Ingredient labels are a hot topic in skincare, and it’s no secret that water is the number one ingredient on the majority of skincare ingredient labels. You may already know that the first five ingredients on the label make up at least 80 percent of the product, which means that in many cases the product is mostly water. This fact has contributed to much confusion about product quality and efficacy. Is water in a skincare product a good thing or a bad thing? When making the decision to use products containing water or not, it’s important to have an understanding about how this simple ingredient can affect the product’s efficacy, your skin, and improve your purchase power. To help clarify your understanding, here are our top five pros and cons of water as a skincare ingredient:

The pros of water as a skincare ingredient:


  • Water hydrates the skin. Oils are important to seal in moisture and prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), but they don’t actually hydrate the skin.
  • Water allows more ingredient options within a formulation. Some ingredients are oil soluble, but many beneficial botanical extracts are water soluble, and can’t be used in an anhydrous formulation.
  • Water may improve ingredient penetration and absorption. Even though water-soluble ingredients have difficulty penetrating through the epidermal lipid barrier into the deeper layers of the skin, research shows that increasing skin hydration also increases ingredient penetration of both oil and water soluble ingredients.
  • Water cools the skin. Certain skin conditions like acne and rosacea are associated with heat and inflammation. A spritz of a water-based toner can do wonders to cool a heat-related breakout or flare-up.
  • Water improves product consistency and spreadability for some products. Not everyone likes the consistency of heavier balms and butters. Sometimes adding even a small amount of water gives the product a more desirable feel without compromising the overall efficacy of the product.


The cons of water as a skincare ingredient:

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  • Too often, water is included in a product as a cheap filler that may not serve a purpose related to your skin. Water may comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the ingredients in a formula— even in those that are quite expensive.
  • Formulas that contain water require preservatives. Commonly used preservatives include parabens and DMDM Hydantoin, which may present additional health risks.
  • Companies aren’t required to divulge the source of the water in their formulas. Depending on the source of the water used–such as tap water–adding water to a formula may introduce unwanted contaminants such as fluoride and chlorine as well as microbes and fungi which further encourage microbial growth within the product.
  • The hydrating effects may be short-lived, if there are no emollients in the formulation. Water quickly evaporates, so a water-based moisturizer may only provide temporary relief from dryness.
  • Adding water to a product that also contains oil creates the need for an emulsifier. Common emulsifiers include sodium lauryl sulfate or polyethylene glycols which may cause irritation and disrupt the skin barrier.  

What’s important to understand is that a skincare regimen should provide a balance of hydration and protection to each client, based on his or her skin’s unique needs. When choosing products, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of ALL the ingredients on the label–even if it’s something as simple as water!

CommentWhat’s your take on water as a skincare ingredient?

If you do use water-containing products, what do you love about them? If don’t, what are your reasons? Please share in the comments.