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February 15, 2022
Many of you have heard from various skincare brands or retailers that water is a filler ingredient in skincare products, that it makes a product less potent thus does not benefit the skin, and is just added in large amount to dilute a formulation so it’s cheaper to make. This is absolutely not true, and in fact, more a marketing ploy than anything.
The truth is, water is a necessary component of most successful skincare formulations, and there isn’t really anything comparable that could be used in its place to get the same results.
Here is the most obvious but often neglected reason——our skin needs water! Oils are great, and your skin needs lipid too, but they can only moisturize and not hydrate. By using water in a skincare product, it can help replenish the skin with lost hydration.
MARIE REYNOLDS LONDON
Hydr8 Misting Veil™ <- Click to shop
Skincare ingredients are either oil- or water-soluble. For instance, Hyaluronic Acid, AHAs, peptides etc. are water-soluble ingredients, and in order to be “activated”, they must first be dissolved in water. This means you can only find these ingredients in a water-based formula, and not an oil-based product.
acid(wash) Lactic Acid Brightening Cleanser <- Click to shop
Water is a necessary part of a successful delivery system, which helps deliver active ingredients deep into the skin, and allows for better penetration. Without water, all the other beneficial ingredients in your products wouldn’t be able to get into the skin to make an impact. Think of it this way, when dish-washing liquid is squeezed on a dry sponge, it won’t get distributed evenly on the sponge to effectively clean the dishes. The skin is just like that. Without that extra water, all those serums, oils or moisturizer won’t get absorbed and distributed properly in the skin; and when there is water, everything penetrates much better.
Wise Awakening Advanced Nourishing Toner <- Click to shop
No matter how skin-benefiting an ingredient is, it must be used within a specific percentage range for safety reasons. Many of them, at high percentages, can be irritating to the skin. For instance, Hyaluronic Acid over 2% may actually be drying to the skin, Panthenol is recommended to be used at 1–5% for hydration, healing and barrier repair, whilst Niacinamide (vitamin B3) at 0.5% can give skin energy, 2% can improve the skin’s barrier function, control sebum, boost collagen and even skin tone, and at 4%-5%, has significant brightening effects, but anything higher than 5% may cause an allergic reaction such as irritation, redness, and swelling for people prone to sensitivity as it can increase histamine levels, and tretinoin over at 0.1% can easily burn the skin!
Brilliant Light Multi-Correction Repair Serum <- Click to shop
Many skincare ingredients are extremely thick in texture or are in forms that cannot be absorbed by the skin. Without water in a formulation, not only would it not feel good on the skin (meaning you would likely end up not using it), it may actually be unusable. For instance, green tea, as we know, is an amazing ingredient for all skin types, but you can’t put tea leaves or tea powder on the skin and hope they would absorb now, can you? Below is another example, showing the same cleanser, without (top) and with water (bottom). All the other ingredients are the same, but without water, the cleanser is simply unusable!
Nutritive Repair Emulsion <- Click to shop
Many brands and products claim to contain no water, and instead uses aloe vera leaf juice and hydrosols. This makes them sound more expensive and beneficial to the skin, but here is the truth, the main component of both aloe vera leaf juice and hydrosols, is water. For instance, aloe vera leaf juice, generally created by mixing 1% freeze dried aloe powder in 99% water in skincare, is soothing and anti-inflammatory, but there are many who are actually allergic to it, with symptoms such as rashes, sensitivity and even contact dermatitis. Whilst, hydrosols are 99.95% water, and the rest are various phytonutrients, as well as volatiles such as linalool and citronellol. These volatiles, also found in essential oils, can be irritating to some skins, resulting in what is often called irritant dermatitis.
In addition, remember a product's efficacy is dependant on its formulation as a whole, and not by one single ingredient, and certainly not by whether water, or aloe vera leaf juice or hydrosol is used. Let's say product A uses 50% rose hydrosol, 45% lavender hydrosol, 3% botanical extracts, 1% sodium hyaluronate, and 1% anti-microbial agent, whilst product B uses 82% water, 5% niacinamide, 5% panthenol, 3% glycerin, 3% botanical extracts, 1% sodium hyaluronate, and 1% anti-microbial agent. So by some people's standard, 82% of product B is useless. However, which one do you think is more hydrating, soothing, brightening and beneficial for the skin? Product B, by far.
So, compared with purified water, yes, aloe vera leaf juice or hydrosol could on their own provide a bit more benefits. There is however the downside of potentially causing irritation for certain users, who may or may not know they are allergic. Thus from a brand’s perspective, water, is a safer option.
Now you know water actually has various functions in a skincare product. Think of it this way——water, whilst cheaper than other ingredients like hydrosols, still costs money. If it is just a filler ingredient with no use to the skin or formulation, it would make more sense for a brand to simply not include it, right? So next time, when you hear/read how someone claims water is a filler ingredient, know that it is absolutely false.
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