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Water, the next frontier for green beauty.

January 6, 2020

Talking about water isn’t a new thing in the cosmetic industry. I mean it is inevitable that this little ingredient will come up given the role it plays in hydrating and barrier protection, in creating space for the external phase structure of our formulations to exist and in hydrating key ingredients while keeping everything at safe dilutions and pH’s.  Water also comes up in newbie circles as many start-up brands feel they are onto something when they make a whole cosmetic range without the stuff (think face oils, dry face masks, salt scrubs, concentrates etc).  Alternatively many opt to swap regular water for something like Aloe Juice or Milk to take the emphasis off the first ingredient being ‘water’ (cheap filler territory) and give them a platform for something a little more active or even organic.  However, when it comes to water in general, the wider use of water, especially in the tasks that up-and-down-stream (excuse the pun) make that cosmetic product either possible or practical,  less is said.  I assume this is because it is a less sexy, more mathematical, less predictable or controllable story and one which many brands are yet to really get to grips with.  I mean how do you work out the water footprint of your clay ingredient or your vegetable face oil?  How do you account for all of the water used in creating the packaging option you opt for or the water used to clean your hands and facility before and after the mixing phase?  All of that is tricky and then there is the water we use when using the product, how do we talk about that?

I want to explore this topic widely and deeply in 2020 as I feel that water security will be a growing issue in this decade.  I have lots of ideas of how I’ll do that so watch this space as I dive into the watery side of the cosmetic industry.

But first, this.

When I first moved to Australia I was facilitating workshops at a place called the Watershed in Newtown.  This place was lovely, it was a community hub, a place to go for information on green living, the place that handed out re-usable shopping bags long before everyone had their own.  A place where picking up cigarette butts was serious business given the water flow from Newtown into Sydney harbour, a place where people went to become better people, me included.  The workshop I facilitated was all about making better beauty choices, not about how to formulate your own products but more about how you can cut back and go without so much wet stuff.  I ended up taking the workshop in a wider and broader direction and delivered it at both the Sydney and Canberra science festivals as well as Greenfest in Brisbane. It was all heaps of fun but it ended when my general consulting picked up and I no longer had so much time.

During that time a key part of my message was the one that the Watershed was built on – small steps make for big effects.  I really did believe that back then (this started in 2007 for me) and I enthusiastically got behind the message that if we all did something it would be better than nothing and that by 2020 the world would be better.  As the years rolled on and I got busier and then lost touch with that side of my work I stopped believing so much in that message.  I saw the world get worse and worse as people either didn’t care, didn’t believe (as if wasting resources is something up for debate like your belief in God or Fairies or Zero calorie chocolate). I started to wonder what the point in me ‘suffering’ was when nobody else seemed to get it or care.  When I had more money I’d save up and fly somewhere nice on holiday with the kids and hubby. Maybe back to the UK or to Thailand,  Malaysia, Fiji or Bali.  It was all lovely and self-indulgent for a while there, especially while my kids were kids and creating a book of family childhood memories was my focus.

But then I woke up.

During the second half of 2019 the bush fires started here in Australia.  I knew it was dry, dryer than usual, as I am a huge bush-walking fan.  I live in a beautiful part of Australia, a World Heritage National Park (well it was, not sure what it will be after this) and I can’t get enough of being out amongst it all.  However, my inner ‘oh shit this isn’t good’ voice was proved right when the bush fire season started early, impacting on land around one of the clients I’ve been working with for the last year and a bit.  I felt sick to my stomach as that area too is beautiful and after a prolonged and painful drought I knew that this was the last thing the farmers needed.  It wasn’t long before it was our turn to weep and rasp as my beloved Blue Mountains went up next albeit slowly.

We are still burning, in fact today is the first day back at work after the Christmas break. I was planning to do so much work over the last two weeks but sadly my attention has been on fires, intense smoke, bad air quality and oppressive heat so I’m starting 2020 behind the eight ball yet again.   While my home is not under any immediate danger (the fire is still some 14Km off I think) my husband and I have been planning, preparing and adapting and that’s where water comes in.

One of the stories that captured my imagination during this horrendous fire season (which is far from over) was that of a fire truck caught short for water as the crew tried (successfully I might add) to defend their truck, hose and a home with only 2000 litres left.  They used their water wisely and finished the job with 200 litres spare, so that’s 1800 litres used and a house and truck saved.  Great job!  The figures quoted really resonated with me and something clicked.  I realised that it actually doesn’t take much to defend a property when you have to.  I started to think about how I’d been using water up to that point and again became interested in measuring my use and, hopefully, reducing it.

Another fact for us Aussies, especially those of us in the Sydney area is that our dam levels are falling at a rapid rate.  The stored water that we drink is practically on fire right now. The fire that is creeping towards our homes up here came from the dam and it has grown over several weeks to surround the whole area thus increasing evaporation and (potentially) compromising water quality.  If that goes, who knows what Sydney will do (although we do have desalination plants I suppose).   Anyway, you get the picture, suddenly my life became all about water.  The water that would sustain me and the water that could save my house.

I decided to start with the shower.

I placed a 30 litre tub in my shower and stood in it while I turned on the tap and rinsed away the day, daydreaming about this new project idea I had as the warm, clean water tumbled over me.  Before I knew it the bucket was full to the 20 litre mark.  I finished showering and felt horrible about what I’d done.  So this is how much water I’ve been using in my absentmindedness?  Sure a long shower is good (and it wasn’t even that long at 5 mins and I hadn’t put the shower on full power) but is it good enough to risk this type of waste for?

Over the last week I’ve experimented with my timer, reducing flow and changing routine.  I have now got my shower to a decent 2 minutes using between 5 – 10 litres per shower which is way less than the average figures quoted for Australia.  As it is mostly hot here I’m sometimes having two showers a day, especially as I have been doing lots of heavy outdoor work to prepare our garden for the fires.  Keeping the flow and time low has meant that my husband and I can both have two showers each and still not exceed 20 litres of water between us.  That, by the way, is now going onto the garden, either to keep what’s left of the grass around the home damp (additional fire break) or to water plants if the water is not too soapy.  I’ve been washing my hair with shampoo bars and forgoing conditioner (which does leave me a bit coarse and curly but I can handle that another way) and to shave my legs I’ve used the collected water in the bucket so it’s like a bath and shower in one – like when the kids were little).

A complete change of mindset once more.

So where to from here?

Well, I wanted to start with this as a way of bringing my attention together, as a focal and personal starting point into this conversation.  I have always found it easier to explore a topic from a starting point that is personal and hands-on so this feels like the right thing for me to do.

On another note we are also in the process of rigging up a very water efficient sprinkler system for our roof to go with our misting system we already have around the eaves. This isn’t so much about beauty but about fire protection although again, it does remind me of the many ways we can use delivery systems to maximise the effect of water while minimising its use.  I think that’s an angle I should explore more too!

I’m looking forward to exploring this further with you all and will most likely run some interviews with people who have interesting stories to share on this topic.

Stay sensibly and sustainably hydrated my lovely readers and watch this space for more water news.


PS: So, by my terrible mathematical calculations I think I’m saving around 15 litres per shower now. My husband never used as much as me but he’s probably saving around 2-5 litres too now he has to stand in the bucket. If our two teenagers get on board too there will easily be another 20-30 litres saved per showering day.  That’s  maybe 50 litres saved per day for our family from just one activity.  If this were stored in order to fight off a fire like that in my example above, we’d have saved enough to save our home within 36 days!   OK, so we’re not doing that but when put like that it just shows you how much difference a little bit more attention can make!

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 31, 2021 8:04 am

    Good read! I will share it with my friends.

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