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If the word anhydrous sounds more scientific to you than skincare, let this be your introduction (and cheat sheet) to the world of waterless beauty.


From a technical perspective, the definition of anhydrous is a substance that contains no water. When it comes to beauty, anhydrous products are those that are water-free.

You might be surprised to learn that most beauty products contain anywhere from 70-80% water, with shampoos, gels, and toners ringing in closer to 95%.

A quick scan of the back of your beauty products will prove this point, listing water (or aqua) as one of the first ingredients. This means that the products are going to be diluted—and likely not as effective.


Oils: It can be counterintuitive to use an oil to cleanse (read: like attracts like, oil attracts oil and also dissolves residue), but cleansing oils are the latest in complexion care. They are also great moisturizers, operating on the philosophy that oil traps water on the skin, encouraging long-lasting hydration. Look for options that use oils such as almond, jojoba, and rosehip, which absorb into skin without leaving behind a slippery slick.

Balms: One of the most effective solutions for solving winter skin woes, balms are the ultimate hydrators that can also double as makeup remover. The uber-concentrated formulas are often luxuriously dense blends of oil and wax that soothe the driest of dry patches but work equally well for oily, break-out prone complexions.

Powders: Cleansers have dominated the category (a little sprinkle of one of these is perfect for gentle exfoliation), but a number of brands have started to experiment with other product applications, such as topical vitamin C. When mixed with your favorite serum, they become potent upgrades to your skincare routine.

Bars: These are the compact answer to your space- (and environment-) saving dreams. The minimal packaging and concentrated formulas cut down on waste. Best of all, bars have moved beyond traditional soap; you can find your full arsenal of products, from shampoo and conditioner to body lotion, in bar form. Added bonus: they’re TSA approved!


Water has reigned supreme as an additive because it’s both an affordable and neutral ingredient—it can be added to virtually any product without concerns over skin reactions. However, H2O does promote the growth of microorganisms, which means that preservatives must also be present, raising questions, particularly within the clean beauty community, over potential negative impacts. Waterless enthusiasts will also argue that water actually dries out the skin, taking natural oils away as it evaporates.

Anhydrous products, on the other hand, are naturally self-preserving and often use concentrated forms of antioxidants to keep their formulas fresh, which can carry additional skin benefits. When you remove the water, you can produce more highly concentrated formulas, which means lighter applications of a product with the same amount of oomph. In other words, a little goes a long way. What’s more, this smaller footprint requires less packaging and reduces transportation costs.

To me, anhydrous beauty represents the ultimate luxury in skincare. The rich formulas and high concentration of ingredients literally feel expensive to the touch. Because you only need a small amount of product, I have found that I am more mindful in my application of these products. The ritual encourages me to take pause and think about my skin and overall well-being, which feels more like an act of self-care than a means to moisturize.


Since water acts as filler for a lot of beauty products in the market, it can be expensive to go “waterless.” Higher concentrations demand higher price points.


Beyond daily showers, flushed toilets, and washed dishes, there are many under-the-radar elements that add up to a heavy water footprint. Case in point: the amount of water that goes into making all of those products sitting pretty on your top shelf.

The Nature Conservancy estimates that the average American uses what’s equivalent to 32,911 glasses of water a day. That’s a lot of water that we can’t afford to waste. Experts believe that 1.2 billion people currently lack access to clean drinking water. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. As reality sets in, water conservation becomes a key issue for the planet.

 Originally written for Counter Intelligence Issue 02

Photo: Cristi Goia via Unsplash 

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