Hi! It’s Ali, Associate Editor, writing. Before you dive into the story below, I want to tell you a little bit about Ariana Roberts. She’s a friend of a friend I met through Instagram—she has a job in sustainability, a dry-as-a-bone sense of humor, and a water-only beauty routine. You read that right, folks: her thick, bouncy curls and natural glow are thanks to nothing but H2O. Ariana's been water-only for over seven years now, but mentally, I couldn't move past the first few weeks of what that process might have been like. So after following her for a while, I reached out to learn everything. Below, what going water-only was like, in her own words.
“I moved to France to work for the state, doing carbon capture and storage. It was a really cool job—I would travel all over France, attach hydrogen to rock formations, and then analyze how it expands. At that point I was a big product junkie. I got facials every week or bi-weekly, and I was getting my hair blown out every week.
The hard water in Paris was really rough on my hair. Between that and my Japanese thermal straightening treatment, my hair stopped growing and I knew I had to just cut it all off. And the water plus stress was also breaking out my skin. I tried a bunch of products, all approached from a sustainability perspective. Buly 1803 and Grand Cafe Tortoni both have bulk products in beautiful glass packaging. I tried RMS makeup, oil cleansing, every micellar water, Retin-A... I always tried to keep a good diet, but I also started taking zinc supplements to try and heal it internally. I tried every product there was, and nothing was helping. It was so frustrating—I lived in this beautiful city, and I literally did not go out because I was so self-conscious about my skin. I thought that I had to wear so much makeup, but it made everything worse.
In 2013, I went on a trip to Morocco. I met a woman there who had the most beautiful hair and skin, so I asked her what she did. Apart from henna to cover her grays, she just used water—water to wash her hair, and water to wash her face at night. Since products weren’t working for me, I decided I’d give that a try. And that’s the most sustainable thing of all anyway. I can’t imagine how many bottles of packaging I’ve saved.
I put a filter in my bathroom, the Arirangion Ionizer, and that helped a lot. My skin’s transition was really easy—I just started washing with only water and a washcloth at night, and as soon as I did that, my skin started to improve. There was more trial and error with my hair. There’s a lot of information online about going water-only, and whole forums on Livejournal of people’s experiences. I think where people go wrong is not realizing that when you don’t have the surfactants in shampoo to help you remove impurities, you have to do it yourself. It’s a lot of elbow grease. In the shower I really have to scrub to mechanically remove the dirt. I wash my hair every two weeks, which includes scrubbing, and in between I just rinse. To prevent my hair from getting sweaty and dirty when I work out, I wear a really thick cotton headband and a ponytail. There’s also a process called scrinching, where you massage your hair with your fingertips to distribute the natural oils. Lots of people scrinch their hair three or four times a day, but because my hair is dry and curly, I only needed to do it twice a day. In the beginning my hair got a waxy patch on top, and blowouts helped during the transition period. But after that, I totally stopped heat styling. I don’t even own a hair dryer or a curling iron now—if I want a style, I do heatless rag curls.
My mom and grandma were very worried when I stopped getting facials and went water-only. I actually think they were worried that I’d totally given up—and maybe that I would smell or something. For the record, I don’t smell. I never stopped using body soap, and my hair really doesn’t smell like anything. People who know I’m water only, even total strangers, always ask to smell my hair. There’s no smell! Anyway, my grandma was always trying to buy me BB cream and stuff, but she ended up admitting that my hair and skin improved a lot. And now she’s water-only for the most part too. She had been for most of her life, until she got a lot older and came to this country from Korea—there are towns in Korea where they just wash their hair with rice water. They have long, thick, shiny hair and it doesn’t smell.
During COVID, I’ve wanted to get back into products just to feel a bit pampered. But I am hesitant when I purchase something new, because the most sustainable product is the one you’ll actually use. The only makeup products I have are Ilia mascara and a lip and cheek tint from Urb Apothecary, which is vegan and comes in zero-waste packaging. And now I’m starting to moisturize and use sunscreen every day, and sometimes I put Bathing Culture oil on my face and body. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to using products on my hair.
With water-only, I always tell people that you have to figure out what works for you. Everybody’s genetics, lifestyle, and environment are different. That was the hardest part—when I tried to copy what other people were doing, it didn’t work out. My transition period would probably have been a lot shorter if I was working on finding what worked for me instead of getting bogged down with researching what other people were doing. If you want to try water-only, figure out your own circumstances and adapt your routine to them.”
—as told to ITG