The Growing Wave of Waterless Cosmetics

The Growing Wave of Waterless Cosmetics

The Growing Wave of Waterless Cosmetics

This trend is very much connected with sustainability as there are two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) associated with water, i.e. SDG 6, clean water and sanitation, and SDG 14, life below water1. Inspired by the SDGs L’Oreal has also opened the first waterloop factory in Burgos, Spain, where waste water is reused and recycled2. This has been followed by a second waterloop production facility in Yichang, China with the intention of having all factories running on a waterloop system by 20303.

On top of that the recent extreme weather conditions, from floods to droughts, have made people more aware of water.

In this article, I shall explore the different types of waterless products with benefits and challenges behind them.

What is the meaning behind waterless?

When hearing the waterless word it is natural to think the product is free from water, however in some cases it refers to the products’ use being without water. An example of that is Burt’s Bees waterless shampoo spray for dogs, a liquid product allowing simple cleaning on the go without rinsing.

A third format associated with this trend is refills, where water needs to be added to reconstitute the product, saving on the product weight and shipping emissions.

In the case of products free from water, there is still water involved in one way or another; in the finished products production facilities as cleaning is essential, and in several waterless ingredients as water would have been removed in the final stage. With this in mind, it would be very interesting to compare the overall water footprint of a conventional water-free product with a similar one produced in a waterloop factory.

Waterless solid

This is the most popular format of waterless cosmetics. The product appears in a bar format, and this is achieved via a hot process or extrusion using ingredients with high melting points. Typical product applications are solid shampoos, solid serums and even solid deodorants. The concentration of ingredients tends to be higher than mainstream cosmetics. Being solid it means the product does not need a plastic container, therefore reducing plastic waste and leading to plastic-free claims. On the other hand, the challenge is being able to recognize the product over time among others. Several brands have resolved this by developing beautiful reusable containers and color-coding the products to allow easy recognition4.

From a shelf-life point of view, it is important to protect the product from oxidation and sometimes microbial contamination by using good antioxidants and antimicrobials compatible with the formula and application5. Consumers’ education is also important as they need to look after the product a little more as they are not protected like conventional cosmetics.

Because the solid format is relatively new and some consumers have not developed the habit of using solid formats, some brands have come up with semi-solid formulations kept in containers. The applications of this format are serums and some colour cosmetics, however even if more convenient to use it does not deliver the same plastic waste reduction as the solid format.

Waterless powder

The powder format has the appeal of potentially preserving active ingredients for longer as they stay in a waterless limbo until the final user adds water. The water can be added every time the product is used as the powder is dispensed in the palm of the hand where water is added; or added into a bottle where a powder sachet is emptied in to achieve the desired final concentration. Typical applications of this format are rinse-off, so microbial risks are lower than leave-in, however in the case of the dilution in one go, particular consideration needs to be taken to use a powder preservative that is easily solubilized and effective at the final pH.

Waterless liquid

This is probably the most ancient form of cosmetic, i.e. oils for the face and body. It needs a container, but it still has the appeal of being waterless and a classic among consumers.

Some innovative launches have recently come to market, liquid waterless concentrates that need water reconstitution. It will be interesting to see how this develops and spread further.


Water is essential for the cosmetic industry and becoming a more valuable commodity in the eyes of industry itself and consumers as we are approaching 2030.

The simple word waterless has become a very trendy buzzword, inspiring and challenging formulators with new solid, powder and even liquid formats holding the potential of reducing waste in relation to water, plastic and even shipping emissions.

Given the different meanings associated with waterless and ways of using waterless products, it would be very desirable to have a clear distinction among them as benefits and expectations vary. From saving water and reducing plastic waste and emissions, to use on the go without any running water.

The newer waterless formats may still need antimicrobial protection even if the product is water-free. Special testing protocols also need to be used to test the microbial performance and quality of such products.



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About Barbara Olioso

Dr Barbara Olioso is a green chemist – she is a Doctor in Chemistry from the University of Venice, Italy based in the UK. After her chemistry degree, she went on to further postgraduate training and research in both cosmetic and food science (MSc in Food Science & Technology and Diploma in Cosmetic Science). She matches scientific rigor with a real passion for modern green chemistry ingredients as well as traditional botanicals to deliver green cosmetics that work. She is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Cosmetic Scientists and the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. Barbara has been shortlisted in Who is Who in Natural Beauty in 2020.

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