Looking good while saving water
Hair care products look to enable water conservation
Bars, powders and rinse-free solutions are on the rise among personal care, especially hair care, because increasingly environmentally conscious consumers are requesting evolutions in the products they use in their everyday routines. “Biodegradability and non-ecotoxicity credentials mean that new skeletons for formulations are needed,” says Stéphanie Neplaz, Head of Innovation Marketing for Hair Care at Solvay’s Novecare business unit. “Water management is one subject in that equation, and there is a definite turning point in consumer demand happening today.”
As a result, brands need to constantly innovate by coming up with new ingredients and new formulations. Fortunately, they can rely on the intensive research conducted upstream by suppliers such as Solvay, with one key hurdle to overcome: increasing the sustainability of care products without compromising their performance.
The challenge of sustainable hair care behaviors
Solid formats to wash one’s hair have been around for a while and are starting to be quite widely accepted by consumers; they offer several advantages in terms of environmental impact. The absence of water in the products’ formulations means they’re much lighter and smaller, which reduces packaging and emissions caused by transportation – and producing them obviously uses less water.
This of course is a good thing, but even more significant water savings are to be found elsewhere. “The biggest impact in terms of water consumption is in the use phase,” explains Stéphanie. “If you remove one rinsing step from your hair washing routine for example, you save 30% to 50% water.”
There have been several paths explored by brands to help (or nudge) consumers to use less water, such as fast-rinse shampoos that appeared over the past few years. “But their impact is always limited because you can’t control how consumers behave in their shower!” says Stéphanie, adding that changing consumer behaviors is the biggest challenge of all. For this reason, the recent launch of no-rinse conditioners are more promising solutions to save water.
Hybrid products dubbed “no poo” or “low poo” cleansing creams have been a hit in markets such as the USA and Latin America lately. “They contain a conditioner base with a washing agent that is different from traditional shampoo, and tend to offer good performance,” continues Stéphanie. By enabling the elimination of one rinsing, they make for considerable water savings, as mentioned above.
“We’re currently looking at various technologies for ‘waterless washing’ hair care solutions, but we need to collaborate with our partners and customers, because we won’t be able to venture into that segment alone.”
Stéphanie Neplaz, Head of Innovation Marketing for Hair Care, Novecare, Solvay
New ingredients for a waterless future solution
But all this is only the beginning – after all everyone, from consumers to brands and suppliers, is aligned on the commendable objective of saving water, so the motivation is strong on all parts. The ultimate goal is to offer one day a 100% waterless solution that you apply outside the shower without any rinsing needed. “But we’re still far from getting there,” says Stéphanie. “Consumer acceptance is key, as this is a very emotional domain. People want to act to save the planet, but they’re reluctant to change their routine. Now the time is right for more radical changes.”
As a supplier of ingredients for all the major personal care brands, Solvay has been preparing for such changes. For example, before demand for solid formats started growing, we had started working on developing ingredients for these new uses, as well as ready-made formulations to help manufacturers go to market faster. And the same goes for textured hair, a segment that Stéphanie’s teams started tackling a few years ago with research programs and expert salon partners for testing and evaluation before the market exploded. And in 2022, Solvay created a platform to foster the development of new chemistries to answer the sustainability challenge in personal care, with teams working on the subject globally.
As for the next frontier of ‘no water’ hair care, it presents new challenges, as Stéphanie explains: “We’re currently looking at various technologies, but one thing is for sure: we need to collaborate with our partners and customers, because we won’t be able to venture into that segment alone.”
Whether developing existing molecules from Solvay’s portfolio – such as surfactants and polymers – or developing entirely new chemistries, there are many paths to follow. “When we develop completely new products, we’re really going back to the fundamentals of our work as chemists,” enthuses Stéphanie.