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What are Cotton Balls?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cotton ball is a ball of soft fiber that is primarily used for medical or cosmetic purposes, but can be used for other purposes such as arts and crafts or cleaning. They originate from the cotton plant, which is a shrub that is found in sub-tropical and tropical regions throughout the world. Cotton grows in bolls which are located around the seeds of the plants. Although the cotton can be used in its natural form, the fibers can be spun into other products such as bed sheets and clothing or refined and sterilized for everyday and medical uses.

Cotton balls have multiple uses in the medical field including cleaning out wounds with hydrogen peroxide or iodine, applying topical ointments such as salves and creams, and stopping blood after a shot is given. Surgical procedures also require their use for soaking up internal blood. Also, they are used to pad a wound before it is bandaged.

Using cotton balls for application and removal of cosmetics is another popular use. Foundations, bronzers, powders and blushes are sometimes applied with this product, as is nail polish remover.. Because cosmetic cotton balls are sterile, they are a great tool for removing eye makeup with special remover, or applying skin care products such as astringents and toners. When people choose to use cotton products on their faces, they avoid touching their skin with their fingers which can lead to unpleasant blemishes.

In addition to medical and cosmetic uses, cotton balls may be used for other non-traditional uses, such as cleaning. When cleaning small areas that are hard to reach, the flexibility of a cotton ball will allow reaching such areas as behind a faucet or any other place that a sponge won’t fit into. If a child has diaper rash, cotton is softer than a rag and are used to help wash the baby’s bottom.

Cotton balls may also be used for a number of art and craft projects, such as a bunny’s tail, Santa’s beard, clouds, spider webs, fog and snow. Snowmen, lambs or sheep may also be made with these products. Painting or ink stamping with a cotton ball will give an original stroke or print when trying to create the appearance of texture in an art project.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By pleats — On Sep 18, 2010

Has anyone every used Organic Essentials cotton balls? I'm in charge of putting together a basket for an expectant mother, and I thought it might be a good idea to get her a pack of 100 jumbo cotton balls. Are the organic ones any good?

It's either those or Swisspers cotton balls, but the organic ones look prettier -- which one should I use?

By lightning88 — On Sep 18, 2010

I will never forget a roommate I had in college who showed up with a 500 pack of cotton balls. She went through those things like no one I have ever seen!

I seriously should have bought stock in Johnson and Johnson cotton balls, I would be a millionaire today.

I kept telling her that she should look for a place to buy cotton balls wholesale, but she never realized the extent of her usage, I guess.

By Charlie89 — On Sep 18, 2010

Cotton balls are oftentimes not the best thing for cleaning out wounds -- even sterile cotton balls can leave behind fibers if it's a particularly sticky wound.

I would say you should probably stick to using your cotton wool balls for cosmetic and arts purposes, rather than to clean out a wound.

Although they are good for sterilizing an area before causing a wound -- like how they clean your arm at the doctor's office before giving you a shot.

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