Taking off nail polish. Removing eye makeup. Applying toner. Exfoliating your skin. These are just some of the (many) ways that cotton pads can play a role in your beauty routine. The point being, they’re an invaluable bathroom cabinet staple—but did you know that not all cotton pads are created equal? While yes, most of them can be used in any/all of the aforementioned ways, certain ones are better suited for certain scenarios than others. Things such as texture and absorption ability, as well as size, should be taken into consideration. Not to mention these days there are even reusable cotton pads out there, which are choice for those looking to minimize environmental impact.
Here, are the best cotton pads to satisfy all of your beauty wants and needs.
Shiseido Facial Cotton
Smooth surface is very gentle
Designed to be used daily, these Japanese-made cotton pads are extremely absorbent and supremely smooth, making them notably gentle on the skin (and a great choice for all skin types). FYI, they are meant to be used with skincare, in particular, and since they are a bit on the pricier side, you may want to reserve them for use on your face rather than for things such as nail polish removal.
Price at time of publish: $12
Material: Cotton | Shape: Square | Count: 165 | Cruelty-Free: No
Q-tips Beauty Cotton Rounds
Reviewers note the edges are rough
There are plenty of great cotton pads to be found at the drugstore, but these take the cake. The quilted texture is strong and durable, easily resisting any piling or shedding. Still, they’re soft enough even to use on the delicate skin around your eyes when you need to take off waterproof mascara or eyeliner.
Price at time of publish: $10
Material: Cotton | Size: 2.25 x 2.25 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 75 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
White Rabbit Naked Cotton Classic
Very large in size
Very thin sheets
We love these oversized squares—they measure 4 inches by 6 inches—for applying or removing any type of skincare on your face, neck, and/or décolletage. Also nice: The cotton is unbleached and chemical-free. While they are a bit on the thinner side, they’re very lint-free and come in a big box of 200, always a win in our book.
Price at time of publish: $16
Material: Cotton | Size: 4 x 6 in. | Shape: Square | Count: 200 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin
MUJI Soft Cut Cotton
Can be pilling
True story: Cotton can soak up all kinds of pesticides and chemicals—the last thing you want if you have easily irritated skin. These Japanese-made pads are unbleached (it’s why you may see some flecks in them) and also completely soft and gentle on your skin, no matter how often you use them.
Price at time of publish: $7
Material: Cotton | Size: 2.36 x 1.9 in. | Shape: Square | Count: 180 | Cruelty Free: No
Best for Skincare
Rael Beauty Soak It Up Facial Sponge Cotton Pads
Might be hard for sensitive skin
As the name suggests, these super-absorbent pads are more of a cotton pad-sponge hybrid. They’re made from a combo of natural cotton pulp and cosmetic-grade rayon, which gives them almost a cushiony or bouncy texture. It also ensures that they won’t pill and increases their absorbency, so you can apply less of your beloved skincare products to the pad and still get the same result.
Price at time of publish: $11
Material: Natural pulp cotton and cosmetic rayon | Shape: Square | Count: 200 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Makeup Removal
DHC Silky Cotton
Easy to hold
Suitable for all skin types
These silky smooth cotton pads glide against your skin, an especially important factor when you’re talking about the delicate eye area and removing waterproof mascara or other eye makeup. They’re lint-free and have the added benefit of including a small flap to pop in your fingers, which makes them very easy to hold.
Price at time of publish: $18
Material: Cotton | Size: 2 x 3 in. | Shape: Square | Count: 3 | Cruelty Free: No
The Body Shop Cotton Rounds
There’s nothing these pads can’t do. The double-sided surface ensures they work equally well for cleansing and exfoliating, while the lint-free texture makes them ideal for removing makeup, taking off nail polish, applying toner, you name it. It doesn’t hurt that they’re organic, too.
Price at time of publish: $3
Material: Cotton | Size: 2 x 2 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 100 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
LastObject LastRound Reusable Cotton Round
Feel just like traditional cotton rounds
Chic carrying case
Yes, cotton pads are great when it comes to multi-tasking, but they’re admittedly not so great for the environment. Happily, there are now plenty of reusable options to choose from, including these. They’re made from a combination of wood cellulose and short cotton fibers that otherwise can’t be used in the textile industry, making for a result that feels pretty much exactly like any other cotton pad. The difference? They’re machine washable so that each one can be used up to 1750 times. We also love the adorable case they come in, which comes in six different colors and is worthy of displaying on your bathroom counter.
Price at time of publish: $16
Material: Round 70% wood cellulose | Size: 2.36 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 7 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Jenny Patinkin Organic Bamboo Reusable Cosmetic Rounds
Can be used for weeks before washing
Includes a laundry bag
Yes, these are much pricier than the pack of cotton pads you’d pick up from the drugstore, but they’re well worth it. For starters, they’re not only totally reusable, but they’re also made from bamboo-derived Lyocell. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable crops on Earth, so you’re doing even more good for the environment by purchasing these. You can use one of the rounds for one to two weeks before it needs to be washed; when it does, it’s easy to do so with the included laundry bag.
Price at time of publish: $38
Material: Bamboo | Size: 0.31 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 14 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Up&Up Exfoliating Cotton Rounds
Dual-sided texture for gentle exfoliation
Use the smooth side of these double-sided pads to remove makeup and use the textured side to apply cleanser or serum for a little added, though still gentle, exfoliation. The wallet-friendly price can’t be beaten, and they come in packs of 100 or 600 if you want to stock up.
Price at time of publish: $4
Material: Cotton | Size: 2.25 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 100 or 600 | Cruelty-Free: No
Sephora Collection Organic Cotton Pads
These square pads are made from 100 percent organic cotton, which also happens to be GOTS certified by Ecocert (this means you can feel confident knowing no hazardous chemicals are being used during the production and processing of the fiber). They’re soft and lint-free and surprisingly dense, the ideal choice for applying skincare or removing makeup.
Price at time of publish: $5
Material: Cotton | Shape: Square | Count: 50 | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Nail Polish Removal
ForPro Premium Nail Wipes
Easy to hold
Great for any nail polish remover
Is there anything worse than getting little pieces of lint stuck in your nail polish as you’re trying to take it off? We think not. That won’t be the case here; these durable rounds are lint-free. But the feature that makes them a manicure staple is the handy plastic tab at the top that you can grip as you swipe on the remover—without having to deal with it soaking through and soaking your skin.
Price at time of publish: $15
Material: Cotton | Size: 1.75 in. | Shape: Round | Count: 240 | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Cotton pads can be used in an endless number of ways, and the Shiseido Facial Cotton lets you do exactly that. The super-absorbent rectangles are supremely smooth and gentle. If you’re looking for a good drugstore pick, consider the Q-Tips Cotton Rounds. And if you prefer a more sustainable alternative, the Last Round Reusable Cotton Rounds and Jenny Patinkin Pure Luxury Organic Reusable Rounds earn our vote; both are machine washable and reusable.
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 for 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?
Cotton pads are a natural choice for your daily face care needs. Because most varieties are very gentle, anyone can use them, regardless of their skin type.
Do cotton pads cause wrinkles?
It's all about how you use them. Used gently for purposes, 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 since that can contribute to wrinkles.
What is better: cotton pads or cotton balls?
It depends on what you're using them for. Cotton pads let you use less product. They're easier to work with thanks to their shape and don't give off lint.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She likes to use inexpensive, drugstore cotton rounds for nail polish-removing purposes and recently switched to using reusable ones for removing makeup.