Makeup

We Tried It: A Tree Hugger-Friendly Replacement for Cotton Balls

Are reusable organic cotton rounds worth the extra hassle? One tester attempts to wipe away her carbon footprint guilt

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I like to think of myself as environmentally conscious. I recycle religiously, my t-shirts are made of organic cotton, and when I drive, (nerd alert!) I play a little game with my gas pedal to see how high I can get my miles per gallon.

But then I think about my not-so-earth-friendly habits. Every time I order takeout and see the five extra layers of paper, plastic or Styrofoam that go into packaging it, I can't help but imagine my little corner of a landfill growing that much larger. When I forget my reusable bags at the grocery store, I feel like a failure (not to mention judged by the Trader Joe's cashier). That's why I was super excited about S.W. Basics' Eco Cotton Rounds -- organic, reusable, machine-washable cotton pads for applying things like toner or makeup remover.

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The back story: Adina Grigore, founder of S.W. Basics Cosmetics, started the line of skin care products to help ease her own super sensitive skin. She develops all of the products and formulas herself, using only five ingredients or less. Grigore sources her cotton for the Eco Rounds from a mother-daughter duo (girl power!) in Colorado.

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Why I'm excited: The eco-nerd in me can't help but gush over the virtues of these little rounds, so bear with me. Here's the deal: All of those cotton commercials of people running through fields in flowy fabrics may have been misleading. Cotton is actually the world's "dirtiest" crop, because it requires such heavy doses of potent insecticides. Aldicarb, for instance, the second most commonly used insecticide for cotton, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed into the skin. (We're talking Walter White lethal!) Despite its relative toxicity, 16 states in the U.S. have reported the presence of aldicarb in their groundwater. So if there's a product out there that can help reduce the amount of pesticides we're ingesting, I'm all for it.

The process: I tested these rounds for two weeks, using them with my makeup remover. My first thought: These feel way better on my skin than a cotton ball. They're large, so one side of a single round was enough for a day's use. And they're so thick that the product didn't leak through to the other side. This means that I was able to make the entire 8-pack last for 16 days before I had to do a load of laundry (good news for those who, uh, recycle their dirty clothes before washing). Because they are less absorbent than a cotton ball, more of the product got onto my face, rather than being lost in a ball of fluff.

Now for the washing machine test. As I was stuffing those rounds into their little laundry bag (included with the rounds), I was skeptical. After all, they were covered in mascara, foundation, and waxy lipstick, and some of them had been sitting around for almost two weeks. I was afraid the makeup might transfer to my lighter-colored clothes, so in they went with the dark load. When I pulled them out, they were like new. All traces of makeup were gone, and I had another two-week supply of cotton rounds.

Final Verdict: These cotton rounds work well as a replacement for cotton balls, and I actually prefer them. But is it really cost-effective? I crunched the numbers:

I typically have to use two large cotton balls to remove my makeup. I get my cotton balls at CVS, where you can get 100 for $1.99. If you want to buy organic, you'll pay $3.49 for 80 cotton balls. That means I'm going through a little over nine bags of cotton balls a year, which amounts to nearly $32 on makeup-removing cotton balls. A bag of eight cotton rounds from S.W. Basics, on the other hand, is $22. These seem sturdy enough to last me over a year, so not only will they keep thousands of cotton balls out of the trash and reduce the impact of cotton crops on the earth, they'll also end up saving me money.

Of course, owning these rounds doesn't mean you won't ever buy another cotton ball. For one, they're definitely not good for nail polish removal. And nothing can ever replace a Q-tip. But as far as removing makeup, applying toner, and reducing my guilt about my carbon footprint, I'll be reaching for these feel-good eco-friendly rounds.

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