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Study the ingredients of a beauty product and, odds are, the first on the list – and hence, making up the biggest proportion – is water. That’s because water is a natural and inexpensive ingredient that serves various functions, such as being a filler, a solvent for ingredients and a lubricant to soften the texture of products.

But with the United Nations estimating that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stress conditions, using and managing water in a sustainable way is a hot issue. And beauty companies are taking heed.

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Some have created waterless products – that is, products that don’t contain water. Often, these come as powders, balms and concentrated oils. Or they use plant waters and other fluid ingredients in place of H2O, such as home-grown brand Sigi Skin’s Dew Potion face mist and Idyllic Fields moisturiser.

Xenia Wong, Sigi Skin’s founder, says: “Without water, we can pack more concentrated actives in the formula – that’s why Idyllic Fields contains 71.9 per cent skin-calming colloidal oats.”

She adds that water dilutes active ingredients. “So whether you’re looking for brighter, clearer, or firmer skin, water-free products will get you there faster. Plus, you need less to get results, thus reducing wastage.”

There are also more and more hair and body care offerings in solid form, such as Lush’s wide selection of shampoos and conditioners, Patrichory’s hair mask and shampoos, Oasis’ Head To Toe Magic Powder Wash, and Bodhi Bloom’s deodorants.

However, Nolte feels that even though waterless products may address water scarcity in a visible way, what we should really be paying attention to is the water footprint of products – the amount of water used to produce the formulation and packaging.

Accordingly, some companies are cutting down on water consumption through their production methods. Chantecaille, for instance, uses mainly plant stem cells to power its skincare. This reportedly requires 10 to 30 times less water than growing the actual botanicals.

The brand’s founder, Sylvie Chantecaille, says: “Plant stem cells are extremely potent, but require practically no water because they are so small and grown in labs. When we realised how little water and earth it took to obtain such powerful ingredients instead of harvesting a mountain of herbs, we understood that we had something very important at a time when water is becoming a premium.”

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There are even products made to reduce water usage. Hair conditioners by Love, Beauty And Planet, for instance, are formulated with fast-rinse technology because their stats indicate that shortening a rinse by just 10 seconds can save 1.2 litres of water. And Holistic Hair’s Herbal Finishing Rinse Concentrate can be used in between hair washes to refresh your mane and reduce shampooing frequency.

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Nolte says that for reduced water footprint to work, big mass-market corporations need to take the lead, and they have. “Companies like Unilever, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble have already pledged to reduce their water footprint in the coming years to varying degrees,” he says.

A version of this article was first published in the June 2021 issue of Her World.