Hell No H2O: the Rise of Waterless Beauty

Water. Aqua. H2O. On a hot day like today, it’s likely to be on your mind.  Albeit in iced form.

But water, or the lack of it, is also a hot topic in the beauty industry at the moment.  The rise in sustainable beauty and social consciousness in the cosmetics world coupled with Trump’s re-neg on the Paris Agreement has raised the question: do we need to use so much of it in beauty?

In case you were unaware of how much water was actually in your various lotions and potions then take a quick trip to your bathroom now and scan the ingredient labels on your shampoos, cleansers and moisturisers.  I am willing to put a fiver on the fact that the majority feature ‘Aqua’ as the first ingredient (ie the most volumous) on the inci listing (ingredient list) on the back.

The funny thing is we don’t actually need water in topical skin and bodycare. Yes, brands talk about hydration but we don’t actually hydrate our skin by pouring water on it – otherwise we’d all stand around in the rain more often, faces lifted aloft and spending far less money on expensive serums.  Water is mostly used in cosmetics as a carrier liquid, something to suspend the more active ingredients and it can actually be quite drying on the skin.

As my friend, Victoria Buchanon wrote for LS:N, the Global Division of Future Laboratory, ‘As demand for water continues to outstrip supply, beauty brands are developing waterless formulas to alleviate consumers’ concerns about the environment.’ And she’s not wrong – there is plenty of exciting innovation coming from Korea and Taiwan as well as from the West Coast in the states and the southern hemisphere. In her forecast report Buchanon points out New Zealand brand Ethique, a solid cosmetics company that creates water-free blocks of face cleanser, shampoo, deodorant and even self-tan!  This reminds me of my first ever water free cosmetic, a revolutionary little shampoo bar from Lush, which I took travelling in my late teens. You can still buy them (12 years later) and just one bar does the job of three 250g bottles of liquid shampoo.

There’s also a brilliant Korean brand that I love from BeautyMART called Mai Couture which makes waterfree paper foundation and blusher sheets. They come in a little pack and are talc-free and plastic free.  Super useful for on the go touch ups as they take up virtually no space in your bag.

We’re definitely going to see a lot more of waterless beauty this year  and insight company Mintel has even branded water as ‘the new luxury’ commodity for 2017. Look out for brands on Cult Beauty like Farmacy, which does an amazing honey hydration mask and under the Deciem umbrella like The Ordinary, whose founder Brandon is an advocate for less diluted formulations.


Photo:  Ulysse Frechlin, Vogue China, Beauty Director Kathy Phillips.