Meeting consumer demands for ‘waterless’ products

By Belinda Carli, director of The Institute of Personal Care Science

- Last updated on GMT

Meeting consumer demands for ‘waterless’ products

Related tags: Water, Cosmetics, Hygiene

Consumers are increasingly looking to balance their use of products with an environmental conscience, and we’re seeing this demand met by a new wave of products being promoted as ‘waterless’.

The fact is, standard creams, lotions and foaming products contain 70-80% (or more) water by weight. Add to this the amount of water that gets used in the shower when washing your hair and your body, and you have a significant volume of water being used every day to meet even basic hygiene needs. What if, instead, the products you use could be made without water, and without needing water to perform their hygiene and care functions?

This is the exact answer that, according to Mintel, 24% of consumers age 16-24 are looking for (even higher in France, where that figure rises to 28%!).

We’ve already seen dry shampoos become a firm favourite, but we’re now also seeing a significant rise in the use of wipes (which use water in the formula but not on application) and pastes and powders for deodorants and toothpastes - making them water free.

You may be surprised at what other options are out there or coming soon!

Beauty bars

A growing trend is for waterless ‘beauty bars’ – essentially lipids put together with emulsifiers and/or other consistency modifiers to create a solid bar that melts readily at skin temperature to spread and then moisturise the skin, much as a standard emulsion would do but without needing water in the formulation.

They tend to work best when applied on damp skin fresh out of a shower but can be applied in their concentrated form to warm skin. When formulated using light and long spreading lipids, these products can still provide a desirable skin feel but with potentially greater film forming benefits for less moisture loss and more conditioned skin than when using standard water-containing creams and lotions. A big win for the ‘waterless’ concept. 

Metamorphosing product forms

Belinda photo 2015
Belinda Carli

Driven by the desire to impress with changing sensations during application, metamorphosing products can also deliver on the waterless concept.

These include products such as oil-to-powder (using volatile silicones), glycerine-in-oil (which typically transform into milks if water is applied) and powder to water - which actually uses water encapsulated in a powder shell that ‘breaks’ on skin contact.

There are also powder-to-foam products which come as a powder that foams when water is applied – meaning they are waterless in their production but require water to perform.

Make up doesn’t need a make over

This is one personal care category that can evolve to largely water free products without impacting performance.

There are already a majority of colour cosmetic products that are waterless or only contain a small amount of water, such as silicone based foundations or sticks, lip colour and powders.

This is also a category, probably because of the colour they contain, where consumers don’t seem to question the water content as much as they do when compared to their hygiene products.

The wishy-washy side of waterless products

Marketers are aware of the attractiveness of this waterless trend, so we are unfortunately seeing some ‘waterless’ products being promoted in a misleading way. Some of the misrepresentations seen in this industry include:

  • hydrosols or extracts promoted as a water alternative, when in reality they use significant water in their processing
  • bar soap as a waterless alternative to body wash products; when both products use significant water during application as well as a high quantity of water used in the soap making process
  • removing water from formulations increases our need for lipids, glycerine or other solvents, which may not only need water for their production but could also have a significant carbon footprint in their creation and in some cases, use non-renewable material sources.
  • the manufacture of personal care, whether it contains water or not, requires significant cleaning of equipment which uses vast volumes of water that consumers aren’t even aware of. Equipment that has processed colour and/or oil based formulas is particularly hard to clean, often requiring several hot, concentrated detergent wash cycles to fully remove residue before it can be used again.

When trading off one perceived evil consumers may fail to investigate what cost their alternative choices may be causing. A seemingly waterless product may have used significant water (or carbon footprint) in its creation.

The future for waterless products

There is no doubt that innovative products are always a favourite of the personal care market. If they have an environmentally friendly story and actually work they’re sure to gain traction and become noticed in the market place.

 I’m sure we’ll see plenty of inspirational innovation in this sector yet, and potentially effective waterless products launched in the market. As with all things there is a definite need for balance but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation, especially where it is truly in support of our precious environment.

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