If you were to grab any one of your hair or skincare products right this second, flip the bottle over to its ingredients label, and shout out what the first thing listed was…would I be wrong if I said its water?
Water is found in and makes up the majority of ingredients in almost all skin and hair care products (most of the makeup world escaped this because, well, ever notice that most things don’t hold up well in the rain?). So that 100$ pot of anti-aging cream you just bought is going to typically be around 70-90% water. So why on Earth are we paying significant amounts of our precious cash for products that promise this or that when we could be essentially be pouring bottled water on our faces?
Well, let’s hold up for a minute.
Water in the beauty industry is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s an excellent source of hydration. On the other hand, it’s a cheap filler. Do your favorite companies have your best interest or their profits in mind? It’s a really tough question.
Generally, products can either be water or oil based. Water is cheaper, produces lighter, more easily spreadable, and more easily absorbable end products than oil based formulations. It also is less likely to clog pores. Many other desirable ingredients, like botanical extracts for example, are only water-soluble making H2O the only option. It may seem counterintuitive that water based formulas absorb better than oil based ones as the skin’s moisture barrier is made of lipids/oils, but the fact of the matter is, the more healthy/hydrated skin is, the easier it will absorb things. Oil has a tendency to sit on the skin like a film and often requires a person to “rub” the product in, while water will sink in and be absorbed quickly, often with minimal effort. The texture is also more versatile; no one would put (or wait on!) a product with body-butter consistency on their face before applying makeup or going outside in any sort of heat.
Beauty companies are not required to list percentages of ingredients on their formulation labels (only what ingredients were used and by weight) nor where they source their water from. While generally the water used is distilled (water that is boiled, then the steam is condensed into clean containers), for all we know it could be coming from the tap. They don’t have to say. As water-based products do require the use of preservatives to prevent the growth of fungus, mold, bacteria, and other micoorganisms, distilling the water, which helps take some of these “undesirables” out, is probably the more common choice. But honestly, we really don’t know; we can only assume.
While yes, water does equal hydration, just plain water without any extra help from emollient or humectant ingredients isn’t going to do much good. In fact, if there isn’t anything to hold in the water when the water begins to evaporate, then it could potentially dry out your skin rather than moisturize it.
Another reason why water is so prominent in beauty products over say, some plant juice? Water is predictable. Water is stable. We know what to expect from it. Unlike plants, whose strength and availability can vary with the seasons, locations, sources, etc, water is relatively the same across the board, year after year. So in short, water is boring, but consistent and consistency is a good thing.
Regardless of why a company is using water in their product (and hey, they might even have to use it to use other certain ingredients) at least it’s something pretty darn safe and reliable. Yes, water is cheap, and I’m sure many companies use it just to reap a bigger profit. But I’m also positive that there are so many other brands who have a great investment in its customers and product integrity. While this is a topic only the developers and producers of the products will truly know (of course HR will tell you it’s fancy-a** water and how its super amazing for you), it’s good to keep in the back of your mind as your looking at the first five players in the ingredients list.
So does water equal hydration or is it just a cheap filler? What do you think?