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Are Waterless Products Better?

Rachel Rachel Follow Feb 04, 2021 · 4 mins read
Are Waterless Products Better?
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We all know the saying “less is more”, but does this concept apply to our skincare as well? Waterless beauty products are formulated without addition of water, or sometimes listed as “aqua” on the back of our products. These products are formulated with anhydrous ingredients, which can consist of oils, balms, waxes, and botanical extracts. We often see water listed as the first ingredient in most products, meaning water makes up a large portion of the product. So, why are waterless formulations sought after against the norm?

Waterless products have always been a prominent category in the world of homemade skincare and has been popularized today through the world of Asian skincare. Though skin hydration is often associated with the amount of water delivered to the skin, in the case of water-free skincare, nourishing the skin is at the center of the idea. Similarly to the way our body naturally produces sebum to protect our skin, it’s thought that applying oils will give similar skin nourishing benefits.

Presumed Benefits of Going Waterless

  1. Concentrated skincare products means boosted skin benefits
  2. Less preservatives
  3. Water conservation and sustainable practices

Myth 1: Oil-Based Products For Concentrated Actives

No water. No diluted products. So we’re getting only the good stuff, right? Well, it is not that simple. In replacement of water, oil based products typically use a carrier oil. Listed at the top of the ingredient list, carrier oils include sunflower oil, olive oil, safflower oil, and so on. However, just like water, using a large concentration of oils will dilute beneficial oil based active ingredients. Not seeing oil at the top of the list? Many use botanical extracts as replacement for water in products, but these extracts can be water based. Think along the lines of cucumber extract, aloe vera juice, or witch hazel, the latter of which can contain drying alcohols on top of water content.

Although some consider water as a filler ingredient in skincare products, water is a necessary ingredient for a large number of skincare products. Without the use of water, we’re missing out on many of the effective skincare ingredients that make a positive impact on our skin. Ingredients that help with skin hydration, anti-aging, water retention and such as vitamin B5, peptides, and hyaluronic acid respectively are all ingredients that work best when dissolved in water first.

Myth 2: Waterless for Preservative-Free Benefits

While it’s true, where there’s water there’s a need for preservatives. From a safety perspective, preservatives provide necessary protection for the products we love and have been highly researched to be safe and effective in the skincare world. We rely on preservatives to prevent unwanted growth and to help products maintain their performance over it’s shelf life. Switching to a completely waterless product can eliminate the use of preservatives, however even these products still have a limited shelf life. Oil based products have a shelf life that depends mainly on the carrier oils used and its storage conditions. Over time, these oils can go bad from natural oxidation and this process could be sped up with exposure to high heat and UV rays. When this happens, we begin to notice a funky, unpleasant smell.

Myth 3: Waterless Formulations are Better for the Environment

From an environmental standpoint, some argue that water based products go against efforts of eco-conscious sustainability. However, waterless formulations do not equal less of a carbon footprint. Concentrated ingredients and plant-based extracts that replace a large portion of water content in a formulations can be environmentally costly. The process of isolation and extraction of some ingredients can require large amounts of energy. On top of that, rarely do products stick with using one extract. When used in combination and at high volumes, these ingredients can add a noticeable carbon footprint depending on the type of filtration and extraction techniques used. Similarly the oils used in products, in the grand scheme of things, also contribute to concerns of water conservation. Oils used in skincare mainly comes from plants or seeds, which like all life matter requires water to grow, mature, and harvest, not to mention the additional environmental impact that results from its transportation and packaging.

Instead of cutting out water from skincare products, there are steps we can take to consciously preserve water in our daily lives. Cutting back on shower time, turning off the water between showers to lather up, or conserving running water when running a sink are all valid starting points to helping our planet.

Final Takeaways

When it comes to waterless skincare, less may not always be more. But this doesn’t mean there’s a definitive right or wrong when deciding between waterless products, oil-free products, or a combination of both. Water based products are not inherently bad for your skin or the environment. There is a purpose for water in your products, it’s not just a filler. For those who enjoy the positive impacts of using oil based products we say cheers to a routine that works for you! Ultimately skincare is a personal preference as long as there’s joy in using the products in your collection.

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Written by Rachel
Hi. I'm Rachel, the founder and formulation chemist behind Rho Cosmetics. Better beauty choices begins with a true understanding of what we put on our skin. Let's talk skincare!