked, but it included an aspect of self-care,” she says. And with a price tag of $80 for just over three ounces, it’s definitely a product for treating yourself.)

Best travel-friendly makeup-remover balm

Solvent type: Oil-based | Makeup type: Medium-to-heavy makeup | Product type: Cleansing balm

As much as I love the Farmacy balm, the full-size container is a bit unwieldy to take with me on the go. When I’m traveling (or just crashing at a friend’s place), I turn to Tula’s Makeup Melt stick. It comes in svelte, compact packaging that slots neatly into my toiletry bag and measures just a bit larger than a tube of lipstick. The balm contains nourishing ingredients like shea butter and macadamia-seed oil, giving it a rich and creamy texture, and it twists up (just like a lip balm) and has a light, pleasant, inoffensive smell. A few quick swipes over my eyes and cheeks, plus a splash of water, leaves me fresh-faced and makeup-free. The only downside is the price relative to its size — the cost per ounce for this product is not as generous as the Farmacy balm, but it’s well worth it for the convenience.

Best makeup-remover wipes

Solvent type: Water-based | Makeup type: Light-to-medium makeup | Product type: Makeup wipes

Makeup wipes aren’t our top choice; besides the fact that they generate waste, they are more likely to smear dirt and makeup around your face without completely removing it. (For a thorough cleanse, you need to rinse your face with water to wash away any residue.) However, for times where you’re on the go and don’t have ready access to your bathroom cabinet, wipes can be very handy. As someone who likes to keep a pack of wipes in my bag 24/7, I’ve tried multiple brands, and these extra-gentle Cetaphil wipes are the best for their soft cloth texture — not scratchy or rough at all — and mild formula that doesn’t sting or irritate my sensitive skin.

They come recommended by Chang, as the ingredients are the same as the liquid Cetaphil remover she highlights above — but on a pre-moistened wipe, they’re much more portable. Like the Cetaphil liquid cleanser, these wipes are “very gentle and contain soothing ingredients, like aloe, green tea, and chamomile,” she says. Plus, they’re noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, and alcohol-free, so they can work for all types of skin. (But if you find that Cetaphil’s wipes are too gentle to really tackle stubborn waterproof makeup, Waldorf swears by these Neutrogena towelettes, which are a bit more robust. She loves how soft and damp they feel and uses them to remove heavy eye and face makeup without scrubbing.)

Some more makeup removers we’ve written about

Our experts

Hannah Biddle, makeup artist
Dr. Y. Claire Chang, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology
Dr. Malini Fowler, dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology
Mary Irwin, makeup artist
Dr. Hadley King, NYC-based dermatologist
Sarah Lucero, Stila Cosmetics global executive director of creative artistry
Misha Shazada, makeup artist
• Dr. Lily Talakoub, founder of Derm to Door
Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf, dermatologist at Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The 14 Very Best Makeup Removers