Waterless formulation
Photo by Nathan Powers / Unsplash

Waterless formulation

While indeed efforts are regularly made to reduce carbon footprint and curb plastic pollution, we should not disregard water, present in more than 80% of most formulas, and which is not an unlimited resource.

Stéphanie REYMOND

While indeed efforts are regularly made to reduce carbon footprint and curb plastic pollution, we should not disregard water, present in more than 80% of most formulas, and which is not an unlimited resource. Reducing the water content in products allows reducing their weight and making their transport less polluting. But what are waterless formulation challenges and opportunities?

A wide range of textures

Waterless means water reduction to water suppression (anhydrous), which allows a lot of various textures. If we consider anhydrous products, we can indeed observe different physical forms from liquid to solid, depending on the product's consistency: oils, anhydrous gelled textures, hot poured products in bars, jars or sticks.

Anhydrous products

Sticks can also be aqueous, anhydrous or emulsion based to reach several sensorialities. And powders can be loose, pressed or granulated. All these galenics belong to waterless products because they only contain little to no water, and offer a lot of sensorial experiences.


Environmental opportunities

Concentrated formulas : waterless formulas contain a little or no water. They are more concentrated, lighter and easier to carry, which has a positive impact on the carbon footprint. At the same time, the waterless versions, if they are in a solid form, are more robust and it’s easier to imagine new packaging solutions, to reduce waste.

Water preservation: the first step consists of reducing water content in cosmetic formulas. But we also have to think of the use of water during all the product development process (raw materals sourcing, product development, industrial process, end-use by the consumer). A good way to know precisely which step requires the most water, is to use a life cycle analysis method. We then get information about each step’s influence on the environment (water save, energy used , waste…).

Formulas to rehydrate : a good option. They are, most of the time, in a solid form, when the consumers buy them.We just have to add some water in a bottle containing tabs or loose powder, in order to rehydrate them and to obtain a liquid product. The advantages are :

  • concentrated formula.
  • no water carried from one point to another point of the planet : rehydration is done by the consumer, at home.
  • waste reduction : the same starting bottle is reused for the following rehydration steps.
  • a kind of DIY gesture, and a new sustainable way to consume
900.care sustainable approach

Formulation challenges and opportunities

Waterless formulas often requires specific physico-chemical knowledge such as the rheology of powders to obtain a homogeneous product or the anticipation of a system's behaviour under certain conditions (temperature, humidity, compression, etc.). More generally, all the usual formulation rules are challenged because it is often a constraint to remove water.

Preservatives reduction : even if the risk of microbial contamination is lower with a waterless product, it still exists.The low or non-existent water content will not prevent the possible development of moulds. The right approach is to think in term of the risk of contamination of the product, depending on the final product use.

Natural and sustainable ingredients promotion: although waterless does not always mean naturalness, water reduction is part of a more global approach to sustainability. And to formulate more naturally, several approaches are available: the use of upcycled raw materials, the choice of biodiversity friendly ingredients and attention must also be paid to ingredients biodegradability.

upcycling inspiration

Powders rehabilitation: whatever the galenic form, powders appears as cross-cutting ingredients in low-water formulas. Functionnal fillers or solid surfactants are two categories of interest.

The formulas of the future?

The waterless phenomenon is an underlying trend based on the rapid growth of the word's population and the heightness interest of consumers in sustanability. While the latter are looking for healthy, non-toxic products and alternatives to single use plastics to reduce both the amount of waste they produce and the pollution of oceans, they also want to limit their dependance to water. This trend appeals to increasingly knowledgable and demanding consumers who reject superflous ingredients in favour of sensible formulas made from relevant and effective raw materials.