The Boom Of Water-Free Beauty

How green is your bathroom cabinet? Do you avoid products with harsh chemicals or eschew companies who use excessive packaging? Eco-friendly beauty brands may be booming but have you ever thought about the water involved in an extensive beauty regimen? According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages, and leading market research firm, Mintel, has found that 27% of consumers are now trying to reuse or use less water.
When it comes to using less water in your beauty regimen, we’re not necessarily referring to the water you use in your shower or tub but the H2O in products. A quick look at any ingredient list and it is aqua (a fancy word for water) at the top. Conscious consumers have cottoned onto this, and are now looking for products formulated with zero, or very little, water or those that can be used without (or with less) water.
In fact, Business of Fashion named "waterless beauty" as one of their top trends to watch in 2020, something Mintel supports, too. “Water is set to become a precious commodity as consumption outstrips supply," Charlotte Libby, global beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel, commented. "The more consumers become aware of this, the more beauty brands will need to change how they manufacture and formulate products to limit their dependence on water."
Much like the majority of breakthrough beauty trends, the concept of "waterless" originally came from Korea. The Asian market is always a good few years ahead of the West and, interestingly, Korean manufacturers created waterless products for their skincare benefits, not necessarily their environmental credentials.
Water is often used in formulations as a cheap base but once you remove that water, botanicals and oils are used instead, which results in a much more potent offering. Essentially, you're getting more bang for your buck.
Additionally, while water is synonymous with hydration, topical application could actually dry the skin. “Culturally, we’re fearful of dirt so we overuse detergent-based cleaners," Anna-Marie Solowij, cofounder of BeautyMart explained. The skin has its own self-cleaning system of sebum and natural microbes that repel and neutralize environmental pathogens. Washing away this protective shield exposes skin so it’s no wonder that there is a reported increase in diseases such as eczema.
While brands offering completely zero-water products are still few and far between, there are a number of products that contain minimal water or help you use less. Click through to see our favourite water-reducing products – the planet and your skin will thank you.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

More from Beauty