Is the Future of Beauty Waterless? How Climate Concern Sparked a New Wave of Solid Formulas

Is the Future of Beauty Waterless? How Climate Concern Sparked a New Wave of Solid Formulas

Is the Future of Beauty Waterless? How Climate Concern Sparked a New Wave of Solid Formulas

As the beauty boom sets off concerns about sustainability across the supply chain, a growing number of brands are trading bottled-up products for bars.
Is the Future of Beauty Waterless How Climate Concern Sparked a New Wave of Solid Formulas
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One of the most defining, if contrived, gestures in the skinfluencer era is a glass dropper applied to the cheekbone, dispensing a thin rivulet of a prized serum. A multi-step routine has long involved a cocktail of such potions and creams, layered in an aqueous strata. Lately, though, we’re seeing a phase shift—from liquid to solid—with a string of innovative products designed to sit, pebble-like, in the palm of one’s hand. 

Solid formulas in the beauty space have come a long way from classic bar soap. This emerging category has already made inroads in hair care, with the rise of shampoo bars that appeal to frequent fliers and package-free shoppers. Skin care is following suit, as seen in a lineup of moisturizing stones, serum bars, and swipeable sticks. What might seem counterintuitive to beauty traditionalists is a step in the right direction for the sustainability-minded crowd.

Arguably one of the beauty industry’s biggest issues is its dependence on plastics. Coupled with a culture of excessive consumption, the result is a massive amount of waste—everything from bottles and pumps to clear wrap and bubble mailers. Of an estimated 120 billion units of packaging produced each year by the beauty industry, we know that less than 10 percent actually gets recycled, and at the center of all these single-use bottles is, surprisingly enough, water. Traditional liquid, cream, and gel formulas can contain up to 70 percent water, thus requiring leakproof, shatterproof vessels. That adds up in volume and in weight, leading to bulkier packaging and additional fuel costs for shipping. To solve for this, eco-conscious players in the industry have begun retooling conventional products to make them waterless—a true exercise in less is more. 

There’s no denying the environmental benefits of anhydrous formulations. Mackenzie Zoppi, sustainability manager at Bluebird, a software company focused on minimizing carbon output in the consumer products industry, is quick to highlight the environmental benefits that bar formats can offer. “When comparing packaging impacts, producing a solid bar soap packaged in a paper carton, as opposed to a conventional liquid body wash packaged in a plastic bottle with a pump, can result in a reduction of carbon emissions and waste by upwards of 90 percent,” Zoppi says.

Sustainability draws aside, some hurdles may still impede the mainstream adoption of solid products, with questions about their hygiene and performance driving a reluctance to switch. Encouragingly, a handful of next-gen brands are repositioning the category to appeal to those who aim to do right by the planet without having to compromise on quality and user experience. Here, a look at seven innovative brands that are making a solid effort.

Ember Wellness

A first-of-its-kind design, the Sculpt & Glow Bar from Ember Wellness is a solid moisturizer shaped like a gua sha tool, for sculpting the face while delivering hydration and a subtle radiance. This water-free formula features just twelve ingredients, including shea butter, vitamin E, anti-inflammatory chamomile flower, and sustainably sourced mica for a lit-from-within glow. A quick warming between the hands activates the bar, allowing it to glide smoothly across the skin. Ideal for all skin types, the Rose Quartz bar will soon be joined by two variations, Sunstone and Bronze, which lend a hint of color. The reusable aluminum case makes the bar travel-friendly and eliminates the need for superfluous packaging.


Sculpt & Glow Bar

Kate McLeod

As a former pastry chef, Kate McLeod had an apt skill set when she set out to formulate a solid body moisturizer, parlaying her know-how with cocoa butter as a baking ingredient into an application that could soothe the skin. The brand has since become a cult favorite for its palm-size bars, with a lineup that includes a sophisticated facial trio made without synthetics, waxes, or preservatives. The Face Stone—including the Balance, shown here, with tamanu and blue tansy oils—acts like a lightweight face oil, melting on contact without clogging pores. This highly concentrated formula is designed to last three to six months with just a few swipes daily, providing twice as much usage per ounce than a traditional face moisturizer. “By removing water from our formulas, we are able to create sustainable, plastic-free packaging and avoid some of the biggest culprits of waste in the beauty industry,” McLeod explains on the site, where the brand’s storage containers include a reusable glass jar, bamboo canister, and bamboo-based biocomposite travel case.


Balance Face Stone

Bonjout Beauty

French pharmacist Natacha Bonjout spent five years formulating Le Balm, a solid face treatment powered by 68 highly concentrated actives, designed to repair the skin barrier and target visible signs of aging. While traditional products contain a high concentration of water, Le Balm’s version is waterless and gentle enough to be used after derm procedures, post-sun exposure, and as a lip treatment. Rich in lipids, it mimics the skin’s structure, which allows for deeper penetration of the product’s botanical stem cells, which Bonjout extracts using a patented process to preserve potency. The alluring scent comes from an essential oil of wild rose, used in minimal quantities to avoid potential allergic reactions. The minimalist case is recyclable, with Le Balm refills coming soon.


Le Balm


Powered by Mexico’s nopal cactus, otherwise known as the prickly pear, Nopalera is quickly becoming a name in solid beauty with its bath and body collection. Believed to be one of the most nourishing plants in the world, the ingredient here is used to moisturize and guard against skin damage and environmental stressors. The Original Moisturizing Botanical Bar (as seen on Shark Tank) is a solid body lotion that combines prickly pear oil, tepezcohuite (a native tree), and plant butters to bring deep hydration to the skin. A quick warm between the hands softens the bar, releasing the subtle scent of tangerine oil. The Flor de Mayo Moisturizing Botanical Bar, with its pale pink hue, combines prickly pear with jasmine oil for an elevated floral bouquet. As a bonus, the botanical bars are great for hands and cuticles, and can be kept in the brand’s reusable tins.


Flor de Mayo Moisturizing Botanical Bar


This Canadian EWG–verified brand is committed to shifting packaging norms, using biodegradable cardboard push-up tubes sourced from sustainably managed forests. Attitude’s Oceanly line includes a variety of solid skin care products, ranging from eye creams and face serums to scrubs and masks. Among them, the Dry Nourishing Face Oil with Argan Oil stands out, with an unscented formula made with grapeseed oil and an algae extract. The Nourishing Solid Night Oil with Evening Primrose Oil showcases the omega fatty acid–rich ingredient, which works to strengthen and protect the skin barrier. In an effort to replenish the forests, the brand has planted more than a million trees since 2020—one for each product sold.


Nourishing Solid Night Oil With Evening Primrose Oil


Pronounced subtract, this UK–based brand aims to create the highest performing skin care products with the lowest environmental impact. Its suite of solid products for face—ranging from cleansers and exfoliators to serums and moisturizers, all in plastic-free packaging—is formulated to address a variety of skin concerns, such as oil control, sensitivity, and dehydration. The Vitamin C Booster Serum delivers the gold-standard antioxidant in a novel bar form, alongside a concentrated blend of rosehip seed and sea buckthorn oils. Its version of a retinoid, long a dermatologist’s standby, is the solid Rejuvenating Night Balm, formulated with soothing squalene. The brand has partnered with the sustainability communications firm Provenance to improve transparency around their impact on people and the planet, so consumers can make responsible and intentional choices when they shop. “If everyone swapped out just one traditional water-based and plastic-packaged product for a solid-state alternative in their routine, the impact would be huge and immediate,” says SBTRCT founder Ben Grace.


Vitamin C Booster Serum

DEW Mighty

For founder Tiffany Buzzatto, a desire to create a brand with the lowest possible carbon footprint and a roster of undiluted ingredients paved the way to “unbottled” beauty. Believing that the industry tends to make consumers pick between Team Science or Team Nature, DEW (short for Dreamers End Waste) set out to offer the best of both. The Nova Jelly Serum Bar features bakuchiol, a potent retinol-mimicking active that acts as a gentler alternative. Having spent 15 years working in the beauty industry, Buzzatto understood the repercussions of wasteful packaging, choosing a reusable metal container in lieu of glass or plastic. The brand donates to charitable organizations including Project:Water, which helps build wells in underserved and water-restricted communities. It’s also a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, shining a light on pollution and its toxic impact on the environment.

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