The Controversy Concerning Water in Beauty Care Products

It’s a subject that’s regularly up for debate and consistently called into question: the beauty care industry. From the nearly unregulated use of “natural” and “organic” to the veritable smorgasbord of chemicals hiding behind the simple word fragrance, the beauty industry has a lot to answer for. Consumers continue to purchase products that are reportedly plant-based for peace of mind, but even then it’s a toss-up on whether or not the product is actually safe.

In most every product, water is one of the top chemicals used. Usually listed as aqua on labels, it’s an ingredient that is rather high on most beauty product labels. Ingredients listed on labels are ordered by descending order of weight meaning that the sooner an ingredient is listed, the more of it there is in the product. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; water does hydrate skin and can help certain ingredients be absorbed. However, on the flip side of this argument, water is a cheap ingredient that can be used to cheapen products.
Flower waters are another kind of liquid that can used in beauty care products, often with added benefits over distilled water. They can be made of herbs, needles, leaves, woods, barks, seeds and flowers, and are referred to as hydrosols in aromatherapy. These special waters are similar to essential oils but with a milder concentration, and are great for use in toners, bathing, and wound/anti-inflammatory treatment. The downside of flower waters is the variable nature of the product, dependent on the growing season along with many other factors. This means inconsistency, not something big name companies are ready to deal with.
Water, then, is the chemical of choice for the hydrating component in beauty products. Distilled water is the standard since it has no impurities to potentially interfere with the product or damage skin. That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t address the problem with having water as the main ingredient in beauty products. It’s a cheap filler, literally watering down expensive products.
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Shelling out something like £18 ($25) for eye cream is ludicrous if the first ingredient listed is water. This might seem harmless, but it’s also ineffective. The outer layer of skin only needs a 10% concentration of water to stay soft. According to several studies, an overabundance of water can interfere with how skin is bonded and how water is contained within outer layer of skin.
Realistically, water dehydrates the skin. Since your body regularly secretes oils to hydrate the skin, water-based products eliminate this protective oil barrier. In Korea, water-free beauty products are the next big thing. By getting rid of such a major filler, useful and effective ingredients can make a great product. Additionally, since the product is so concentrated, it doesn’t take much. A little goes a long way.
Tip: For the truly concerned, I highly recommend checking your product on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.