Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
My nightly face cleansing routine is something I actually look forward to every day. Most days I use a three-step process: oil-based eye makeup remover on a cotton pad, then all-over face cleaning with an oil cleanser, followed by a traditional cleanser. There’s just something about it that’s like a rebirth for my skin. (This is all followed by a fairly elaborate skincare regimen, which is followed by a few hours in front of whatever TV series I happen to be binge-watching.)
However, over the past few years, a popular product has come along that’s in direct conflict of my elaborate routine. It’s called the Makeup Eraser, and it’s a washcloth that is allegedly able to remove a complete face of makeup with only water. It’s 100 percent polyester, and it reminds me of cheap, slippery beach towels, or the kind of robes you get for free as a gift-with-purchase at beauty counters. In fact, cheap robes were the inspiration for this product; founder Lexi McCarthy received one as a gift, rubbed her wet face with the robe one day, and found that it removed all her makeup. So she cut it up into pieces and sent it to friends and family to test.
That led to the launch of the Makeup Eraser ($20) in 2013 (not to be confused with the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, which truly deserves its name). It’s sold in Sephora, and the retailer even launched its own house version, two for $12, a few years ago. I went even further down the knockoff chain and bought a four-pack called Erase Your Face ($9.99) at Harmon, a discount beauty retailer owned by Bed Bath & Beyond, where they were sold on a floor-to-ceiling wall display.
Makeup wipes are anathema to me, so the thought of using nothing at all except polyester and tap water was downright horrifying. But for five nights in a row and with different levels of makeup (foundation, longwear brow gel, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, highlight, matte liquid lipstick) I cleansed one side of my face with my usual products and one side with the cloth and water. To compare the results, I looked for visual residue and then swiped a micellar water-soaked cotton pad over my face to see what was left.
Turns out, the slippery washcloth that seems to repel water actually works pretty well — at least at removing visible levels of makeup. It actually took off my eye makeup, including eyeliner and waterproof mascara, better than oil cleanser and foaming cleanser. (I did not include the eye makeup remover step, because that didn’t seem fair and I recognize that my routine might be excessive.) It also did a great job with dark neutral matte liquid lipstick, a process that usually requires some scrubbing and a few moments of looking like a deranged clown. In the end, the washcloth alone performed better on the eye makeup and lipstick removal based on the micellar water post-test, but the dual cleansing took off my foundation better than the cloth alone did.
Some cons: The cloths, which came in black, purple, hot pink, and aqua versions, stained. Even after washing, they were still covered with makeup stains. It’s more of a superficial issue, but these should really all be black for aesthetic reasons. Also, you need to wash them pretty much every other day or so. I left them hanging to dry on my tub and after two days they developed a musty smell.
Laundering issue aside, I think these would be great for a gym bag or short weekend trip type of situation, especially if you can rinse them off with soap between uses. Because of the 100 percent polyester content, they dry really quickly.
But I would never substitute it for cleansers. While there was very little makeup present on my cotton pad test afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder what was still lingering in my pores after the washcloth-only cleanse. Also, I enjoy the ritual of washing my face. But for the advocates of this product who point to its lack of waste and who don’t like to use what they deem “toxic” chemicals on their faces, this is actually not a bad option. Also, not bad for nights when you roll in late and can’t be bothered to wash your face.
Verdict: Mostly good!