The first term in the list of the ingredients of a cosmetic product is generally "Aqua", the official name of water in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients.
This list displays ingredients in order from the most important in weight: therefore, this means water is the main ingredient in regard to all the others in the product.
In fact, a care cream may contain 60 to 85% of water, a percentage that could top 90%! Lotions, shower-gels and shampoos may even go up to 95%!
Only oils combinations (for massage or as serums), fatty cosmetics such as lipsticks or "dry" products (powders and blushes…) can do without.
Needless to say that its percentage makes its quality a factor of the utmost importance. An "ordinary" water, such as tap water, is not suitable for cosmetics.
Atop of being bacteriologically faultless, without any germs or bacteria, odourless, it shall not contain (or at least, in very low quantities) calcium or heavy metals (such as lead, copper, iron…) or unwanted minerals.
Previous to being in our jars of cosmetics, it goes through different treatments to prevent it from being a source of contamination of the product; underneath, some of them:
• Softening water by removing calcium.
• Demineralization gives chemically pure water, without any minerals.
• Filtration removes all micro-organisms.
• Distillation (water boils, then its vapor is condensed) gives sterile water.
• Reverse osmosis (a filtration on membranes with nanometric holes, coming sometimes after an electrodeionization) gives demineralized and sterile water at the same time.
All these processes may be used alone or in series, to get completely pure, cosmetics-grade water, on which advanced sanitary quality controls are performed.
From "dead water" to active water
Water is used mainly as a solvent. It has very specific properties to dissolve solid or gaseous active ingredients, if they are hydrosoluble. A daily experience, easy to see when a piece of sugar is dropped in our cup of tea!
It comes also with moisturizing properties, if only it comprises some ingredients reducing its evaporation rate from skin.
However, purified and sterile, water does not give any specific property to the product; that is why it is ofen referred to as a "dead ingredient". Still waters run deep, the motto says. Cosmetics manufacturers then tried to find out specific waters, both without any unwanted quality and that could be an active ingredient…
As an example, have a look to Institut Esthederm , which formulate all its products with an "Eau Cellulaire", "energized water, a carbon-copy of water contained in our cells"…
When water becomes an active ingredient
Generally, thermal waters give a clue to the claims of the cosmetics in many lines.
Avène water, for instance, is said to be soothing and anti-irritation, and is used in lines for sensitive skins. Same application for La Roche-Posay , with its high selenium content, and renowned for reducing skin sensitivity, or for the Uriage spring…
Water from Cauterets is used for its purifying properties on oily skins in Galénic line, while water from Fumades-les-Bains is used for its healing and disinfectant properties in Dermatherm formula for intolerant skins…
Water from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, rich in oligo-elements, soothing and decongestant, water from Vichy and Balaruc-Les-Bains or, from abroad, water from the Thermes de Cilaos in the Reunion Island …
Sea water, especially Black Sea’s, has also its believers.
Sales points are self-evident. All these waters are renowned for their minerals and oligo-elements contents, and their beneficial properties, sometimes very close to medical applications, are highlighted to give proof of their usefulness on skin.
And "organic" water?
Even if very pure, even if 100% from natural origin, even if no chemical treatment has been applied, water can never be called organic. This, only because it is not "grown" as per organic agriculture requirements.
Due to its high percentage in products, this is a true disadvantage for organic cosmetics, especially when time comes to display the percentages of organic ingredients on the label!
How to claim for at least 10% of organic ingredients (the mandatory minimum content needed for the logo to be applied on the label) in a 95% water-based shampoo? Even 10% seems a very low figure to the average consumer’s eyes, even if all the vegetable ingredients are organic…
The answer came from floral waters. As they are the same solvent as pure water, and as they contain a vegetable ingredient (which may also be an active ingredient), they may be qualified as organic. Convenient and easy to use as a selling point, this is more and more used… along an increase of the figures of organic ingredients on labels! Magic bullet waters!