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Whether you're taking off nail polish, removing waterproof mascara with micellar water, exfoliating your skin, or applying a serum, ampoule, or essence as part of your 10-step skincare routine, it's always a good idea to have cotton pads on hand. These multi-use beauty companions are all made of plant-sourced cotton fibers, but if you think they're all the same, well… you'd be surprised. Like cotton sheets and clothing, cotton pads aren't created equal.
So, what are the best ones available today? While most are designed for versatility, the answer depends on your skin type, what you're using them for, and your personal preferences. You'll want an absorption ability that correlates with the products you'll be using them with, as well as a texture that suits your needs. And you'll need to decide whether single use or reusable makes more sense to you. To help you narrow down choices, we compiled the top rounds, squares, sheets, and pads for every budget and purpose.
Here, the best cotton pads for your beauty routine.
Best Overall: Shiseido Facial Cotton
Shiseido Facial Cotton is tough to beat. Designed for daily use, these 100% cotton, ultra-absorbent pads have a smooth surface texture and are notably gentle against the skin. From toning to hydrating to makeup removal, there's nothing you can't do with this luxuriously soft and endlessly useful product.
Best Drugstore: Q-tips Beauty Cotton Rounds
When it comes to cotton personal care products, Q-tips is a household name, and you can expect dependable quality from the brand's Beauty Rounds. These quilted cotton pads are strong enough that they should resist pilling and shedding but soft enough to use on your face for daily makeup removal and skin care.
Best Splurge: Clé de Peau Beauté Cotton
"My favorite brand of cotton pads are from Clé de Peau," New York-based board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman tells Byrdie. "They're made from the highest-quality cotton and high-density silk and are uniquely designed to deposit the maximum amount of product onto the skin rather than absorbing it."
Best K-Beauty: White Rabbit Naked Cotton Classic
White Rabbit knows a thing or two about skincare, and you can expect nothing less than amazing things from the Korean beauty brand's cotton pads. A box of Naked Cotton comes with 200 sizable lint-free pads. Measuring 4 x 6 inches each, they're big enough to use on your entire face and décolletage. You can use these rectangles for makeup removal, toner application, or fastening a DIY face mask when you want to sit back into self-care mode.
Best Exfoliating: Swisspers Premium Exfoliating Cotton Rounds
Cotton pads are also great for sloughing off dead skin, like Swisspers Exfoliating Rounds. These dual-sided pads are textured on one side and smooth on the other, making them ideal for everyday use and more serious exfoliation. You can also use them to apply your AHAs and BHAs for your smoothest, clearest complexion.
Best for Sensitive Skin: MUJI Soft Cut Cotton
Folks with fussy skin should go with MUJI Soft Cut Cotton. Made in Japan with unbleached cotton, these squares are thick and absorbent but not at all scratchy. They're gentle on sensitive complexions and are unlikely to irritate, whether you use them every day or once in a while.
Best Organic: Organyc 100% Certified Organic Cotton Makeup Pads
We're also loving the certified organic cotton pads from Organyc Beauty. These best-selling rounds are smooth on one side and mildly textured on the other, making them ideal for daily makeup removal and deeper exfoliation. Plus, they're super-soft, naturally breathable, and suitable for every skin type.
Best for Skincare: Rael Beauty Soak It Up Facial Sponge Cotton Pads
Made of natural cotton pulp and cosmetic-grade rayon, these silky-soft and brilliantly spongy rectangles are the perfect companions for your skincare routine. They resist tearing, don't pill, and won't leave any lint behind on your face. And thanks to the incredibly absorbent design, you don't need to apply as much product to the cotton. In other words, your lotions and potions will last twice as long.
Best for Makeup Removal: DHC Silky Cotton
You'll be glad to have DHC Silky Cotton on hand when it's time to remove a full face of makeup or stubborn waterproof mascara. Soft, gentle, and always lint-free, these silky cotton pads can also be used for skin care and taking off nail polish.
Best for Nail Polish Removal: Diane Cotton Squares
Need to remove nail polish from your fingers or toes? Reach for Diane Cotton Squares. Measuring 2.4 x 2 inches, these generously sized, ultra-absorbent pads can tackle long-wear lacquer in one fell swoop. They're also gentle enough for taking off eye makeup and applying everyday skincare products.
Best All-Purpose: The Body Shop Cotton Rounds
The Body Shop's take on cotton pads are these organic double-sided rounds. With two lint-free, undeniably soft surfaces, the multi-purpose design is just the thing for all your beauty needs. Makeup removal, face cleansing, toner application, exfoliation—you name it, these cotton pads are up for the task.
Best Reusable: Paula's Choice Reusable Cotton Rounds
Want something you don't have to throw in the trash after a single use? Your best bet is Paula's Choice Reusable Rounds. Made of 70 percent cotton and 30 percent bamboo, these washable pads are absorbent and durable yet soft and gentle, making them ideal for any use and every skin type.
They come with a handy zippered laundry bag and can be washed again and again, saving you and the planet from thousands of toss-away pads. What's more, they're 100 percent compostable, so you can feel good about their effect on the environment, even when they reach the end of their lifecycle.
For all-around excellent cotton pads for every purpose, you can't go wrong with Shiseido Facial Cotton (view at Ulta). These super-absorbent rectangles are smooth, gentle, and endlessly useful. However, if you're looking for a washable option, we recommend Paula's Choice Reusable Cotton Rounds (view at Paula's Choice). Made of an absorbent cotton-bamboo blend, these eco-friendly pads are gentle on the skin and easy on the environment.
What to Look for When Buying Cotton Pads
When buying cotton pads, you'll want to look for something with an absorbent design. Cotton is absorbent in and of itself, but some beauty pads are thicker, larger, or quilted, making them better than others at soaking up products. This means you don't have to use as much and can expect more of the formula to deposit onto your skin.
Some cotton pads are smooth on both sides, which is ideal for everyday use and anyone with sensitive skin. Other options are smooth on one side and slightly textured on the other. The textured side can be used for exfoliation or removing stubborn nail polish, and the smooth side can be used for removing eye makeup and applying various skincare products.
Single-Use vs. Reusable
Most cotton pads on the market are designed for single use. Though they're usually not exorbitantly expensive, using one or more a day can add up. With larger pads, Dr. Engelman says you can "cut each square in half to make them last longer."
Having said that, investing in reusable pads can save you money in the long run. Plus, washable options are better for the environment.
Are cotton pads good for your face?
Do cotton pads cause wrinkles?
It's all about how you use them. Used gently for purposed such as removing makeup, you shouldn't have any issue. However, you'll want to avoid using any product or material in a rough manner around your delicate eye area, as that can contribute to wrinkles.
What is better: cotton pads or cotton balls?
Why Trust Byrdie?
Theresa Holland is an experienced commerce writer and regular contributor to Byrdie. She's purchased many cotton pads over the years and typically falls back on Equate and Swisspers, though she's growing to love White Rabbit Naked Cotton. You can check out more of Theresa's work on Verywell Fit, The Spruce, and MyDomaine.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any cotton pads from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.