As more and more people become aware of the effects their skincare product use has on the environment, a new trend has emerged from the Korean beauty world: waterless skincare (also known as anhydrous skincare). As the name might suggest, waterless skincare refers to products that are made without water. It sounds radical, when you consider that water is usually one of the first ingredients on the label of nearly every ingredient in your skincare regimen, but it can be worth it: Waterless beauty has benefits for both the planet and your skin.
First up… What is waterless skincare?
In short, waterless skincare refers to any skincare or beauty product made without water (sometimes referred to as “aqua”, “acqua” or “eau” on the label). Go and peek at your favourite products right now—I bet you’ll find water hiding out near the top of the ingredient listing.
When you think about the beauty products you use in your daily routine, many of these can be just as effective when water is removed. Shampoo bars and cleanser bars (not soap!) are two that immediately come to mind. Not only are shampoo bars a practical waterless alternative to shampoo, they also cut down on the number of plastic bottles headed straight for the landfill. And you don’t have to worry about them spilling through your suitcase when you travel—double win!
Other waterless beauty products typically take form as powders, oils, butters and balms. Now, it’s worth noting that while waterless cleansers, shampoos and body washes are made without water, most still require water to lather and rinse just like their water-filled counterparts do. Perhaps you could cut your shower time in half?
Waterless skincare has exploded in popularity recently, which has led many to question: Is it yet another beauty fad? The answer to this question is complex, and while there are certainly some brands capitalising on this eco-friendly skincare trend, there are also many legit waterless skincare brands with products that have serious benefits for your skin and for the environment. Let’s look a little closer, shall we?
Is waterless skincare better for the environment?
Water is one of the key ingredients in most cosmetic products and, while water is fine on your skin, it’s not fine for the planet. Word Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.
But surely the small amount of water in your face serum or body wash couldn’t have any significany impact on the earth, right? One little jar might not make a measurable difference, but collectively it all adds up to our global water footprint—that is, the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use.
Without water, skincare products become lighter and more compact, reducing the carbon footprint involved in transporting them around the world.
However, let’s clarify one thing. Just because your skincare is waterless, doesn’t mean that its production was without water. Water is still required in the manufacturing process, shipping and also in growing and harvesting most plant-based ingredients—though some beauty brands have taken moves to reduce their impact here too. Ayuna is one such brand, where they’ve implemented innovative methods to cultivate their natural ingredients using 99.9% less water than the traditional method.
Some big brands, including L’Oreal and Unilever, have also publically shared their plans to reduce their environmental impact (including water usage) by 50% or more, leading them to invest heavily in new technology and innovations that facilitate water-friendly manufacturing.
In other words, watch this space as waterless skincare is set to become more affordable with new the advent of new technologies.
Benefits of waterless skincare for the environment:
- Water makes up 60-80% of many common skincare and beauty products these days. Given the world is facing a looming water shortage, reducing the amount of water in skincare will make a significant impact on the beauty industry’s water footprint.
- Waterless skincare products tend to be more dense than their water-filled counterparts, meaning you’ll use less and they’ll last longer. This positively impacts the environment by reducing consumption and the carbon footprint involved in manufacturing and shipping.
- Some products can be packaged in a solid form, like solid shampoo bars, instead of in plastic bottles or tubes, which reduces the amount of plastic waste.
Is waterless skincare better for your skin?
When waterless beauty first emerged, the focus was on increasing the potency of your products—in other words, maximising the amount of active ingredients in your skincare (i.e. the stuff you’re paying good money for) and minimising filler ingredients, such as water.
Water itself isn’t bad for your skin and many skincare ingredients (such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and vitamin C) are water soluble, meaning they actually require water in the product. However, since water is a cheap ingredient, it is often used as a filler in skincare products. Some brands have been known to skimp on active ingredients, adding water instead and reducing the product’s effectiveness.
You see, water doesn’t really have any benefit to your skin. You could put endless amounts of water on dry skin, and it wouldn’t make much difference. In fact, you’d get more benefit from drinking the water than applying it to your skin, given that your skin is naturally water resistant.
Where water is necessary to the active ingredient, innovative brands have come up with other solutions. Some use the water from fruit, which would’ve otherwise been discarded anyway, others use ingredients like seaweed or aloe vera.
While water isn’t bad for your skin, water-free skin products do have certain benefits that make up for the typically higher price tag.
Benefits of waterless skincare products for your skin:
- Oil-soluble ingredients are better able to penetrate your skin’s natural barrier, allowing for better active ingredient absorption. This means that those expensive active ingredients you’re paying for are having a better effect.
- Waterless moisturisers and creams create a better barrier, protecting your skin from water loss and keeping you moisturised for longer.
- Waterless skincare products tend to be made from more natural ingredients, and don’t require preservatives (including parabens and formaldehyde), emulsifiers and thickeners, which means fewer nasties on your face.
Our favourite waterless beauty brands
It can be tricky to discern which waterless skincare brands are legit, and which ones are simply virtue signalling and hoping to capitalise on the trend towards more sustainable beauty. We’ve done the hard work for you—these are the brands worth following:
This New Zealand-based company started out in its founder’s kitchen and has since become an internationally-stocked brand. Their product range (which includes solid shampoo and conditioner bars, body butter sticks, deodorant and more) is entirely plastic-free, cruelty-free and vegan.
Everist set out to discover what beauty would look like without single-use plastic. The result? Thoughtfully packaged waterless concentrates—think: waterless body wash, shampoo and conditioner, in a lightweight aluminum container, small enough to keep the TSA happy and concentrated enough to last you two months at a time.
Clean, sustainable and kind, LOLI Beauty products are all water-free, toxin-free, waste-free, and slavery-free. With product names that make you wonder whether you’re buying a delicious dessert instead of something to put on your skin, their range will leave you feeling nourished inside and out.