Handling Water Scarcity from Beauty Industry – NOWater

About 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the global population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.

Mekonnen & Hoekstra, 2016


How many types of skincare products do you use every morning? It depends but most people would use at least one toner, lotion, or cream. And as the society has been developed and diversified, many people including men have got interested in make-up products.

By the way, cosmetics are composed of many ingredients to maximize their own effects, but normally 70-80% of each product is filled with water. Since water is the only solution that does not contain any toxins, pollutants, or microbes, it is convenient to use as a solution base. That means, in order to produce cosmetics, a tremendous amount of water needs to be acquired and treated properly.


It has become not easy to get appropriate water resources these days. As climate change has been worse and worse, it becomes more difficult to obtain water with stable quantity and quality. 

Against water security threats, many cosmetic companies are trying to reduce their water footprint

  • Substitute water-based products into oil-based ones
  • Production with biodegradable ingredients
  • Alternative water resources: Birch tree water, coconut water, etc. 

However, since still many ingredients cannot be dissolved in the oil and alternative water resources may not fulfill the high demand for pure water, we target to increase water quantity.

Our team wants to suggest NEW WATER RESOURCE acquired from
WATER REUSE SYSTEM for cosmetics companies.

Most of the wastewater treatment plants in South Korea are managed by the government. After several treatment processes, the treated water with qualified quality is discharged into surface water. We thought this discharged water from the wastewater treatment plant can go directly through further treatment processes and used for cosmetics products.

There are already existed technologies and operating models that we could set as reference. NEWater developed in Singapore, one of the leading countries in reusing water, has already set a good example for us. Below presents the flow chart of Singapore’s NEWater:


And it’s also important for us to figure out what is the usage of the produced water from the NEWater process. Since the water produced is ultra-clean, NEWater is used mainly for industrial and air-con cooling purposes at wafer fabrication plants, industrial estates, and commercial buildings. Therefore the criteria of produced water already meet its industrial standard usage, which is good news for us to borrow these technologies into our cosmetic production. 



To make environmentally relevant decisions and to understand the environmental impact of water treatment processes, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has to be conducted. One recent research evaluated the environmental impact of public water supply between NEWater and tap water production in Singapore. The environmental impact potential of water scarcity significantly decreased when producing NEWater, from 0.882 m3 for tap water to 0.00344 m3 for NEWater. Moreover, human toxicity potential* was also relieved by using the NEWater process. 0.255 kg 1,4-DCB eq. will be released to the environment from tap water production while only 0.172 kg 1,4-DCB-eq. from NEWater process.

*The Human Toxicity Potential is the emission of some substances (such as heavy metals) can have impacts on human health which is expressed
using the reference unit, kg 1,4 dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB) equivalent.

NEWater VS Tap water

We know that the cosmetics and beauty industries consumed a huge amount of water, and water is a limited resource. We have the technology that can overcome the problems of water scarcity.  But, does it end there? Of course not. Technology alone can make an impact to overcome the issue; but, if we connect it with companies involved, we can create a bigger impact especially for sustainable application

Here are some examples of water-based products from big beauty companies:

Currently, the water treatment process in each Original Development Manufacturing (ODM) companies for smaller cosmetic brands in South Korea have a long and complicated process. NOWater wants to propose a simpler process like the following:

Current ODM water treatment process (left) and proposed process by NOWater (right)

Instead of acquiring tap water, which needs further treatment plants in each company; they can buy clean water (with high quality) directly from the advanced water treatment.

Current Flow of The Cosmetics Production

Suggested Flow for The Production


With this breakthrough, the companies can facilitate their target consumers which prefer water-based products as well helping the World preserves its limited water source.

“No Water? Now Water!”

( click each member’s face for their LinkedIn profiles)

Kanokporn Intang

Ph.D. Candidate
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Asalia Widjaja

M.S. Candidate
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Jiseon Lee

M.S. Candidate
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Subin Lin

M.S. Candidate
Civil & Environmental Engineering

NOWater is a team consists of 4 Graduate Students from KAIST, South Korea with a similar research field regarding Water and Wastewater Treatment. We came from 4 different countries (Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, China) and our goal is to combine our perspectives to create sustainable ideas for better water and sanitation access to the World.