While we entirely agree that the best things in life are free, we’d also argue that maybe the second best things are those little luxuries that make you appreciate how extraordinarily special they are, and that is exactly how I feel about a particular cotton facial pad. Oh, and 2,209 of my closest Sephora-reviewing friends feel the same way.
I tone my face every night; it helps me prevent zits and gently removes dead skin cells. First, though, I double cleanse to thoroughly wash my skin, and then the magic happens: toning. I have found solace bouncing in between a few, including the iconic Biologique Recherche P50, Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner, or Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner. I conservatively soak a cotton pad with the toning elixir and dab it on my face. It removes excess makeup and grit from the day while also acting as a light exfoliation. Sure, I certainly could be using any generic ribbed cotton pad (and I have previously), but after one swipe using its fancier, thicker, and softer cousin, I’ve never looked back.
The elevated version I’ve become addicted to are Shiseido Cotton Pads ($10 for 165). They’re as soft as a cloud yet super sturdy—no fuzz left behind here—and I love them.
Those cheaper cotton pads are fine, but they always seemed to leave behind little pieces of cotton and often felt like there were scraping my skin with their uneven texture. The luxe, softer version glides over your skin like a cloud, picking up excess surface debris without disturbing skin. If you are spending money on any type of skincare, these cotton pads are definitely worth the small investment. They can help improve the application and the effectiveness of your beloved skincare products.
So, in defense of a higher-end version, here are a few of our very cloud-like favorites.
My one true love: Not too thick, these are perfect for everyday makeup removal, toners, and essences. Shiseido says they’re made out of “100 percent natural” cotton, and are “uniquely manufactured for a consistent soft, smooth texture.” And while a pack is certainly more expensive than a standard $2.50 pack of cotton squares at the drugstore, you do get your money’s worth—it works out to about 6 cents a pad. The squares also have a pretty strong following in the comment section of Sephora, with nearly 2,000 five-star reviews, which is pretty impressive for an everyday basic.
A Chanel bag or shoes might be out of the budget, but a Chanel cotton pad is an everyday luxury worth considering. Every pad is delicately embossed with the Chanel logo, and that’s the type of luxe I’m looking for in this world.
These are described by Chanel as “tri-layer pads,” with the outer layers made of hand-picked cotton and the inner filling composed of entwined elastic fibers for an ultra-plush experience. They’re also thicker than thick, very absorbent, and very large (nearly palm-size). While this is still an option for daily toner situations, one pad might be more ideal for makeup removal when you have a bold eye, since you can effectively remove makeup on one end and tone on the other end. Or you could simply cut it up with a clean pair of scissors to get more bang for your buck.
As with most things at Muji, these are simple but great. They are not at the extreme levels of softness associated with the luxe brands, but they are certainly more plush than a standard drugstore option. They do fall apart a bit easier when used to remove makeup, but they’re great for a quick tone at night and work out to be just 2 cents a pad.
Cle de Peau’s luxe cotton pads, which come in a pretty little box, are beloved in the beauty world. According to the brand, they are wrapped in “natural silk,” which is pretty damn impressive. The pads are slightly smaller in size than the Chanel version, but not in thickness—they’re incredibly cushy, smooth, and, of course, never pill. It works out to be the same price per pad as Chanel, and they both feel about the same amount of luxuriousness, so either is a nightly treat for the skin.
These cotton pads are softer than your average cotton square and a great cost-effective option. They’re made of 100 percent cotton and are thinner than the Shiseido pads, making them ideal for nightly toning, but you’ll probably need more than one for pesky waterproof eye makeup.
If medical gauze and cotton pads had a baby, it would look like a toning cloth. They’re on the thinner side like gauze but are built to withstand wear and tear like pads. What’s especially wonderful about an option like Rouleau’s is that it absorbs 50 percent less product than cotton pads, so it’s perfect for your pricey toners, like P50, so a single drop won’t go to waste. I even cut these cloths in half so I can press in product on both sides of my face simultaneously to save time, money, and excess cloth waste.
This story was originally published in September 2018 and has since been updated with new information.