The Water Use of Our Beauty Routines

This post was originally published by Jacalyn Beales on medium.com focuses on ethical fashion and has also created an app that makes it easier to source sustainable brands.


When it comes to our beauty routines, most of us take varying approaches to caring for our skin, hair and bodies. For some, a “beauty routine” means getting up early each morning to wash our face, apply some cream and do our makeup; for others, it may denote a five-minute skincare regimen that excludes makeup altogether. Regardless of how we individually define our own beauty routines, chances are most of us try to use good-for-you products and are more conscious about what we’re putting on/in our bodies than we are about another pretty crucial aspect of our routine: water use.

I’ll be the first to admit that my beauty routine used to be a tad hypocritical. I’d spend hundreds of dollars every month or so on natural, green beauty items (such as creams, masks, cleansers, facial oils…you get the picture), actively committed to avoiding the non-vegan, palm-filled stuff, but without thinking about my water consumption. Though I have transitioned into using some items which contain small-batch harvested beeswax — thus making some aspects of my beauty routine not totally vegan — one thing I gave little thought to until this past year was my water use.

I promise this is going somewhere, so hear me out.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water at home every day, with roughly 70% of that use occurring indoors. In 2009, the Canadian Water Attitudes Study called Canadians’ daily use of water ‘alarming,’ putting the average home’s use of water at 329 litres per day. An article by McGill University indicated that out of 29 countries, as of the year 2000 Canada was the second largest consumer of water per capita. That statistic doesn’t appear to have changed much, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

But that’s not all, folks. The Nature Conservancy reported that the average “water footprint” of an American equates to 32,911 glasses of water per day, adding up to over 700,000 gallons of water per year. They go on to explain that this “water footprint” can be broken down into three main categories:

  • Blue Water — water extracted from rivers, lakes, and groundwater
  • Green Water — rainwater used directly by crops
  • Grey Water — the amount needed to dilute polluted water into useable condition

A scientist with The Nature Conservancy, Brian Richter conducted a 2012 study which found that more than 2 billion people are affected by water shortages each year. This fact sheet breaks down the consumption and use of water of Canadians to provide a look at just how and where our water is so frequently being used — and wasted. A 2009 article from Treehugger defines “water footprint” as a country’s total amount of water needed for the production of goods and services. The article found that several African countries were reported to use the least amount of water globally — just 15 litres or less, daily. Compare that to the USA and Canada’s daily consumption and use of over 300 litres per day, and we’re right to be gobsmacked.

Water use and consumption is also a major factor when it comes to the production of food; more specifically, meat. According to another Treehugger article, just one kilo of beef can require up to 16,000 litres of water to produce. In fact, it’s no secret that agricultural production of food such as crops and meat is a serious proponent of both our national and global water footprints. When it comes to plastic, one plastic water bottle takes approximately 1.85 gallons of water to produce, with one pound of plastic requiring about 24 gallons of water to produce.

Knowing all of this, and considering how damaging our high use and consumption of water is for the planet overall, I’m sure it’s safe to say we could all do our part to cut back on our ridiculously high use of water — and maybe our efforts could begin with our beauty routine.

Hey, I love long, warm showers and high-maintenance beauty routines just as much as the next basic, but my recognition of my high water use has led me to cut my shower time down to 5 minutes each day, often taking colder showers to conserve warm water and avoid wasting water unnecessarily. But I’m no saint: I’ll still put the odd load of laundry in at peak times throughout the day, sometimes run the tap too long when brushing my teeth, and use a dramatic amount of water when washing dishes. I’ve attempted to “make up for” my high water use by scaling back where I need it most: showering.

See, many of us assume that it would be inconvenient to take shorter showers, to turn the tap from hot to cold, or to use a gadget like this one to revamp the extent to which we use — and waste — water. But I’m not sure the destruction of our planet is worth a hot shower or two, especially if some of us shower more than once a day. The same goes for using tap water when brushing our teeth or cleaning up after a meal. Personally, taking colder and shorter showers hasn’t negatively impacted my life, nor has it led me to turn into some obsessed, evangelistic eco-warrior as many probably fear changing their environmental impact would. It’s simply led to some cool savings on my water bill and waking up a bit more alert each day.

I suppose the draw of gadgets like this guy manifest from their ability to help us easily and conveniently help conserve a resource we all know our species is slowly but surely ruining thanks to pollution, global warming, climate change, and those other weird conspiracy theories some believe in. In this day and age, where anything we want is likely just an arm’s reach away from us, convenience is king. I’m always tempted to try my hand at using something like SWON because, like many, I can be slow on the uptake when it comes to changing a habit that doesn’t immediately yield tangible results or rewards; I’m selfish like that. But I do believe we can all help the planet out a little when it comes to our use and waste of water.

The neat thing about innovative creations like SWON is how simple it makes being a little more kind and a lot less wasteful when it comes to an everyday routine like our beauty regimens. With SWON, all you have to do is screw the water-conserving device onto your shower head, download the gadget’s app, and from there on out you’re golden. Millennials would love this thing for its accessibility and WiFi compatibility, especially those of us obsessed with/always attached to our Smartphones. Hipsters would love it as a conversation piece, allowing them to brag and wax poetic about the harmful environmental impacts of water waste and how they’re saving the planet one shower at a time (all whilst wearing Birkenstocks, ironically enough). The app allows you to control the amount of time you spend in the shower, the temperature of the shower, how much water you’re using, and how much money you’re saving. Pretty cool and simple, right?

But perhaps there’s an easier way. As opposed to buying a $100+ gadget your dad could help you install on your shower head, tap, sink, whatever — maybe we could all just be a little more cognizant of how we use and waste natural resources like water. Would it really kill you to take shorter showers, turn the tap off when you’re not using it, maybe have a meatless Monday here and there or avoid using plastics so you stop contributing to the wasteful use of water? Probably not. I’m not telling you to go vegan (I love brie, so who am I to judge?) or to give up showering altogether (let’s not get ahead of ourselves); I’m just suggesting we all make an everyday routine like our beauty regimens a bit more kind and far less wasteful. You can rush to back the SWON kickstarter or simply time your showers using your Smartphone; either way, it wouldn’t hurt to switch things up and try using a little less water.

I’d tell you what my water footprint is, but then I’d have to run and hide from ashamed embarrassment. You can calculate your water footprint here.

This post was written and first published by Jacalyn Beales.

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