What is beauty without water? | Marie Claire

Once upon a time, water took first place in almost every beauty formula. Whether the product in question was designed for skin, hair or makeup, it didn’t matter – good ol’ H2O was the first component on the ingredient list, where it was prized for its user-friendly emulsions, its non-sticky finish and satisfactory foam.

But the tide has turned. Brands are increasingly creating waterless products and instead relying on butters and oils to get results. This change has a ton of eco-potential, reducing waste and, of course, the water itself.

Despite their recent rise, the bars, powders, and concentrates that fill shelves today aren’t exactly new. In fact, the first shampoo bars debuted in 1987, thanks to Lush co-founder Mo Constantine and cosmetic chemist Stan Krysztal. There have always been “anhydrous, or ‘waterless’ products, such as face and body oils, balms, sticks and powders,” says cosmetic chemist Marisa Plescia, researcher at retailer NakedPoppy. own beauty products. “But over the past few years, we’ve seen this category grow with new ideas and new concepts.”

Rather than renaming products that never contained water to begin with, brands are developing waterless versions of traditionally water-based formulas, such as cleansers and conditioners.

Logistics also plays a role in its development. As consumers have largely shifted from store shelves to scrolling pages, products have adapted accordingly. As companies competed for shelf space with shiny, oversized bottles, says Jenkins, “shipping water around the world just doesn’t make sense anymore.” Remove water from the equation and you get a smaller, lighter product to transport, which can translate into cost savings. (However, it’s hard to say if brands pass these savings on to consumers. Additionally, “the cost of anhydrous materials can [actually] be higher,” says Plescia. “Water is cheap, while waxes, oils, butters and powders often aren’t.”)

Ultimately, however, it’s all about supply and demand: sustainability is finally having its day, and foregoing water in a given product can create a domino effect of environmental benefits down the road. throughout its life cycle. “Over the past couple of years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the need to protect natural resources broadly and to be more mindful of water conservation specifically,” says Mia Davis, vice -President of Sustainability and Impact at Credo Beauty, a clean beauty company. retailer. And where consumers go, so do businesses. “It’s becoming increasingly clear to investors and companies that making products — and disposing of them — is having a huge impact on our young consumers,” says Boma Brown-West, director of consumer health at Environmental DefenseFund. The cosmetics industry is responsible for approximately 120 billion beauty packages produced each year, most of which are never recycled. “It’s important for companies to recognize that they have an environmental footprint and actually take action to address it.”

Size, in this case, matters. Since water equals volume, waterless beauty products are literally smaller than their traditional counterparts, which can have an eco-friendly ripple effect. “Because you reduce the size of a product, you invariably reduce the amount of packaging needed,” says Brown-West. This could significantly limit the item’s total carbon footprint. “Smaller product means more space in the truck to store more product,” she explains. “It can help reduce the amount of fuel used to transport each product.” It can also reduce the amount of emissions, like carbon and air pollutants.

Then there is the benefit of recycling. Some waterless products, such as solid bars, allow for more consistent recycling across the line. “If the result of making a product without water reduces the need for smaller components, like caps, or materials that aren’t accepted by recycling programs, like pumps with metal parts, then it could there’s a benefit,” says Karen Hagerman, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

That’s what led entrepreneur Kate McLeod to seek alternative packaging for her eponymous line of solid hydration bars, which she calls Stones. “Our strong formula forced me to look at packaging differently,” says McLeod, who ultimately settled on a bamboo backing that was both pretty and durable enough to be reused.

Speaking of the (environmental) devil – i.e. plastic – waterless formulas allow products to be packaged without anything because, depending on the formula, there are fewer worries about drips or leaks. This is what led to the creation of HiBar, a line of plastic-free hair and skin care bars. “We looked at different product forms, like solubles and refills, and concluded that our best chance of providing our customers with a high-quality product was simply to remove the water from the formulation,” says Dion Hughes, co-founder of the brand. And that’s a big deal, given that fossil fuels are the primary ingredient in plastic production. Around 91% of plastic is never recycled, leading to it endlessly accumulating in oceans and landfills.

Another advantage: preservatives are not really necessary. After all, bacteria live their best life wading through a water-rich environment; conversely, “in anhydrous formulas, bacteria find it more difficult to grow since there is no water, so this risk is lower,” specifies Plescia. And fewer preservatives is a good thing, adds Jenkins, because “everything we use in our shower goes down the drain and into our water systems.”

These are all promising and eco-friendly reasons to swap your shampoo bottle for a bar. That said, it’s important to think about these things in context – not all waterless formulas are created equal. “A water-free product doesn’t necessarily mean the formula is more durable, took less energy or carbon to make, or has a great safety profile,” Davis says. “Water is a major piece of the puzzle of more sustainable products, but ‘waterless’ products may or may not be better for the environment or for you, the user.”

Part of that is because while H2O might be irrelevant, there’s still a whole lot more to it. “With higher levels of other ingredients, the sustainability of those ingredients themselves can be called into question,” says Plescia.

Plus, Davis points out that if you’re taking hour-long showers and drinking from single-use plastic water bottles, choosing a waterless beauty product won’t matter much. “Beauty without water can be great, but it won’t solve the water crisis,” she says.

To put a pin in the sustainability conversation for a second, waterless beauty products have a whole host of other benefits, like gaining in potency and convenience. They tend to be more concentrated, which means they contain more nutrients, vitamins, and other beneficial compounds. “What I noticed visiting different African communities was that the herbs, oils and butters were all so rich and pure,” says 54 Thrones founder Christina Funke Tegbe, whose beauty line is rooted in waterless body butters. “A little really goes a long way. The advantage, therefore, is a more concentrated, more effective product that goes further, because no water is used to reduce it. And frequent travelers, behold: Some waterless products can be a travel dream, eliminating a step down the ever-anxiety TSA line.

Yet, there are still downsides to these amplified formulations. A big consideration? The texture. While emulsions, like your average lotion, can be smooth and satiny on application, “an anhydrous formula, like a balm, can be heavier with an occasional greasy feel, which may not be desired by some consumers. “, explains Plescia.

Before adding a product to the cart, do your research on the brand itself. On the one hand, there’s always the risk of being overlooked in an industry that has historically left women of color behind, Brown-West notes, adding that waterless brands need to consider the specific needs of women of color when of product formulation. (For example, some brands only offer one solid shampoo option, instead of considering all hair textures, including natural hair, when making them.) is, is high wherever sustainability is involved. Some products have always been waterless, says Hagerman, (think powder blush) and calling them “waterless” is just a way to cash in on the hype.

Nuances notwithstanding, experts and founders agree that waterless products are a positive net development for the beauty industry – and certainly better than buying products with non-recyclable packaging filled with unsustainable ingredients. Although they may take some getting used to, it is worth it. As Jenkins says, “In the end, your hair and the planet will thank you.”

This story appears in the May 2022 issue of Marie Claire.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement