Waterless beauty, or water-free beauty, has been touted as the next best sustainable beauty trend for the last few years. In fact, when researching products for this post, I found magazine articles from 2017 through to 2021 all calling it the next big thing. So why hasn’t it stuck?
Having been a sustainable beauty maven since 2014, I’ve tried my fair share of beauty products that are better for the environment. Some work incredibly well – for example, natural deodorant – and others, not so much.
So, will waterless beauty be my next big switch? Here’s more on the benefits of going waterless, and how I’ve got on trying a good few waterless products…
What Is Waterless Beauty?
Waterless beauty is a catch-all term that covers all types of cosmetics that are made without water. Good examples include solid skincare, shampoo bars, and face mask powders that can be mixed up at home.
Waterless beauty products were first made popular in South Korea, and have been growing in popularity worldwide since 2015.
In my opinion, waterless beauty feels a little like DIY beauty – there may be extra steps involved in using these products, but there’s so many benefits to go waterless.
What’s The Problem With Water In Cosmetics?
Water in beauty products may not seem like a problem, on the surface. However, many cosmetics that contain water can be less effective on the skin (simply due to the dilution of the product), and can also become a breeding ground for bacteria. The inclusion of water is often followed by preservatives and anti-microbial ingredients, which don’t help your skin at all, and simply extend the life of the product. At the same time, water often reduces a product’s lifespan, even with these ingredients included.
On a macro level, beauty pollution is an issue that affects water supplies as well as air and land pollution. It’s an industry that faces less scrutiny than food or fashion, and brands often hide the impacts of their third-party manufacturers. Waterless beauty products are often made with fairer, natural ingredients, are cruelty-free, and come in plastic-free packaging (but it’s worth checking each brand/product based on your values).
6 Benefits Of Waterless Beauty
The benefits of waterless beauty include:
- Extended product lifespan
- Greater formula potency
- Less packaging
- Less preservatives
- More ethically-sourced ingredients (although not always)
- Travel-friendly cosmetics
From the list, it’s easy to see why waterless beauty is more eco-friendly than traditional beauty products. Often, the reduced ingredients list leads to cleaner formulae, and the condensed products require less packaging. It’s seemingly a win-win, except these changes does change the overall product experience, which is why I decided to try them for myself.
(Also, all of these products are cruelty-free, as per all my beauty products!)
7 Waterless Beauty Products, Tried & Tested
1. Cleanser Bar
Ok, first up is my favourite waterless beauty product – the SBTRCT Gentle Foaming Cleanser* (gifted). I am enjoying using this cleanser so much more than my regular cleanser!
Despite its soap-like appearance, this cleansing bar is really gentle on my skin. I like to wet it slightly before swiping across my cheeks and forehead, and then softly circling the light suds across my face before washing off with warm water. It’s so easy to use, leaves my skin feeling clean and soft, without being too dry.
On the waterless beauty front, the bar is less than 0.5% water, with a long-lasting, plant-based formula (lasting up to 12 weeks with daily use). It’s plastic-free, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, and vegan. A firm favourite.
2. Powder Exfoliator
Following my cleanser is another favourite in my skincare routine: Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant*. I was originally introduced to this in 2019, and have been obsessed ever since! I’ve found acid exfoliators are a little too harsh for me, so this physical exfoliant does the job well without irritating my skin.
Requiring just a dash of water to apply, the rice-based powder quickly becomes a creamy paste. I like to then smooth it over my skin and lightly scrub to remove all signs of dry, flaky skin.
And while this exfoliator is quite pricey, it lasts a long, long time. I used mine for around 12 months before replacing.
3. Moisturising Balm
Next up: moisturiser. Can SBTRCT’s Moisturising Facial Balm* (gifted) measure up to my usual liquid moisturiser?
Sadly, I have to say not quite. While I love the formula – again, plant-based, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, and vegan – the application takes a little bit more work. Like any solid balm, you need to massage the bar a little before getting enough product to apply. Application is a little sticky, and although I know it’ll last a long time, it’s simply not as satisfying to apply as a liquid moisturiser.
However, it’ll be a firm favourite when I’m next able to go on holiday or head to a festival!
4. Powdered Face Mask
I love a good clay-based face mask, so ede Born Again Face Mask fits perfectly into my beauty routine, while also being waterless! Suitable for all skin types, I find it hydrates and tightens my skin without any redness or taut feeling afterwards.
To activate the mask is quite simple: you mix a teaspoon with a little water, adding more until it forms a smooth paste. Then apply – I like to use my finger tips for this and then rinse. It’s been especially good for eradicating dry skin outbreaks this winter!
5. Body Butter
Next up: body butter. I’m a fan of solid body butter, and Ethique’s beauty bars have been another favourite of mine since discovering them 2017. Now widely available in the UK, their Butter Blocks are my go-to product when travelling or heading to the swimming pool.
Solid body butter is great to apply directly onto skin, and will begin to soften and melt with a little body heat. Again, these are cruelty-free, plastic-free, and have a coconut and cocoa butter base (rather than palm oil).
6. Shampoo Bar
Now, onto a slightly divisive one: shampoo bars. Lush’s shampoo bars were one of the first waterless products I tried, way back in 2015, and even then, my reaction was middling at best. I have particularly thick hair, so shampoo bars take a lot of effort for me to use – I have to lather them up, which takes quite a bit of elbow grease, before working the suds across my scalp, and then washing off. It’s a recipe for greasy hair, and despite trying a few other bars over the years, I’ve basically given up when it comes to shampoo.
However, this isn’t the case for everyone! (And if you have any shampoo bar recommendations, please drop me a comment below…)
Finally, an honourable mention has to go to soap! While soap bars are pretty normalised, there are better bars than others. As of late, I’ve enjoyed using V.O.H. Charcoal Soap as an all-body soap, and Dr Bronner’s castile soap bars*, which last and last and last. Both are made in a more sustainable way than your standard bar of soap too. If you’re thinking of greening your soap, try checking the ingredients list: I recommend avoiding palm oil as standard.
Palm oil can also be hidden as a number of different ingredients. Take a bar of Dove Soap – out of the first ten ingredients, six are from palm oil:
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Palmitate, Lauric Acid, Aqua, Sodium Isethionate, Sodium Stearate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Glycerin…
My rule of thumb: look for ‘palm’, ‘laur’, and ‘stear’ when avoiding palm oil.
14 Waterless Beauty Brands In UK
If you’re looking to shop for sustainable, waterless beauty products, these brands are worth checking out:
Acala: Zero waste beauty boutique with a range of waterless and DIY products.
Balade En Provence: Solid cosmetics made in Provence, France.
Beauty Kitchen: B-Corp skincare brand with a new range of hair bars, and lots of refillable solutions.
Dermalogica*: While the brand itself is not waterless, the Daily Microfoliant is a hero waterless product of mine.
Dr Bronner’s*: The original castile soap company, their solid soap bars are great for personal use and around the house.
Drunk Elephant*: Cult clean beauty brand hailing from the US, with numerous balms and waterless products.
Ethique*: Waterless, plastic-free body bar brand with everything from moisturisers through to solid deodorant.
Hairy Jayne: Handmade haircare in bar form as well as refillable, plastic-free containers.
Little Danube: Independent natural and vegan soap bar brand with colourful playful shapes.
Lush: Cruelty-free high street beauty brand creating a range of waterless products.
Mai Couture: Innovative makeup brand using recyclable sheets for waterless application.
SBTRCT*: High quality solid skincare brand with accompanying accessories.
Stop The Water*: Natural cosmetics range that creates products encouraging reduced water use.
Vapour*: Cosmetics line that is 97% water-free, with pressed powders and sticks.
My Final Thoughts…
After trying all of the above, I have to say that waterless beauty is a mixed bag right now. For certain cosmetics, the water element improves the feel and application of the product. For others, the water actually causes more issues than good. As with a lot of sustainable alternatives, in beauty and otherwise, it’s about finding what’s right for you.
A good example: my “zero waste” safety razor got switched out for a gifted vegan razor last year and I couldn’t be happier. I no longer nick myself, and I get a much closer shave. Similarly, I’m yet to find water-free haircare that works as well as my usual products.
Sometimes, finding a middle-ground between efficacy and eco is better than making a total sacrifice, but if you are going to try waterless beauty, my recommendations would be soaps, cleansers, and body butters to start.
And on a final note: despite these products being water-free, it’s hard to say how much water and waste is being generated behind the scenes. The beauty industry definitely requires a lot more scrutiny across its supply chains!