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22 Mar

The just-add-water skincare of the long run is here

The just-add-water skincare of the long run is here

Can a recent generation of waterless, plastic-free beauty products change the industry?

In response to The Jetsons, Futurama and Bowie’s Major Tom, meals of the long run were speculated to are available in pill form. Well, it’s 2022 and most of us are still consuming our calories in the shape of boring old food. Skincare, however, is evolving. For years, the despair-inducing problem of plastic pollution has been well documented. Meanwhile, most on a regular basis products proceed to are available in single-use plastic taking centuries to degrade, with the wonder industry producing upwards of 120 billion plastic units per yr. While chewable toothpaste tablets and dissolvable cleansing products have taken up residence in some homes, plastic-free, high-performance skincare products have been a bit slower on the uptake.   

Now, a recent generation of brands is changing things. Termed ‘Waterless Beauty 2.0’ (version 1.0 being things like soap and solid shampoo bars) or ‘Condensed Beauty’, these formulations remove the aqua – the bulk ingredient in lots of products – thus eliminating the necessity for plastic packaging and reducing cost and carbon emissions of shipping.

All three aspects are wins for award-winning SBTRCT Skincare founder, Ben Grace, who arrange the brand after 10 years constructing a men’s grooming brand with ethical sourcing and sustainability at its core. After selling his old business in 2017, Ben gave himself a while to think. “I checked out the best way I used to be living my life,” he says. “The ‘less is more’ philosophy was necessary to me in all elements of my life, to the extent I see it as the long run of our society.” So, channelling this belief and his industry experience, Grace got down to create high performing solid skincare that addresses what he sees because the three key environmental challenges facing the wonder industry today: plastic pollution, water waste and over-reliance on palm oil.

It took Grace and his team about 18 months to provide you with each product; research and development periods he describes as intense. “You would like the pay-off to be good, so while you warm the bar between your hands to then apply to your face, you get just the fitting amount of coverage; you would like it to soak up quickly and leave skin feeling soft, supple and after all, moisturised,” he explains.  

The range now comprises solid cleanser, exfoliator, make-up remover, two moisturisers, and the primary solid retinoid – an lively particularly hard to seek out plastic-free. Further actives are on their way, with a solid vitamin C bar launching next month. Encapsulating Grace’s less-is-more philosophy of their design, all products are cute, social media-friendly pastel geometric shapes with a reusable container available for purchase individually. Each product can also be plastic-free, uses minimal water and no palm oil.   

London-based “green” make-up artist, Crystabel Efemena Riley had already began experimenting with waterless products – but homemade. “I even have been involved in using powders and pigments as a way of reducing impact through reducing plastic use and consumption,” she says, giving examples of raw ingredients like clays, plant powders and dried flowers from which she makes hot infusions. She does add a word of caution, nonetheless: “I’ve had good and bad experiences – to avoid rubbing powdered silicone over your face, read the ingredients! I take advantage of waterless products inside ranges that do not necessarily market themselves as that, like Haeckels (who recently released bodywash in pill form) and the Afro Hair and Skin Co.”

“It isn’t rocket science and might have been done a long time ago, however the plastics industry makes money from the stuff you throw away so that they can produce more.” – Allon Liberman, FORGO co-founder

One other waterless brand envisaging a powdered future is FORGO, from Swedish design collective, Form Us With Love. Currently FORGO only offers one product, luxury hand wash in powder form with a sublime, reusable bottle, however the brand guarantees recent lively skincare will follow soon including a body wash with added niacinamide and a face cleanser. While many brands are seemingly daunted by the duty of reformulating to powder, co-founder, and former industrial designer, Allon Liberman, describes the method as “business as usual”. “It isn’t rocket science and might have been done a long time ago, however the plastics industry makes money from the stuff you throw away so that they can produce more,” he says. “They’ve made it very economical for brands to package with plastic, so entire supply chains are optimised around bottling liquids”.  

Going against the establishment, due to this fact, takes work. As Liberman says, “to vary things, because the small player, takes a number of convincing manufacturers to affix us in disrupting what’s profitable today to what’s profitable tomorrow. We currently spend more to provide one powder-to-liquid refill than to fabricate a bottle of liquid soap as the availability chain continues to be novel, which is difficult”. 

This higher production cost is reflected in the value of the product: £47 for the starter kit with bottle and three refills, then packs of refills figuring out at around £6 per sachet – undoubtedly higher than a bottle of Carex or bar of soap, although lower than competitors like Aesop. These higher price points may be found across the category. Packs of 16 dissolvable dry sheets from body wash brand Plus, for instance, retail for £12 each which works out to 75p per shower. It’s a price value it for many who can afford it, but not one which will likely be accessible to all.

Alongside powders and solid bars, dissolvable skincare tablets are making their way into the category thanks to approaching waterless brand MONO. The brainchild of Laurie Mias, who previously founded a cold-pressed juicery and several other “eco-luxury” wellness resorts, MONO was inspired by Mias’s desire to correct the issue of single-use packaging after her experience growing up within the family business of perfume shops and “using and throwing away 1000’s of skincare bottles in my life”. Launching in February, the brand will offer a variety of skincare products – from a mild cleanser to a hydrating serum – which arrive in the shape of dissolvable tablets with a view to “stop shipping water all over the world when we’ve got it from the faucet, and reduce carbon footprints.” I attempted some pre-mixed samples that had a more liquid, runny consistency than my regular skincare, finding the serums to be most efficacious. 

The technique of getting the ultimate products to market, nonetheless, hasn’t been a straightforward one, with MONO experiencing the difficulties of innovating skincare as a small start-up. “Immediately, I’d prefer to use materials to wrap our refills which are 100 per cent compostable – you literally throw them in your garden and so they’ll auto-deteriorate – but my MOQs [minimum order quantities] are too small,” Mias says. MONO is currently raising investment to scale the business and tackle recent innovations.

Brands like MONO and SBTRCT, in addition to haircare brands reminiscent of Susteau and Centred, prove that an alternative choice to plastic waste and single-use packaging is feasible. The incontrovertible fact that small, independent brands without corporate backing try to innovate this much-needed change within the industry makes you wonder what all the big cosmetic corporations are doing. Big-name behemoths have the dimensions and buying clout to correct issues of their supply chain, but stay of their plastic-filled lane, leaving it as much as independents to attempt to mitigate the environmental disaster that the wonder industry may be. Or, as Ben Grace of SBTRCT says, “satirically, an industry created to cleanse and care, is making our planet a grimy place”.

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