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WSL In The Press|January 03, 2020

How Brands Are Rethinking Water Conservation

WWD / December 18, 2019 / By Allison Collins, Photography By George Chinsee

From P&G to Owa, modern beauty brands are finding ways into the waterless beauty movement.  

Are you ready for the age of powder shampoo? 

Waterless beauty, a small but increasingly intriguing category comprised of brands and products that think of water differently at varying points in the product lifecycle, has become a hot topic as the beauty industry rethinks sustainability.

Some of these lines eschew water altogether in their formulations, either creating more concentrated options or products that require water for activation. Others contain water but don’t require it for use, like a new line of Procter & Gamble hair products, called Waterless, slated for a U.S. debut in early 2020. 

Either way, they underscore the same thing — shifting consumer perception around both sustainability and convenience. 

“It feels more like a movement, a way society can go, than a trend,” said Cecilia Gates, chief executive officer at Gates Creative, of emerging waterless options. While it’s still under the radar for now, Gates sees staying power.

“There are so many factors to waterless beauty. It’s more eco-conscious, from the fact that you can likely reduce some packaging...[and] it’s more relevant to how people live their lives because people right now are so mobile and on-the-go,” Gates said.

“If you look at the younger generations... they’re so eco-conscious,” she continued. “If you look beyond beauty in our society and how people are not using [plastic] water bottles — you have to carry your own glass bottle and refill it and wash it — it does take that extra effort for consumers, but they feel like they’re making an impact. Within the beauty space, this is a little niche right now, but it has the potential to become larger as it becomes more of a mind-set.”

For consumers, waterless formulations are billed as more concentrated and convenient for travel. For those who are sustainability-minded, they often have lower carbon footprints, experts say.

For the brands that make waterless beauty, the process can include limiting water use throughout the full lifecycle of product production, and considering what chemicals from formulations might wash down the drain. Going waterless can also mean using fewer preservatives, experts noted.

Pinch of Colour, a waterless skin and makeup offering from founder Linda Treska, had a hard time finding manufacturers that would work with the brand. Pinch doesn’t use water during the manufacturing process, and instead cleans its machines with oils — either lightweight mineral oil or the oils in its formulas, like rosehip, Treska said. Treska said the brand’s formulas are more expensive to make, because of their concentration, and that some products, like mascara, aren’t yet made at all.

But for Albanian-born Treska, being careful with water use ties back to water deficiency and infrastructure issues she experienced as a child. Treska is a beauty veteran who has worked in product development for Laura Mercier and Laura Geller, and knew when she struck out on her own that she wanted a business that was “mission-driven,” she said.

“I wanted a company that stays 30 or 50 years down the line, but to create that, we have to think about the earth,” Treska said.

She saw her young children’s behavior — “they care for resources more than we do” — and decided to focus on water, given personal history, plus the broader scarcity of clean water. The brand also partners with water-related philanthropic efforts, including Healing Waters Organization, Clean Water for Children and Blue Angel Charity.

In the U.S., where customers tend to be more benefit-oriented, Treska stresses the product concentration angle. “The first thing you get in a water-free formula, is you get concentration,” she said. “Add water to a pigment, the color is going to get diluted.”

Pinch started in smaller retailers in the U.S., like Anthropologie, and has since expanded internationally to Europe and the Middle East.

“From a marketing point of view, [concentration] is a good way to position it because it’s about consumer perception and it’s about the consumer getting past that hurdle,” said Gates, who said that especially in the value-driven mass market, consumers will need education in order to want to buy waterless.

“Where bigger is better, and more fluid ounces means more value, the other piece is how to position it, where less means more — it means more concentrated, even though it’s not coming in a big bottle where 75 percent of that weight in fluid ounces is water,” she said.

Soapply, a soap business, also centers its story on formula and concentration, according to Mera McGrew. “Every ingredient in Soapply is an active ingredient, meaning it has a purpose and a role. Water is often used to make a product last longer...the idea of cutting it with water just simply didn’t make sense,” she said. Soapply uses a blend of oils with rosemary extract and aloe for its soaps.

“If I’m looking for products that are healthier — healthier for me, healthier for the earth ... you say, ‘OK, I’m willing to spend a little more,’” Liebmann said. “But, if it doesn’t perform, then they won’t stick to it.”

McGrew founded Soapply after spending time working on water sanitation funding in East Africa, and noticing that “hand washing was getting left behind,” she said. The soap is meant to be universally usable, including for those with eczema and other health conditions, and is sold at Credo, and online, where shoppers can sign up for subscription refills.

“People often ask me, ‘Why aren’t you selling shampoo and conditioner and lotion?’ and the list goes on. The truth is, we could, but we’re focused on essentials that everyone actually needs, not upselling people,” McGrew said.

For Kailey Bradt, a former chemical engineer, the idea for waterless hair brand Owa came from frequent travel, and, she said, thinking “why isn’t there something better than stuffing all these little liquids particularly for my hair care, because that took up the most space, that’s what I used the most quickly,” into the bag.

After some digging, she found that shampoo and conditioner formulations can contain 80 to 90 percent water. She launched Moondust Hair Wash, a $29 powder hair cleanser that contains a coconut oil derived surfactant and hydrolyzed rice protein, in June. It is sold online, and at Credo Beauty.

“The concept for this brand is, ‘what does the future of hair care look like?’” Bradt said. “What is that next step? What is going to happen 20 years from now, not just two to five? We’re really thinking big picture.”

Owa plans to develop other waterless hair and body concepts, including conditioner and styling products, expand its distribution, and start offering samples via the web site. The brand is in the process of closing a seed round, following a pre-seed round of $475,000 before launch, Bradt said. Right now, Owa is only sold in the U.S., but requests are pouring in from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand, so global shipping plans are in the works.

To use Owa’s wash, customers need to wet their hair, and add the powder to water, before lathering and rinsing. It requires learning on behalf of the consumer and risk on an everyday product — shampoo — that customers may not initially be ready to swap, Bradt acknowledged. To get new customers to try the concept, Bradt is launching ancillary styling products that can act as “an entry point to something new.”

Tatcha, the geisha-inspired skin-care brand acquired by Unilever for nearly $500 million, is releasing a waterless serum stick, called The Serum Stick, for $48 in January. It will be sold on the brand’s site, as well as Sephora.

Tatcha experiments with waterless formats depending on what skin benefit it is trying to provide, said founder Vicky Tsai. With The Serum Stick, the goal was to create a “targeted treatment that wasn’t going to move around,” Tsai said.

Tatcha is not a waterless brand, but Tsai said the company does take water into account when thinking about formulations. At one point the brand’s Rice Enzyme Powder contained micro beads — that is, until a customer wrote in and called Tsai’s attention to micro plastics, and after conferring with scientists at Berkeley, she had the product reformulated. Now, it’s made with rice spheres, which do not scratch the skin.

While the waterless movement has been primarily driven by smaller, indie brands, some of the larger companies are starting to get on board — including P&G.

There, the concept of waterless came from consumers, according to Ilaria Resta, vice president of hair care North America at P&G. In the last five years, consumers have started washing their hair about one less day per week, she noted, but still expect “the same great hair.” 

So P&G started developing products for “nonwash days.” Right now, offerings are available through P&G-owned Pantene and Aussie, with things like Cheat Day Dry Shampoo Foam and Mist Behaving Dry Conditioner Mist. Products to make up for no-wash days are expected to roll out across all of P&G’s major hair brands in the future, Resta said, including Head & Shoulders. While those products do not require water to use, they do sometimes contain water in the formulations.

P&G will introduce new water-avoidant brands in early 2020. 

Next year, the beauty giant plans to take Waterless, a brand it debuted in South Africa during Cape Town’s Day Zero crisis (the city was projected to run out of water in April 2018, but the date has since been pushed indefinitely due to rainfall and sharp changes in water use), into the U.S. in 2020.

Instead of cutting water out of its formulations, Waterless cuts out showers, and makes products intended to create good hair without washing. The lineup includes Dry Shampoo Foam, Dry Conditioner and Instant Odor Detox, an alcohol-free scent mist. The brand will be sold through Walmart, Target, Sally Beauty, Amazon and other mass-market channels. Product prices range from $7.99 to $9.99.

For Target, P&G has also designed Spring & Vine, a 2-in-1 shampoo bar line that will launch in January. The $9.99 offering sits at the intersection of sustainability and clean beauty, Resta said, and is meant specifically to appeal to the Target shopper, who Resta described as “particularly sensitive to some of these trends.” 

“People who really care about [natural and sustainability], they shop at Target because they find much more offering than other retailers,” Resta said. While Spring & Vine’s shampoo bars can be used by consumers with all hair types, Resta noted that those with textured hair will likely need a separate conditioner, and said P&G is working on a potential bar conditioner. 

Aside from a lack of water — Spring & Vine’s products use 98 percent less water than traditional shampoos — the lineup also uses less plastic in packaging. 

It’s also more carbon footprint-friendly to transport bar shampoos than heavy, watery shampoos, executives noted. 

“Water adds a lot of weight to formulas, and the heavier a product is, the more the carbon footprint of moving it around,” Tsai said. “It’s good for the environment to be waterless.” 

Consumers are starting to consider paying up for more sustainable products, according to research from Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Research. In a recent national survey, WSL found that 60 percent of women said they’d consider paying more for sustainable brands — and that number went up about eight points for Millennials and Gen Z, Liebmann said.

“If I’m looking for products that are healthier — healthier for me, healthier for the earth ... you say, ‘OK, I’m willing to spend a little more,’” Liebmann said. “But, if it doesn’t perform, then they won’t stick to it.”

Continue reading: Brands Rethink How Beauty Ingredients May Affect Oceans

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