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Solid cosmetics: Are shampoo bars and cleansing powder the future?

22 Oct 2021
by Monika

A traditional skincare product contains a lot of water. Just have a look at the ingredient lists of your favorites! The vast majority of our moisturizers, toners, and shampoos list 'water' as one of the first ingredients. According to that, the product consists to a great extent of water - in many cases, up to 60 or 70 %. A rich and creamy texture might include less, whereas a fluid Toner might include more water.

Water covers about 71 % of our planet. But only 2.5 % of the world's water resources are freshwater. And again, only 0.3 % of this freshwater is accessible for us humans.[1] Estimates are that by 2025, two-thirds of the human population will face a water shortage. That's only a few years from now! It's about time that awareness surrounding the water issue grows and that every industry branch (also the skincare industry) contributes to saving water.

So what happens, if we cut out the water from our skincare formulas? We end up with skincare bars, powders, sticks, or rather solid mixtures in containers. Some of these products (like lotion bars) can be applied to the skin as they are. They become more pliable because of the skin's warmth. Others (like shampoo bars and powder) need to come in contact with water right before the application. The newfound trend of solid cosmetics thrives, while more and more 'dry' products replace the fluid and creamy formulas in our bathrooms. This way, less water sits on the shelves of drugstores and warehouses. But besides the visible water content, our skincare is responsible for a vast amount of hidden water consumption.


Water in skincare


Let us have a look at the ingredients. Naturally grown ingredients come from plants, which need to be watered and subsequently processed. Fruit, vegetable, or plant juices might be a water source within the product, even if it does not list water as an ingredient itself. Popular plant juices in skincare derive from Aloe and Birch. The watering of the plants might have taken place naturally and/or artificially, depending on the farming methods and the geographic and climatic conditions. Especially nut oils can cause high water usage. For example, the production of one kilogram of almonds requires 16,000 liters of water. The processes of obtaining synthetic substances and the production of the end-product can involve water, too. Also bear in mind other factors like the cleaning and cooling of the machines! Hence, not every solid skincare product has been necessarily produced in a sustainable manner.


Solid cosmetics tackle way more issues than the water problem. The formulas are way more concentrated than fluid products. You need a smaller amount for one application. Therefore the products usually last longer. If you buy a big skincare bar, you might not have to worry about buying a new one for months, depending on the texture of the bar. Solid cosmetics also take up less space. This results in fewer emissions through transport and less required storage capacities. Imagine all the avoidable weight of shampoos, which consist mainly of water. You simply moisturize your bar with locally processed water right before the application at home.

Another advantage is the packaging. The solid blocks do not necessarily require a plastic container. The skincare is already dry, so it does not leak, and no water evaporates from the formula. Paper - or sometimes even no packaging at all - can suffice (given proper storage away from heat and sunlight). Dry power, on the other hand, might attract moisture. Therefore, it might be stored airtight with the help of plastic. Even if the solid cosmetics are packed in plastic, the high concentration leads to compacter products, which can result in less packaging per dose. Reducing the plastic waste of cosmetics is an important step to decrease the pollution of our planet. But the list of advantages does not end here. Through the absence of water, many skincare bars do with less or without conservatives and other harmful substances.


Solid cosmetics


Unfortunately, not everything is rainbows and butterflies. Of course, solid cosmetics also have their challenges, which I do not want to conceal. For one, the highly concentrated formulas can easily lead to overdosing and spillage. So make sure to only use as much as you really need. Secondly, the application of some products might be perceived as less hygienic. Because skincare bars mostly do not come in plastic containers, they get in contact with the surfaces they lie on. Besides certain products (e.g. deodorants in cans) were designed to be spread with the fingers due to minimalistic and sustainable packaging. On the other hand, not all traditional skincare products are used without finger contact either. And Powders do not face the hygiene problems.

Sharing is an issue regarding bars. While this might not create problems at home, skincare bars do not seem to be the best option for spas and beauty studios. Furthermore, the rich compositions of lotion bars might not be suitable for the summer or for skin, which require lighter moisture care. At last, the inclusion of moisturizing ingredients in solid formulas still proves to be difficult. But I dare say that innovation will not stop here and the future will have more to offer.


The Vegan Glow Hair Care

The Vegan Glow Original Shampoo Bar & Conditioner Bar

The solid hair care from The Vegan Glow fulfills the needs of your hair, while it protects the environment at the same time. Gain more volume, restore the shine and nourish your hair in a natural, efficient, and safe manner! The included Camellia oil is known to unblock the scalp's pores, stimulate hair growth, and control water loss. The latter will leave your hair softer and more pliable.



Some By Mi AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Cleansing Bar

Some By Mi AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Cleansing Bar

The exfoliating cleansing soap leaves your skin smoother and more moisturized after each use. AHA sloughs off dead skin cells and dirt on skin surface, while BHA removes impurities and sebum from inside pores. Moreover, PHA prevents moisture loss. The cleansing bar is suitable for every skin type - even the most sensitive ones.



COSRX Pure Fit Cica Powder

COSRX Pure Fit Cica Powder

Mix the multi-purpose Powder with various skincare products! This way, you can combine the calming properties of the powder with your favorite cosmetics.


By Wishtend Green Tea & Enzyme Powder

By Wishtend Green Tea & Enzyme Powder

The gentle cleanser controls the sebum production and leaves skin smooth and hydrated. The mild formula with baking soda, coconut-derived surfactant, and enzymes effectively cleanses and exfoliates. The powder has a lovely green tea smell. Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.


As someone, whose shower routine mainly consists of solid cosmetics, I hope that we see more water-free skincare in the future. While moisturizers and other specific treatments might not be there yet, various cleansing products for the skin and the hair are available today. For sure, the research will continue to create more and different solid formulas. The urgency to protect our planet becomes increasingly visible. Thus, solid beauty products and sustainable options can contribute to positive change and rethinking among consumers.

The issues of water shortage, plastic, and CO2 emissions will intensify due to the growing population and ongoing globalisation. I do believe that solid cosmetics will replace many of our fluid skincare products in the distant future. Even if we can't completely abstain from water-based formulas for every skin's needs, we can definitely avoid the unnecessary stretching of products with water. In many cases, we can turn to higher concentrations for transport and water it down before use if needed. Korean cosmetics are indeed a pioneer regarding intensive and effective formulas. K-beauty is known for its highly concentrated treatments, of which you might only need a few drops per application.



But no matter if you convert to solid skincare or if you stick with your beloved fluid favorites: The key is to use them efficiently and with as low waste as possible. Only use as much as you need and treat them well, so they do not dry out, overheat in the sun or run out of date! You can also make a difference by keeping an eye on your direct water consumption. We all love a hot and long shower, don't we? But maybe you could turn the water off one minute earlier on some days. Just take a second and think about how much water runs into the drain per minute. It is a lot more than the visible water content of one shampoo bottle.

Keep an honest eye on the amount an action truly saves, but never forget that every little bit helps! :)




 How to make your shower bars last even longer:

You need to add water to use your shampoo bar, cleansing soap, or body wash bars. That way they can transfer the ingredients to your body in form of foam or a rather creamy liquid. When my bars came fresh from the store and they were still quite big, I experienced some spillage. A lot of the product ended up on my hands. By making the whole bar wet, the big surface gave off more than I actually needed. So I started to break my bars into two or more pieces. You might be able to break softer bars by hand, whereas others need to be cut on a board with a sharp kitchen knife. The spare pieces wait safely stored on the bathroom shelf until it's their turn. Now my skincare bars last even longer!


Do you use shampoo bars, cleansing powder, or other water-free cosmetics?

Let us know in the comments why you do or don't like to use them!

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