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14 Best Makeup Removers That Work Without Irritating Skin

Yep, these picks even erase all traces of mascara and eye makeup.

vichy curel and garnier makeup removers on pink background

We updated this article in April 2022 to add seven new product recommendations and more information about each featured product, based on extensive testing done by the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, plus expert commentary.


Anyone who wears makeup knows that removing it can be the worst part — until you find the right makeup remover. "Makeup removers work on the principle of 'like dissolves like'," explains GH Beauty Lab chemist Danusia Wnek. For longwear cosmetics and waterproof makeup, "exposing it to water won’t move the formula that much — an oil-based product is needed to remove it, which is why makeup removers work so well at removing stubborn makeup."

That said, there are so many types of makeup removers from cleansing balm to liquids, wipes, pads and micellar waters for skin types from oily and acne-prone to mature, dry skin and sensitive skin. Which ones actually work? To find out, the GH Beauty Lab evaluates makeup removers in a variety of formulas across price points to gauge their efficacy both in the Lab using scientific protocols and on consumers in real life.

Here, the best GH Beauty Lab-tested and expert-recommended makeup removers you can buy:

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Best Overall Makeup Remover
Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm Makeup Remover
Clinique
Clinique

  • Quickly removes all makeup, including on eyes
  • 2-in-1 makeup remover and cleanser
  • Won't cause breakouts
  • Not irritating

Rich in safflower seed oil and free of top common skin allergens (including fragrance), Clinique’s buttery formula, which won the GH Beauty Lab’s test, thoroughly melts away makeup without inflaming skin. It received the highest score in Lab tests for ability to remove eyeliner in one swipe and number of swipes needed to completely remove makeup. Among testers, 100% found that the balm washed off easily and didn’t cause breakouts or irritation. Several testers said they would continue using it: “My skin felt so soft, fresh and clean,” one said.

Formula: Oil-based balm
Size: 3.8 oz.

Best Value Makeup Remover
Oil-Free Liquid Eye Makeup Remover
Neutrogena
Neutrogena

  • Thoroughly removes even waterproof eye makeup
  • No rubbing or tugging
  • Affordable price

This GH Beauty Award winner and drugstore bargain from Neutrogena aced GH Beauty Lab evaluations, leaving virtually zero trace of product behind — no matter how long-lasting products claimed to be. "A long-time staple in my medicine cabinet, it has yet to disappoint when it comes to no rubbing or tugging during makeup removal, especially waterproof mascara," says GH Beauty Lab senior chemist Sabina Wizemann.

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 3.8 oz.

Best Oil-Free Makeup Remover
SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water
Garnier
Garnier
Now 22% off

  • Large size
  • Oil- and fragrance-free
  • 2-in-1 formula also cleanses skin
  • Non-drying

Great for all skin types, this wallet-friendly Garnier GH Beauty Award winner is a fast-acting formula that thoroughly cleanses skin and clears makeup, without drying your complexion, the GH Beauty Lab found. Simply add some micellar onto a cotton pad, and swipe it across your skin to get rid of grime with no rinsing needed.

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 13.5 oz.

Best Waterproof Makeup Remover
Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover
Mary Kay
Mary Kay

  • Removes waterproof makeup, including eyes
  • Not dehydrating or irritating

This affordable Good Housekeeping Seal star liquid from Mary Kay effectively and easily dissolves even waterproof makeup without tugging, drying or irritating skin. With over 1,100 reviews, users swear, "the first swipe took 90% of the extremely thick mascara and eyeliner off, along with all of my eyeshadow."

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 3.75 oz.

Best Makeup Remover for Dry Skin
Hungarian Water Essence Calming Makeup Remover Wipes
Olay
Olay

  • Easy to use
  • Leaves skin feeling moisturized
  • Dissolves even waterproof makeup

These Olay GH Seal Star and Beauty Award-winning makeup removal towelettes wowed testers who said that the wipes easily removed makeup with no stinging or tugging, crucial for dehydrated skin. The cushiony, fragrance-free towelettes are infused with aloe to sweep away makeup fast without irritating. They effectively remove even waterproof eye makeup while leaving skin hydrated, GH Beauty Lab data evaluation confirmed. Amazon reviewers are totally loyal to them: One raves, "Five stars. A true and complete daily facial in every cloth!"

Formula: Towelettes
Size: 25 count

Best Makeup Remover for Oily Skin
SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1 Brightening with Vitamin C
Garnier
Garnier

  • Makes skin feel purified
  • No oily or sticky residue
  • Great value

If your complexion is acne-prone or oily, this oil-free Garnier makeup removing water is for you. GH Beauty Lab evaluation found it didn't leave skin oily or tacky, and it scored best for not stinging or irritating eyes. Several testers remarked on how "fresh and clean" the formula left skin. "It removed all traces of makeup," another noted.

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 13.5 oz.

Best Makeup Remover for Sensitive Skin
Calm Cleansing Milk
Nuria
Nuria

  • 2-in-1 makeup remover and cleanser
  • Thoroughly dissovles makeup quickly
  • Won't irritate skin

  • May need to apply more product to remove full face of makeup

Milky and mild, Nuria’s makeup removing cleanser, made with sunflower seed oil and vitamin E, effectively removed color while keeping skin calm in GH Beauty Lab testing. The formula, which contains none of the major common allergens, earned perfect marks for not stinging skin as well as for dispensing with ease. In the Lab, it performed near the top at removing makeup speedily and thoroughly, though a larger amount may be needed for a full face. “It was very gentle on my semi-sensitive skin,” a tester reported.

Formula: Liquid lotion
Size: 6.8 oz.

Best Makeup Remover for Mature Skin
Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser
Drunk Elephant
Drunk Elephant

  • Rich, nourishing texture
  • Leaves skin soft

  • Expensive

Makeup removers with rich textures, like this buttery Drunk Elephant balm, are ideal for mature skin, which requires more nourishment. "This is a product that lives up to its name, melting all makeup and dirt away," says GH's former assistant beauty editor. "I love to wear a bold red lip or an inky winged eyeliner, and this takes either off with ease — even if it is a long-wearing formula. Plus, the nourishing oil blend leaves my skin feeling super smooth."

Formula: Oil-based balm
Size: 3.88 oz.

Best Makeup Remover Wipes
Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes
Neutrogena
Now 19% off

  • Easy to use
  • Effectively removes all types of makeup
  • Bargain price

GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. is a fan off these Neutrogena drugstore makeup remover wipes, a longtime Beauty Lab go-to. "We have used these wipes in the Lab for over 10 years for panelists to take their makeup off before our studies, and they work like a charm to remove anything from eye makeup to lipstick," she reports.

Formula: Towelettes
Size: 25 per pack

Best No-Residue Makeup Remover
Pureté Thermale One Step Micellar Water & Makeup Remover
Vichy
Vichy

  • Leaves skin feeling clean
  • Dispenses and spreads easily
  • No rinsing needed

  • May need multiple applications to remove mascara

For a refreshed, superclean feel, splash on this softly scented, glycerin-infused Vichy micellar water, a top performer in the GH Beauty Lab’s test that doesn’t require rinsing. The liquid was best among testers for making skin feel clean, and 100% agreed that it dispensed easily and spread evenly. Note that pressure may be needed for thorough cleansing, and multiple applications may be necessary to dissolve mascara. Multiple users remarked on how easily makeup came off. And this product “didn’t leave residue,” one tester reported.

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 6.7 oz.

Best Makeup Remover Balm
Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm
ELF Cosmetics
e.l.f.

  • Thoroughly removes makeup
  • Glides on easily
  • Leaves skin smooth

  • A few testers noted it caused breakouts

This bargain-priced makeup remover balm from E.L.F. was a winner in GH Beauty Lab testing thanks to its stellar makeup removal performance and smooth texture. It tied for the best score in Lab testing for effectively dissolving makeup and making skin look smooth, plus ranked highest for its "pleasant" scent. An impressive 100% of testers agreed it spread smoothly and evenly over the face. "Makeup came off easily and my face looked clean and bright and felt smooth," a user commented.

Formula: Oil-based solid balm
Size: 2 oz.

Best Makeup Remover Oil
Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil
Curel
Curél

  • Gentle formula
  • Not sticky

  • May need a large amount to remove makeup

A GH Beauty Lab test winner, fragrance-free Curél envelops the face with a silky oil texture to help break down makeup without feeling sticky or irritating. It ranked best for not leaving skin tacky, and 100% of testers said it didn’t aggravate the complexion. Some found that a generous quantity was required to fully remove makeup. “I liked the smoothness of application and my skin after using it,” one reported. “Easy to use, took all makeup off, easily washed off, skin felt hydrated and soft after use,” another raved.

Formula: Oil-based liquid
Size: 5 oz.

Best Makeup Remover Pad
The Mitty Mini Blackout Ultra-Gentle Eye Makeup Remover Pad
Take My Face Off
Take My Face Off

  • Soft on skin
  • Works well for wiping off makeup
  • Eliminates waste from cotton rounds or remover wipes

  • Requires separate makeup remover

Reduce cotton and wipe waste with this reusable Take My Face Off mitt for applying makeup remover or cleanser, which won a GH Beauty Award. In Beauty Lab tests, users called it “plush” and “gentle,” and 90% found that it effectively removed even eye makeup.

Best Soothing Makeup Remover
Micellar Water With Organically Farmed Cornflower
Klorane
Klorane

  • Large size
  • Gentle on sensitive skin
  • Made with minimal, natural ingredients

This Klorane makeup remover is made with just a handful of ingredients, including natural cornflower water to soothe skin. "It is so gentle on my extremely sensitive eyes and areas of skin that get eczema flare-ups it never stings, burns, or irritates in any way," says Good Housekeeping's beauty director. "I love that it also doubles as a face cleanser in a pinch and the bottle is huge, so it lasts forever."

Formula: Oil-free liquid
Size: 13.5 oz.

How we test makeup removers
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GH Beauty Lab scientists evaluate label-masked new makeup removers in the Lab and on 176 testers for both their makeup removal efficacy and cosmetic properties, tallying 12,200 total data points to find the best makeup removers on the market. In the Lab, experts conducted a test to grade how well they removed eyeliner from skin in one swipe and a second test to measure the number of swipes needed for complete removal of the eyeliner. Products that claimed to remove waterproof makeup were tested against waterproof eyeliner formulas. We evaluate their efficacy, thoroughness and speed in removing eyeliner from skin.

an image of good housekeeping beauty lab makeup remover testing

Consumer testers also use the makeup removers at home in their routines for a set time period, evaluating them on factors including ease of dispensing, application and rinsing off; texture; scent; perceived effectiveness in removing makeup; whether they caused irritation or breakouts; and the look and feel of skin after use.

What to look for when shopping for the best makeup remover
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Both makeup artists and dermatologists recommend considering your skin type when choosing the right makeup remover for you. "This will play a huge role on how your skin will react to the remover and give you the best results," explains Beck Wainner, a celebrity makeup artist in Nashville, Tennessee. Here are general guidelines for each skin type from Mara Weinstein Velez, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Laser Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center:

  • For oily or acne-prone skin: Try oil-free, non-greasy makeup removers like micellar waters.
  • For mature skin: Choose oil-based, moisturizing formulas that will be gentler on skin.
  • For dry skin: Seek out creamy, oil-based makeup removers or micellar waters, which work for all skin types, she says.
  • For sensitive skin: Look for mild formulations that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
  • For combination skin: Use an oil-based makeup remover, then follow with a foaming facial cleaners, Dr. Weinstein suggests.
Does makeup remover clean your face?
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It's important to know that cleansing your skin and removing your makeup are not the same thing. Makeup remover won't give your skin a thorough cleanse, just like a typical face wash won't rid your face of makeup, GH Beauty Lab testing has found. "Face cleansers and makeup removers serve different purposes," Dr. Weinstein explains.

"Makeup removers are effective in removing makeup from the surface of your skin and following with a facial cleanser removes dirt, oil and sweat and cleans the pores." There are also micellar water-based formulations use a special "micelle" technology that traps and whisks away pigment particles without the use of oil.

What is the best way to remove makeup?
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Don't just rub the remover all over your face, which can actually disperse the color even more as opposed to lifting it. Apply the makeup remover to a cotton round, reusable pad or washcloth, "then let it sit for a minute or two before wiping to ensure all make up residue dissolves," Wainner suggests.

Why trust Good Housekeeping?
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Danusia Wnek is a chemist in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab. She has a B.S. in chemistry from St. John’s University, an M.S. in pharmaceutical sciences with concentration in cosmetic science from the University of Cincinnati and 10 years of experience in the personal care industry including formulation, product development, claim evaluation and efficacy testing. Since joining the team in 2014, she has been developing and overseeing the testing of many product skincare and makeup product categories utilizing both lab instrumentation and consumer feedback to recommend the best products on the market. She enjoys researching and translating scientific data for consumers so they feel empowered in their purchasing decisions.

Sabina Wizemann, Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab senior chemist, started in 2012 with over six years of prior experience as an organic chemist in the hair dye, cosmetic and biotech industry. She develops laboratory protocols using specialized lab equipment, conducts product testing across skincare and makeup categories, including makeup removers, and oversees large consumer studies. She also reviews applications, substantiates claims and evaluates products for the GH Seal and beauty and sustainability award programs.

April Franzino has over a decade of experience working in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, including the past seven years serving as beauty director. In her role, she oversees all beauty editorial content at Good Housekeeping, working closely with the GH Beauty Lab scientists to develop, execute and translate product testing into compelling, factually accurate editorial in categories like skincare and makeup, including makeup removers.

Pia Velasco is a former Good Housekeeping associate beauty editor who worked closely with the GH Beauty Lab to report on product testing.

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