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Waterless Skincare: Everything You Need to Know About This Sustainable Skincare Trend

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While looking for the best skincare for your unique skin, you probably head straight for products that contain ever-important active ingredients. Dealing with breakouts? You’re looking at benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid-infused skincare products. Skin feeling dryer than the Sahara Desert? Pick up a serum or moisturizer with moisture-locking hyaluronic acid. There’s one ingredient that’s likely in almost most—if not all—of the products in your skincare routine: water.

Go check the ingredient list of your favorite beauty products—skincare, especially. Have you noticed water or “aqua” as the first ingredient? There’s an important reason for this. To find out more, we chatted with Monika Jauregui, NP-C, CANS, an aesthetic nurse practitioner for Kate Somerville Skincare.


About the Expert:

Monika Jauregui, NP-C, CANS, is an aesthetic nurse practitioner for Kate Somerville Skincare.

What to Know About Water and Skincare

“Water is commonly used as a first or second ingredient in skincare to allow water-soluble ingredients to get absorbed into the skin,” Jauregui explains. Although seeing “water” in an ingredient list might make you think a product is hydrating, that’s not always the case. In fact, some find that water-based skincare strips the natural moisture barrier of the skin. This is popular thinking in South Korea, where waterless skincare (or anhydrous beauty products) originated.

What Does Going Waterless Mean?

So, what is waterless skincare exactly? “Waterless skincare has been made popular by various Korean brands,” Jauregui says. “It is simply products that do not use water to bind and act as a filler/transporter for many ingredients we all love, such as hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, etc.” But since skincare needs that transporter, botanical extracts and oils are used as the base instead. The thinking is that these nourishing essential oils boost the efficacy of the other ingredients, whereas water can dilute them. This can lead to more hydrating formulas, though water-free skincare is great for all skin types.

But whether you use water-free products or not is entirely up to you, according to Jauregui. There’s really no hard-and-fast rule here. “Using waterless skincare is a personal choice,” she says. “Use products and ingredients that work best for your skin and its needs. Using botanical extracts and oils as a base is not necessarily better for skin.” She believes that there’s a place for both waterless skincare and water-based beauty products.

“As the largest organ of our body, our skin is exposed constantly to the environment and acts as a barrier,” she continues. “Our skin is continuously evolving and needs change.” There’s also the fact that certain products are hydrophilic (meaning they’re attracted to water), such as dermal fillers. Water is essential here.

There’s also the environment and sustainability to consider. According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. Those concerned with water scarcity might just find these newer waterless formulas especially stellar. Here, powder-based cleansers, hair care (including shampoo and conditioner), and face masks are especially popular and don’t need natural oils as filler, either.

The good news? While waterless products have plenty of benefits, don’t feel like you need to get rid of anything you love in your skincare routine. Instead, you could try adding a few waterless brands into your lineup. Below are some of our favorites to try!

5 Waterless Products to Try

1. Best Moisturizer: GLOW RECIPE Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer

GLOW RECIPE Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer
Courtesy of GLOW RECIPE

This popular oil-free moisturizer uses hydrating watermelon extract to boost its skin-plumping power. The amino-rich extracts also help fight free radical damage to stave off fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

2. Best Exfoliator: TATCHA The Rice Polish Classic Foaming Enzyme Powder

TATCHA The Rice Polish Classic Foaming Enzyme Powder
Courtesy of TATCHA

All you need is a drop of water to activate this nourishing Japanese rice bran and silk protein formula. It transforms to a creamy foam that leaves skin glowing.

3. Best Hair Care Bar: ETHIQUE In The Buff™ Solid Conditioner for Sensitive Skin

ETHIQUE In The Buff™ Solid Conditioner for Sensitive Skin
Courtesy of ETHIQUE

Non-drying brassica alcohol (which is in the same family as broccoli!) binds together babassu oil, hemp oil, and cocoa butter to hydrate and nourish hair.

4. Best Vitamin C: VERSED Found the Light Vitamin C Powder

VERSED Found the Light Vitamin C Powder
Courtesy of VERSED

The skin-brightening benefits of vitamin C are widely known. With this powder formula, you can enjoy all the perks of this ingredient by easily adding it to your favorite serum or moisturizer.

5. Best Face Mask: COCOKIND Organic Ultra Chlorophyll Mask

COCOKIND Organic Ultra Chlorophyll Mask
Courtesy of COCOKIND

This TikTok-famous mask clarifies, soothes, and brightens skin with spirulina powder and chlorella powder. For a truly unique face mask experience, add a spoonful to water, rosewater, yogurt, honey, avocado—whatever binding ingredient you’d like, really!

Want to try the latest skincare trends? Get in on the IPSY Glam Bag fun! Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
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Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated January 16, 2022 12:00 AM