Perhaps it’s part of the overarching beauty trend of “clean products” made with minimal ingredients. Maybe it’s a desire to return to old-school skincare like facial bars and floral waters. Or, it could be a result of consumers wanting more sustainable, environmentally friendly buys. Whichever the case, powder beauty products have been on the rise over the past few years – and they seem here to stay.
As the name suggests, these products come in dry, powdered form. Most of the time, they function as cleansers, essences and face masks, and are only activated when mixed with water or a liquid base before use.
As they are waterless, powder products are typically free of filler ingredients like emulsifiers and thickeners, as well as preservatives and chemicals needed to maintain active ingredients and keep bacteria at bay.
“Even though powdered products require less preservatives, they tend to last longer as they are more stable,” says Dr Low Chai Ling, medical director of SW1 Clinic. This is because water facilitates the breakdown of ingredients by oxygen, heat and light, so removing H20 from the equation has the effect of keeping products fresh for a longer period.
A prime example of this is vitamin C, a highly popular skincare ingredient well known for its brightening and antioxidant benefits.
Cha Mina, founder of Korean skincare label GTNC, explains: “Vitamin C is highly susceptible to oxidation, especially in water- based systems and when exposed to air. Although its derivatives have been developed with greater stability, their efficiency and cost led to companies decreasing the quantity used. It is also difficult to keep finished products stable for a long time because most contain a relatively high percentage of water, which is a key reactant for oxidation and colour change.”
This is why the brand opted to encapsulate the active vitamin C used in its Snow Powder Essence within a unique aqueous-powder form. “This maximises its efficacy, blocking out active elements from outside, so it stays stable and fresh until use,” she says.
But while powdered active ingredients may be more stable, Dr Low says that at the moment, there are only a few simple antioxidants that are readily available in this form, such as vitamin C and niacinamide (vitamin B).
She also cautions against the assumption that powder beauty products are gentler or suitable for sensitive skin because they are free of preservatives and additives.
“It all depends on what ingredients are in them exactly. Sensitivity is very subjective – what isn’t suitable for someone’s skin may work very well for another person. Hence, depending on your inherent sensitivities, you should watch out for and avoid the appropriate ingredients. If you’re allergic to ascorbic acid (vitamin C), then steer clear of products with it,” she says.
As for the claim that they are the more eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to liquid-based products as they require less energy and resources to produce, there is some truth to that – but only to a certain extent.
“There is some benefit to the environment as powder products don’t use water in their manufacturing process, but I think that it is overstated. After all, most of them still have to be mixed with water before application,” says Dr Low.
What is true, however, is that they are comparatively low-waste, given that you are more likely to get through them before their (longer) use-by date is up. Their concentrated formulas – undiluted by water and fillers – also mean only a small amount is needed to get the job done. In other words, you get more bang for your buck.