Before 2020, U.K.-based Instagram influencer Anisa Sojka had spent eight years building an audience of 50,000 Instagram followers with her fashion content — but then the pandemic began.
“It was when the first lockdown hit and I was stuck indoors. It felt wrong to continue with street style, because no one was allowed to go outside. So I started focusing on indoor content,” she said.
It was that indoor content that transformed her from a fashion influencer to a “hairfluencer” with just one photo. Taken from behind to show off a backless outfit look, the sunlight hit her shiny hair just right. Instead of her outfit, fans were obsessed with her hair. “The engagement was just so much higher than anything else I’d ever done,” she said.
Fast-forward to 2021, and Sojka (@anisasojka) now has over 525,000 followers on Instagram and 383,000 on TikTok. While she still works with fashion brands, she has created content for a range of hair-care sponsors including Kérastase, GHD and Christophe Robin. She is part of a legion of “hairfluencers” that have built up significant followings during the pandemic, thanks to Reels and TikTok videos that almost exclusively show the backs of their heads.
“Global lockdowns saw salon closures, forcing consumers to take matters into their own hands, and many experienced an involuntary hair detox,” said Clare Varga, head of beauty at trend-forecasting firm WGSN. “The Covid-19 pandemic drove a new desire to not only be healthy, but to look healthy, too.”
The surge in shiny hair content has also been driven by the rising popularity of the short video format via TikTok and Reels. According to Sojka, her hair content really started picking up when Reels was introduced in July 2020. Her follower growth rose to 10,000-15,000 a week.
“When Instagram launches a new tool, use it, because they push it,” she said.
With these short videos showcasing hair quality rivaling that of any ’90s Pantene commercial, hairfluencers are sharing their hair-care routines, style tutorials and DIY treatments. The most prominent of their DIY hair hacks: using fermented rice water.
Sojka is among the rice water devotees posting about the process of treating her hair with it, which she said caused it to grow three inches in one month. On TikTok, hairfluencer Audrey Victoria (@audreyvictoria_) has amassed 1.4 million followers with her hair tips that include several posts on rice water. Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler (@brianboxerwachlermd, 2.9 million followers) did a rice water tutorial duet in December 2020, emphasizing the benefits of rice water with hairfluencer Mistica Abdelkhaliq (@mistica.aa, 203,600 followers). The video received 5.6 million likes.
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Already a practice in many parts of the world including East and Southeast Asia, the use of rice water on hair took off on U.S. social media only after an April 2020 blog post by Kourtney Kardashian’s site Poosh. It stated that her sister Kim Kardashian uses rice water on her hair. In July 2020, Cardi B got on board with the trend. The hashtag #ricewater now has 410.9 million views on TikTok, while #ricewaterhairgrowth has 105.9 million.
The trend has continued to rise in popularity in 2021. “Rice water for hair growth” was listed among the top 10 TikTok hair trends on Lookfantastic’s April 2021 TikTok Beauty Index report. Searches for it grew by 22% in July, according to Lookfantastic.
A growing number of brands have been introducing rice water products to give customers an alternative to the time-consuming process of boiling and fermenting rice water at home. On September 8, Kitsch launched a rice water protein shampoo and conditioner.
“TikTok has been great in spreading the word about the benefits of rice water and DIY treatments at home. But after seeing how much work and time [fermented rice water] takes to prepare — not to mention [that it’s] smelly and messy — users are looking for alternative ways to apply,” said Cassandra Thurswell, founder and CEO of Kitsch.
Other hair-care brands with rice water hair products or ingredients include Mielle Organics, Mo Mi, Prose, Shea Moisture, Ooli, Grow Gorgeous and Vegamour. Meanwhile, brands touting rice protein in products include Briogeo and Kiehl’s.
“TikTok is impacting the hair-care industry enormously, as the platform means hair products and trends reach younger consumers,” said Varga. “The platform allows consumers to see radical before-and-after evidence of products’ effectiveness, and it, in turn, challenges them to achieve the same results.”