Water-free beauty is set to be the next big sustainable movement. And this isn't out of a need to treat ourselves to Instagram-worthy #shelfie buys—this trend is born out of necessity.
Back in 2015, trend forecasting agency Mintel noted that "water is set to become a precious commodity as consumption outstrips supply." It predicted that by 2025, water-free beauty would be a global trend. And as of this year, there are brands already paving the way to a beauty routine that's less reliant on precious H2O.
If you think there's an abundance of water on the planet, you wouldn't be wrong: The earth is covered with 70 percent water, but only one percent is fresh water that we can access. According to the World Wildlife Organization, two-thirds the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. That's just five years away.
Water—Is It Really Necessary for Our Skin?
Water is often used as a carrier in beauty products—it's usually the first ingredient on a product's ingredients list, making up around 60 to 70 percent of what's inside. But product formulation base aside, is water really such a crucial ingredient for our complexions? The answer isn't all that straightforward, so we called on clinical dermatologist Dr. Johanna Ward to explain.
"Any conversation about water and the skin has to start with the definition of ‘dry’ skin," she says. "Dry skin refers to skin that is lacking natural oils or lipids. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is skin that lacks water in the stratum corneum (the outer layer). Dehydration is caused by many external factors, but the most common are weather, environment, diet, and caffeine consumption, all of which can result in diminished water content within the skin. When your skin feels dry, it may actually just be dehydrated and in need of a water boost. Dryness refers to a skin type, while dehydration refers to a skin condition. You can actually have an oily complexion but still have dehydrated skin!"
So while our skin does need water to treat and prevent dehydration, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
Water may seem like a benign entity, but understanding its effects on your skin is important
"The concentration of certain minerals is what creates the ‘hardness’ of water," she continues. "Hard water contains dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium and these minerals can leave behind a residue, dehydrating your skin and making it feel itchy after a shower."
She also notes that the temperature of the water can also affect your skin. Very hot water can rob your skin of its water content and hydration, so she recomends keeping showers short (under ten minutes) and making sure the water warm or tepid, rather than steaming hot.
While water used in product formulations is combined in such a way that it is either a benign carrier or has a hydrating benefit, if you're adding tap water into the mix—be it at the basin or in a shower or bath—it can dehydrate your skin.
Trying to limit water usage in your skincare regimen isn't a bad thing, whether you reduce the number of products in your bathroom that contain water or limit the amount of running water you use. The key is finding a balance between reducing your water usage and keeping your complexion hydrated and happy.
Water in Your Skincare Products
It's not just the water inside our products or the H2O that spills from our taps that we should be aware of, but the water used during production too. While a product may be water-free as an end result, water will have been used to make it. Beauty brands from Uzza Skincare to L'Oréal are all working to be more mindful of water usage at the production stage, but no brand is perfect... yet.
Salima Issaoui, Founder of Uzza Skincare, calls her brand water-responsible rather than claiming to be water-free. She explains to Byrdie, “a cream by definition is a semi-solid emulsion of oil and water. Creams can be O/W (oil-in-water), meaning that the cream is formed by small quantities of oil in a water phase, or W/O (water-in-oil) meaning that the cream is formed by small quantities of water in the oily phase. But there has to be water in both kinds of emulsions—therefore, waterless creams are an illusion.
She says that you technically could replace a part of the water with juice (aloe barbadensis leaf juice is often used), but in order to extract the juice, water will be involved, so it's not a water-free solution either. And even if you use juice as the main ingredient, water will be used somewhere throughout the process as well.
"For our cleanser, enzymatic scrub and toner, we are using hydrolats (colloidal suspensions of essential oils as well as water-soluble components obtained by steam distillation or hydrodistillation, a variant of steam distillation, from plants/herbs) as a water substitute," she explains. "Most importantly, we should analyze companies and see how water is used in the labs. At Uzza, the water we use is recycled washing water to reduce the consumption of water.”
While starting a brand from scratch and being water-responsible is one thing, how does a multi-billion dollar global brand make changes? In 2013, L'Oréal committed to reduce its water usage by 60% from 2005 to 2020; the results of this are set to be published in April. In the years since, the company has worked hard to reduce water consumption throughout its production. L'Oréal has opened “dry factories” in Italy, Spain and Russia, where ‘100% of the water used for industrial processes, such as tank cleaning, is purified and reused for other processes on-site such as cooling or washing other types of equipment.
The water is treated using different methods including ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis, which is types of evapo-concentration where the water is evaporated and filtered. This helps the company extract high-quality water that can be used over and over in a closed loop. Unilever has also announce plans to prioritize using less water in 2020; its brand Love Beauty & Planet is launching a concentrated line of shampoos and conditioners later this year that use 50 percent less water in production and are made with 50 percent less water in the bottle;
What We Can Do Now
As we said, no brand is perfect yet. Water is a huge part of the beauty industry, but we can make a point by slowly starting to replace some of the water-full products in our routines with water-free versions, or at least being mindful to look to products that contain less water. And remember: as a consumer, we can always ask brands via social media or in stores just how water responsible they are if we want to know more about a product from conception to reality.
Below are 8 water-responsible beauty products to consider weaving into your daily routine...
This hardworking multi-purpose stick contains apricot, avocado, calendula and jojoba oils and can be used on skin, hair or brows to hydrate and nourish.
A rich gel-to-milk formula packed with skin-loving lipids and papaya and mango extracts, this treatment cleanses, exfoliates and hydrates the body in one.
Imprinted with Shea butter, avocado oil and glycerin, this dry sheet mask leaves the skin feeling plump and looking impossibly glowy.
This brand was born in Cape Town in response to the water crisis to help people go longer without washing their strands. Designed for no-wash days, this dry conditioner is spritzed onto mid-lengths and ends in the same way you use a dry shampoo at the roots—but rather than mop up oil, it hydrates, detangles and eliminates frizz.
Equivalent to three bottles of liquid shampoo, not only does this shampoo bar save on water, but it's plastic-free, too. Rich in coconut oil, this gives coarse, frizz-prone hair a smooth and silky finish.
Avocado and jojoba oils work alongside sesame oil to gently yet effectively dissolve makeup, as well as dirt and grime from the skin. It's a joy to use.
With honey, Shea butter and Vitamin E, this tint glides on with ease to even skin tone and minimize the look of pores and fine lines. Expect a luminous, perfected complexion.
Just add water to this nifty sulfate-free hair powder and it lathers up to cleanse, while the aloe leaf juice prevents the shampoo from leaving your scalp or strands feeling stripped—just clean and fresh.