Water World: What To Know About the Most Prevalent Skincare Ingredient

Water is often overlooked as a beauty ingredient, but it’s a huge part of many product formulas. (Photo: Trunk Archive)

There’s constant chatter in the beauty world about the newest wonder-working ingredients and miracle substances, but what about the component that’s almost always the most significant in a formula? “It varies hugely, but most skincare contains between 50 and 80 percent water,” says Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza, cofounder with his wife, Margaret, of the Hungarian label Omorovicza. “All skincare, except oils, is made of a large amount of water. Traditionally that water is demineralized and inert.” So why is something used in such a high quantity sitting by idly why the other ingredients do all the work? Shouldn’t it be an important part of the formulation?

In reality the water is often more or less overlooked, but some companies take it as an opportunity or even the inspiration for a whole range. In the case of Omorovicza, the entire line is based around Budapest’s famous thermal springs, the water from which contains upwards of 20 different minerals and trace elements (calcium, potassium, copper, zinc) that, among other benefits, are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and help firm and soften the skin even without the addition of other ingredients. Many other brands, however, use purified water, which is totally clean and safe, but lacks any extra topical benefit. In the Hungarian brand’s case, “the water is itself a key active ingredient,” says de Heinrich de Omorovicza.


Products from Omorovicza that are based on Budapest’s famous thermal springs. (Photo: Omorovicza)

It seems non-American brands are a bit more on the forefront of using water as a powerful part of their products. La Roche-Posay is another European label that features thermal spring waters from its namesake central French village. At the heart is selenium, a powerful antioxidant that comes from rainwater flowing over huge expanses of limestone rocks — which harbor natural reserves of the element — and through deep sands from the Cenomanian period. Not only is it used as a standalone toner-like product (La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water), but it’s the base of all other formulas.

“Water is a necessary component of most skincare,” says Wei Young Brian, founder of WEI Beauty. “But you cannot just use any water in developing a product.” Indeed, different types of water can react differently with ingredients. For example, “there is more electronic activity in mineral-rich water and this electronic activity has an adverse impact on the stability of products,” says de Heinrich de Omorovicza. “Some ingredients cannot be used in formulations because of their interaction with the minerals.” Also, “hard water is alkaline and contains minerals that can clog your pores or make your skin imbalanced,” says Brian.

The Hong Kong–based brand invested in machinery for their manufacturing facility that softens and purifies water they use, creating “balanced, mineral-free water that allows the skin to absorb the herbs and emollients that actually detoxify or condition the skin,” says Brian. Additionally, their water is infused with proprietary blends of Chinese herbs known in traditional Chinese medicine to further maximize benefits to the complexion; they also add humectants to help bind water to the skin, helping maintain healthy levels of hydration.

Heavy water is featured in Arcona’s Mineral Magic Hydrating Spray. “Heavy water has a heavy molecular weight that delivers moisture deep into the skin preventing water loss,” says Arcona Spa manager Allison Marks. “It also contains trace minerals such as silver, ultra-hydrating sodium PCA and antibacterial chlorophyllis.”

Also designed to be super hydrating are the swath of micellar water products that seem to be bubbling up everywhere of late. Of course water is at the core of these liquid formulas that in essence combine cleansing, toning and moisturizing in one simple step. Brands including NARS, Perricone MD, Caudalie, and Lancôme make these special H2Os that are also touted as gentle makeup removers and safe for use on the whole face, requiring no rinsing.

In this family of formulas and others like Pacifica’s Purify Coconut Water Cleansing Wipes (which still has normal water listed first, and coconut water listed fourth), ingredients like blue plasma, aloe vera, rose de France, cucumber, flower extracts, chamomile, and hyaluronic acid are added as well. These aren’t the only time rich ingredients are added to water to elevate it.

All of Suki Skincare’s hydrous (meaning more fluid) products are made with rose water. “We replace water with the foundational ingredient high-potency organic rose concentrate,” says Suki Kramer, founder, formulator, and president of the synthetic-free label. That concentrate is made to “exacting standards,” she says, using filtered water with pure organic rose petals, which are triple filtered after being boiled down. What’s unique about this base is it’s the only one to “uniquely match the skin’s own chemical makeup and pH,” says Kramer.

This, instead of basic water, is used in a percentage ranging from 20 to 65 in Suki’s hydrous products. Not only are they the only label that doesn’t use commercial rose water, which Kramer says contains far less actual botanic content, but they are the only brand she’s aware of not using water as a base, but instead an organic botanical base.

It’s a good reminder that water can’t be taken at face value. It’s not all created equal. Different cities’ or towns’ water may be softer or harder — the latter actually causes soap to lather less, rendering it less effective. We know salt water can be drying, while chlorinated water turns blonde hair green. In spas hydrotherapy is increasingly a powerful treatment mode. La Roche-Posay has the Thermal Center, where patients are treated for burns, rosacea, and eczema using the selenium-rich water that protects cells from oxidative stress (a leading cause of skin aging) and plays a huge role in cellular preservation.

In Omorovicza’s case, it comes down to harnessing the natural properties of the spring water (which has been in Stephen’s family more than 200 years) through a patented system — developed alongside a Nobel Prize–winning dermatology lab — called Hydro Mineral Transference. Says de de Heinrich de Omorovicza, “Water is treated in a lengthy bio-fermentation process which enables the transformation of minerals from awkward molecules which are not bio-available into complex compounds which absorb into the epidermis.” No wonder the Queen of Hungary Mist (re-released in special packaging this summer) is such a cult favorite. All this is to say that the next time you’re reading a label for the hottest of-the-moment ingredient be sure to check out the often-overlooked first one, too.


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