Waterless beauty unites sustainability and skincare

Water, aqua, eau, the universal solvent… water is the most common ingredient in the vast majority of cosmetics. Conserving Beauty founder and CEO Natassia Nicolao is working hard to change this.

Water, aqua, eau, the universal solvent… water is the most common ingredient in the vast majority of cosmetics. Conserving Beauty founder and CEO Natassia Nicolao is working hard to change this.

“We live in Australia, in a global water crisis. Why are we not talking about our water footprint? We can actively choose packaging elements to reduce our waste footprint. We can offset our carbon footprint and reduce our emissions through other scopes. But why is nobody talking about water? That is wild, especially since other industries like agriculture and textiles are regulated in terms of their water usage. Why is that not the case for cosmetics?”

These are the words of Natassia Nicolao, the founder and CEO of Conserving Beauty. It is Australia’s first water-responsible beauty brand, and it is making waves. After launching in Australia and New Zealand in April 2022 with MECCA, she took it to the UK in October 2022, which saw sales skyrocket through her retail partnership with Cult Beauty. In the next few months, Conserving Beauty will expand to other retailers across the UK, Europe, and the United States.

Conserving Beauty has exploded in the media since its launch because of its sustainable and waterless approach to skincare. The world’s first dissolving makeup wipes and masks are biodegradable, falling apart in seconds when put in water. Its other products are similarly without any water at all.

On average, 60 to 85 per cent of the ingredients of a beauty product by volume is water. Some rinse-off products can contain up to 95 per cent water. At the same time, thousands of litres of water are used in growing and harvesting the ingredients, as well as manufacturing and transporting the products. What does it mean to be waterless?

Who is Natassia Nicolao?

Nicolao is a 28-year-old who sought to combine sustainability and skincare when founding Conserving Beauty. Its sole focus is on preventing water wastage. Her team of five is working to provide a complete range of waterless skincare formulas.

Nicolao got started as a nerdy high school that was also obsessed with beauty. She studied biochemistry at university because she wanted to leave her options open and found that it was an excellent pathway for her future.

“I studied two sciences and two maths in high school. I was super nerdy and loved numbers. I loved chemistry because it felt like another maths class,” she said. “That extended to when I was thinking about what degree I wanted to do at university because I wasn’t 100 per cent sure. I was considering research, and I did work experience in a lab, which I thought was cool.”

Opting for biochemistry within a Bachelor of Science gave Nicolao a range of options following graduation. After working in ethical supply chain management, she found that her move into product development and formulation utilised her critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving, and solution-focused skills.

“As a self-described beauty junkie, I loved beauty and skincare because they allowed me to express myself however I wanted to be seen. I loved that as an outlet. Moving into beauty was not discussed at university,” said Nicolao. “Then I fell into beauty, stayed there, and decided I wanted to find a better way to create beauty products.”

The difference Nicolao is trying to make

That better way focuses on the use of water from two different aspects. The first aspect is in the ingredients of her products. Nicolao does not use any water in any of her products. The first question she asked herself was, why?

“Why is water in there? Is it meant to benefit our skin directly? In real terms, it is an affordable solvent to keep product costs low or to use certain water-soluble ingredients,” she said. “The industry uses thousands of litres of water to create a beauty product that is mostly water, shipped in plastic with a sprinkle of the active ingredients. Why can’t we take the water out and give people all the good stuff?”

New technology drives developments

This is easy to achieve for some skincare products, such as oils and balms. However, other products can be more complicated.

“The majority of clay masks on the market today are 90 per cent water, 10 per cent clay. Our clay masks are 40 per cent clay. That was really hard from a research and development standpoint. The manufacturer said there was no way we were making a waterless clay mask. I said let’s try, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. We eventually got there, but it was hard work to get the right ingredients and consistency,” said Nicolao.

The masks and wipes are a different question. All the technology was new, requiring new tools, training, and specialised facilities to achieve their ultimate goal.

“The fact that we wanted to manufacture in Australia makes everything about 10 times more expensive,” Nicolao said. “We need people touching the line to ensure everything goes in and comes out right. Our first run had about 30 per cent wastage, but we have been tweaking it and improving everything. I’m proud to manufacture in Australia, have local employment and own our IP.”

The fact that we wanted to manufacture in Australia makes everything about 10 times more expensive

Tracking their water footprint

On the other side of the coin is tracking its actual water usage throughout the entire process. This element of sustainability is vital for enterprises looking to reduce their global water footprint.

“Why can’t we build a supply chain around actively reducing our water footprint? And that was like my moment.”

Nicolao is not just considering the company’s blue water consumption but also its grey water consumption. Conserving Beauty partnered with the Water Footprint Network, a not-for-profit based in the Netherlands. Together, they measured the amount of water used to produce each product Conserving Beauty makes.

“When it comes to our blue water consumption, we got down to a really granular level. We spoke to individual crop growers that were growing our sunflower seeds for sunflower oil from Ukraine and asked them exactly how much water they were using,” said Nicolao. “Another aspect of measuring their water footprint was determining if we were growing an ingredient in a country facing higher water scarcity than another. That would contribute to a larger water footprint.”

Nicolao explained that other aspects included finding out about irrigation systems and capturing rainwater at each ingredient supplier and following that all the way up the chain to its manufacturing plants in Sydney and Melbourne. The goal was to measure the company’s exact water footprint. Conserving Beauty is not just stopping with its blue water footprint either.

“We have started to work on our grey water footprint, which will look at our down-the-drain impact,” she said. “Wipes are a great example because they can dissolve in water. It means you can get rid of them wherever you are already using water. Our grey water footprint is significantly smaller compared to a standard makeup wipe that does not use biodegradable ingredients that do not dissolve.”


When looking at partnerships and working with others, the Australian Water Association (AWA) featured Conserving Beauty and Nicolao as its first beauty brand that had become a member. In the eyes of Nicolao, it was quite the serendipitous meeting of minds.

“The AWA published an article in May 2022 about new standards for flushable wipes,” she said. “I was interested in getting this certification for our wipes since they could dissolve in less than one minute. The AWA was a bit thrown by us reaching out at first, but once they realised what we were trying to achieve, they were delighted to have us as members.”

The standard in question required products with the flushable symbol to pass six tests to ensure they are suitable for the sewers, including being able to readily break into pieces smaller than 2.45 cm after one hour. Sydney Water has claimed that 75 per cent of sewer blockages involve flushed wet wipes, rising to 93 per cent in the UK, according to Water UK.

The future for Conserving Beauty and Nicolao

With new products coming in the next year or two, and new markets in which to launch, Nicolao has a lot on her plate. However, she has been clear on her goals for Conserving Beauty from the beginning.

“I want to be part of the solution,” she said. “I want to be part of how we can help improve it. It’s exciting and optimistic to be part of a business in which our entire premise for existing is to do that. Any opportunity to collaborate, attends events, partner with someone or do a press interview is meaningful. I hope it inspires people to start thinking about their water footprint and ways to reduce it.”

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