It’s no secret that the beauty sector is one of the world’s least sustainable industries, with an estimated 120 billion units of packaging produced each year (less than 10% of which actually gets recycled), sizable carbon footprints, complex supply chains, and a culture of rampant consumption that will soon see consumers drowning in a sea of beauty products. There’s no doubt the industry has a lot of work to do. Greenwashing is more widespread than ever, with buzzwords being freely used to appeal to consumers’ eco-conscious values, and brands are seeing opportunity in environmental warnings. However, there are movements within the industry, like carbon-neutral and waterless beauty, that promise to reshape the future of product sustainability.
Water scarcity is a topic that everyone understands, and experts say it’s through water that most of us will feel the effects of climate change first. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, according to UN Water, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered. There’s no denying that demand for water is outstripping supply, and the WHO predicts that half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025.
Unsurprisingly, the beauty industry has zeroed in on water, flooding the market with a surge of products formulated without it, coined waterless beauty. While the trend that originated in Korea initially touted products as being more concentrated — and as a result of greater benefit to the skin — the message behind the term has since changed. Now, waterless beauty positions itself as being better for the environment, but how much of an impact is it really having? And can a beauty product ever truly be waterless?
A New Wave Of Waterless Formulations
“There is not a global water shortage at the moment,” says Lorraine Dallmeier, biologist, chartered environmentalist and award-winning CEO of online organic cosmetic formulation school Formula Botanica, “but we’re seeing more water scarcity in multiple regions around the world. For that reason, it makes sense to ensure that water consumption for the cosmetics industry is undertaken at a sustainable rate, and wherever possible, uses circular principles,” adds Dallmeier.
A typical bottle of shampoo can contain as much as 90% water in the formulation. Likewise, an expensive anti-aging serum can contain up to 70% water. Look at the ingredients on most labels and chances are “aqua” will top the list. As superfluous as it seems to be spending money on products that are almost entirely water, it’s no wonder beauty brands are discovering ways to innovate, developing a new wave of waterless, or ‘anhydrous’ products that are reimagining conventional water-based formulas.
Hair care has been in the spotlight in the recent surge of waterless beauty products, with concentrates of the active ingredients in products like shampoo and conditioner taking the form of bars, pastes, and powders, which are then activated by the water already being used in the shower.
Waterless Beauty Still Has A Water Footprint
But make no mistake; just because a product was formulated without water, doesn’t mean water wasn’t used to create it. “Every single consumer product has a water footprint,” notes Dallmeier. “Water will be involved throughout every single step of the process.”
Consider the ingredients used in beauty products and the water needed to grow and harvest them. According to a recent study, 70% of the world’s …….