Women in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia have used rice water as a hair treatment for centuries. But does rice water have any scientifically proven beauty benefits?
Rice water is the starchy water left over after rice is cooked or left to soak. It is thought to make the hair smooth and shiny, as well as help it grow faster
My anecdotal results
I have fine, normal to dry hair with breakage. When I was younger, even with “fine” hair, it looked really thick because I had a TON of it. As I age, and battling thyroid issues, my hair has really thinned out and lost it’s volume. It has turned into my go-to method over the last 4 months for a quick “extension-like” fill for thicker looking hair. I found that using it in a spray bottle and soaking my hair before my once-per-week washing was the fastest way, even though I’m washing it after, it left my hair feeling thicker and easier to style and curl. The downside is, it is a one-use recipe, meaning you do not want to make this in advance. It will smell really bad.
Fermenting the rice smells, I’m not going to lie. You can add a citrus rind, or slice of ginger to it, which will tamper the odor. Having said that, keep in mind the properties of the citrus and what it will do to your hair or scalp. A lot of them are “purifying.” If you have naturally oily hair, this may be perfect for you. For me, it was a little stripping to my hair.
Overall, I love it. It maintains moisture in my hair, even in high humidity areas, adds extra shine, prevents breakage and knots and makes it more manageable. It is a permanent part of my beauty routine.
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Rice water for hair
Rice grains contain 75–80 percent starch.
Rice water is the starchy water that remains after soaking or cooking rice.
Rice water is thought to contain many of the vitamins and minerals contained in rice. These include:
- amino acids
- B vitamins
- vitamin E
According to researchers, women in the Heian period (794 to 1185 CE) in Japan had floor-length hair they kept healthy by bathing it in rice water.
A modern-day equivalent of this story can be found in China. The Yao women, who live in a village called Huangluo in China, are famed for having hair that averages 6 feet long.
In addition to its incredible length, the Yao women’s hair is said to keep its color for longer, as they do not begin to get gray hair until they reach their 80s.
The Yao women credit the length and color of their hair to the fact they bathe it in rice water.
In recent years, beauty advice websites and product developers have caught on to this tradition. Now, the rice water trend is spreading.
Advocates of using rice water for hair believe it:
- detangles the hair
- makes hair smoother
- increases shine
- makes hair stronger
- helps hair grow long, by preventing breakage
- makes hair feel thicker
What the Research Says
As the popularity of using rice water for hair increases, there is growing anecdotal evidence about its benefits. But are the claims scientifically proven?
At first glance, a 2010 paper suggests they may be. The authors note that rice water may reduce surface friction and increase hair elasticity. However, the study relies on historical examples to draw unsupported conclusions.
Elsewhere, a research facility in Japan has developed an imaging technique that visualizes the strengthening effect of inositol on hair. Inositol is contained in rice water.
It is important to note that this research is published directly by a facility that may have commercial interests.
To date, the benefits of rice water for hair remain unproven. More research is needed to support anecdotal evidence about the benefits of rice water for hair.
How to make rice water
There are several different ways to make rice water, including
Soaking is the quickest way to make rice water.
To use this method:
- take ½ cup of uncooked rice
- rinse thoroughly
- place rice in a bowl or mason jar with 1-2 cups of water
- leave to soak for 30-60 minutes
- strain the rice water into a clean bowl, mason jar, or spray bottle
You’ll need to make a new batch before each use it will start to smell bad after a day or two. You can add a slice of ginger to the water and store it in the fridge and it will last 4-5 days.
Fermented vs. plain rice water
Some rice water advocates claim fermented rice water has more benefits than plain rice water.
According to a 2012 study, fermented substances have a higher amount of antioxidants. Antioxidants may combat hair and skin cell damage, which is why they are typical ingredients in beauty products.
To ferment rice water, follow steps 1–4 of the soaking method, but add a slice of citrus rind (trust me). Before straining, leave the rice water to stand at room temperature for up to 2 days, allowing it to ferment. Strain the rice water into a clean bowl before use.
Another way to make rice water is by boiling the rice.
Cover ½ cup of rice with double the water typically used for cooking. Cook the rice in boiling water and strain the rice water into a clean bowl before use.
How to use rice water
1. Rice water can replace a commercial conditioner. To do this, a person should:
- wash hair with shampoo
- rinse thoroughly with water from the tap
- pour rice water onto their hair
- massage the rice water into the hair and scalp
- leave on for up to 20 minutes
- rinse hair thoroughly using warm water from the tap
2. Rice water as a pre-conditioner
- place rice water in spray bottle
- soak hair and scalp thoroughly
- leave on for 30 min (or overnight if you’re lazy like me)
- wash hair as usual
In addition to its potential beauty benefits for the hair, rice water may also benefit the skin.
A 2002 study found that the starch in rice water helped damaged skin heal for people with dermatitis.
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