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Why you might want to go water-free in the name of beauty

TextRebecca Barnes

As two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025, we talked to pioneers of the waterless beauty movement about how it could help the planet – and improve products in the process

It’s the beauty mantra we hear time and time again: water is the number one life source that offers untold benefits for our skin, nails and hair, encouraging cell growth and keeping dehydration at bay. Celebrities swear by chugging litres of H2O – Beyonce has previously claimed to drink at least a gallon of water a day, while Rosie Huntington-Whiteley always increases her water intake before her beauty shoots. As our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, this beauty rule does check out. Let’s face it, it’s got to be better than mainlining lattes, right?

But next time you fill up your bottle, stop and think about the fact that water is set to become a commodity. Freshwater is actually incredibly rare, only 2.5-3 percent of the world’s water is fresh (estimates vary), which means that some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a further 2.7 billion find it scarce for at least one month of the year. Add to that the disappearance of many of the world’s wetlands, the drying up of many rivers and lakes, and climate change altering patterns of weather and water, and disturbingly, at the current consumption rate, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Seawater and icebergs do not necessarily provide an answer, as converting to fresh water would be expensive and the cleansing process fuel intensive in large quantities.

So how can you do your bit to save water? 'Waterless' is the next big thing in sustainable beauty, and more and more brands are staking a claim in this category. Retail giant L’Oréal, for example, has committed to a 60 percent reduction in water consumption per finished product by 2020. As well as improving the environmental footprint of their formulas and in particular their water footprint, they will be looking at developing new products and technologies that help consumers reduce their water usage.

“Water makes up about 60-80 percent of your usual moisturisers and lotions, which in itself leaves very little room for active working ingredients such as hyaluronic acid.” – Dr Rupert Critchley

“It’s promising to see that the cosmetics and toiletries industry is making efforts to reduce its water footprint,” says Jonathan Farr, WaterAid’s senior policy analyst. “In 2016 around 3.6 billion people lived in water-scarce areas, and this number is expected to increase to around 5 billion by 2050. That means every day, an additional 110,000 people are forced into water scarcity, so responsibly managing our water use must be a top priority, and everyone from industries to individuals has a role to play.”

When it comes to beauty products, 'aqua' is normally first in ingredient listings; it’s the cheapest of all ingredients so formulas can be made less expensively by increasing the water content, thus adding volume. This leaves less room for the active ingredients that really make a difference to your skin. Always a step ahead, the Korean beauty industry realised this first. The waterless concept was their baby, with many water-free products initially created for their potency and skincare benefits, rather than for environmental reasons. In addition, many preservatives in products are there to counteract the bacteria growth encouraged by water. Removing water means less risk of bacteria or the need for preservatives, meaning cleaner, more concentrated skincare.

“Water makes up about 60-80 percent of your usual moisturisers and lotions, which in itself leaves very little room for active working ingredients such as hyaluronic acid,” confirms Dr Rupert Critchley, founder and director of VIVA Skin Clinics. “Dry and powdered formulas that you activate with each use will also extend the use by date, meaning less waste.” Critchley believes that the waterless movement is positive environmentally, but says that there is currently less choice on offer for those with skin problems. “However, if it grows in popularity, we will start to see more innovative textures and new delivery methods as well as products to cater for all skin types and concerns,” he says.

“There is a ‘clean water crisis’ as we speak and it is important as entrepreneurs and global citizens to work together towards a green future.” – Linda Treska, founder and CEO of Pinch of Colour

Pioneers of waterless beauty, Pinch of Colour was founded to conserve the world’s most precious natural resource, while donating net proceeds to those in need of clean drinking water, hygiene and sanitation. “Waterless for us is not a trend, it's a lifestyle, and both consumers and the multi-national companies have to realise that water is the new luxury,” says Linda Treska, founder and CEO.

“There is a ‘clean water crisis’ as we speak and it is important as entrepreneurs and global citizens to work together towards a green future and create businesses and products that are environmentally friendly and preserve our water resources. My approach to waterless was not only about being a ‘water-free’ brand, as it was about representing a cause that affects billions of people globally.”

Treska continues: “It affected me growing up in Albania and it continues to affect millions of children on a daily basis. We decided to work in tandem with water-driven NGOs around the world to set up community partnerships for long-term water project sustainability. This business pillar has allowed us to take our water conservation message to a larger scale and prove to the beauty industry that waterless is the only way to go.”

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