Special Edition Newsletter: NYSCC Suppliers Day

Is it still too soon for waterless personal care products?

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images
Waterless has been on the radar of industry observers for many years now, so why is that there are still relatively few products offerings on store shelves?

To answer this question, we spoke to Belinda Carli, founder and director of the Institute of Personal Care Science to find out why this much touted trend is still not making a bigger impact with consumers.

As part of the move towards more sustainable products the industry has been coming to terms with the water use in formulations. In liquid-based products it is invariably by far the biggest component by volume, but with water increasingly seen as a precious commodity, reducing the amount of water or developing waterless products is increasingly looking like a good selling point.

In this question and answer interview, we asked Belinda about technological advances in waterless personal care formulation, the challenges formulators are facing, consumer perception of this type of product and where the trend is likely to head in the future.

What are the biggest challenges with formulating waterless cosmetics and personal care products?

The hardest part of formulating waterless cosmetics is you need to use materials that can be mixed with water easily at the point of application, yet provide the starting product in a form that is easy to dispense and then easy to mix. And sometimes, you do need to include a little water. Here is a couple of examples:

  • Waterless moisturising balm – these are designed to be semi-solid bar products ‘on the shelf’ but need to mix readily with water to turn into a lotion. It is hard to get just the right consistency in the bar form that then blends easily with water and rubs into the skin to be aesthetically pleasing without an undesirable feel or that excess white rub in time (soapy effect) on application.
  • Waterless cleansing sticks – these may contain a little water or none at all but again need to form that semi-solid consistency that mixes readily with water
  • Other choices are powder materials that can combine readily with water – either to form gels on mixing or dissolve completely depending on the needs of the product and the materials chosen

One of the other issues is that some product forms just can’t be created (yet) to give sufficient performance or pleasing sensory aspects compared to water containing products on the market – but we are seeing more material launches that help us overcome these issues.

What solutions are out there to make them easy to use and consumer friendly?

Belinda Carli
Belinda Carli, director, Institute of Personal Care Science

The solutions really are in the trick of the formulation; and we are seeing more and more raw material launches that  enable good sensory and performance from waterless products. Some tricks that get used are:

  • gums that hydrate to ‘hold’ the product together once water is added – the trick here is to get the right gum input so it doesn’t feel like slime but holds the product together well; it also needs to be an instant hydrating gum so the gel forms instantly
  • powder surfactants that mix readily with water to foam (or micro-foam) well to give a pleasant skin feel and effective clean
  • liquid and waxy water loving emulsifiers combined in just the right proportions to enable the semi-solid bar to form but then allow mixing readily with water for easy application

Do you think there is an uptick in demand for waterless?

Yes, consumers are not only more conscious about water use, and environmental responsibility, but it also provides brands a point of difference to have the waterless story. Raw material suppliers are also answering the call with materials that provide us with innovative waterless formulation options.

Do you think that consumers are ready for waterless products?

The issue here is similar to what we saw with organic products 10 years ago – basically they want waterless (they wanted organic) but with the limited materials available, the sensory and performance aspects were a problem. In other words, they liked the concept of organic, but once they tried the ‘best’ an organic product could be 10 years ago, they decided no, they wanted performance and sensory more importantly. But now, we have so many organic materials to choose from there can still be some issues and differences but on the whole, really beautiful and high performing organic products can now be create to fulfill most product category types. This is the case with waterless,  and as we see more raw material solutions to the formulation challenges that enable us to give consumers more of the performance and sensory they want, the waterless category will grow faster and stronger.

How challenging is it incorporate good sensorial and fragrance attributes to waterless formulations?

Fragrance is not a problem usually – it is oil soluble and many of these products contain an oil portion or are dry powders that will adsorb the fragrance. The sensory aspects are still difficult to achieve (please also see above answers)

How challenging is it to incorporate active properties into waterless?

Yes this can be an issue – however there are some great powdered materials and also some great lipid (oil) soluble materials that can be used in place of glycerine or water based extracts.


For interesting examples of waterless solutions that are at formulators’ fingertips, please click on the following video links:


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