Ancient cultures successfully used rice water for hair growth, health, and shine. But does it still work today? We’ll show you what the science says, how to make it, and more in this complete guide.
Rice Water for Hair
When you think about products that make your hair healthier and stronger, rice probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. Most of us think of it solely as a carbohydrate-rich food source. After all, rice makes up 20% of daily food intake for more than 50% of the world.
Since around 5000 B.C., different cultures have been consuming and making use of this grain in interesting ways, including applying it to the hair to increase hair growth, health, and strength.
And let’s be honest. If rice is strong enough to have held the Great Wall of China together (along with calcium carbonate – true story) since the 15th century, it may be effective as a treatment for hair.
We love a good DIY hair remedy as much as the next person. But does using rice water on the hair actually make it healthier? Or is it just a time-honored tradition that’s fun to try?
We’ve reviewed dozens of studies and scientific research to determine if rice water is actually effective on hair. We’ve also discovered the top 3 methods to make rice water. Let’s see what science says about this ancient beauty practice!
What Is Rice Water?
Rice water is technically a suspension of rice starch in water. It’s created by either boiling or soaking rice in water for a period of time. The water leaches some of the nutrients, minerals, and proteins out of the rice grains.
The result is a rich, milky, concentrated liquid that can be consumed, applied to the skin, or – you guessed it – to the hair. Using rice water as a liquid treatment in the hair is nothing new, though it’s a recent trend in the Western parts of the world.
Women in ancient China, Japan, and India have been using rice water as a hair mask for centuries. In fact, rice water has been documented as early as the Heian period (794-1185 CE) in Japan. Women used to maintain their renowned floor-length hair.
Even today, a Chinese village called Huangluo holds the Guinness World Record for the World’s Longest Hair Village. The Yao women in the village have hair that is 6 feet long on average. Guess what they’re using to achieve such lengths? Rice water.
The idea is that the starches, proteins, and nutrients in the rice water make hair healthier, faster-growing, shinier, smoother, and stronger. It’s reported to make the hair appear thicker and rejuvenate natural waves and curls.
What Is In Rice Water?
Rice water has several components, ranging from nutrients to antioxidants. Here’s what can be found in rice water – and potentially, what makes it effective for use on hair.
- Vitamins: Rice water contains vitamins A, E, and B12 (if fermented). Vitamin B12 has been shown to boost melanin production, which is responsible for the intensity of hair color.
- Minerals: Magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and selenium are found in rice. Selenium is essential for hair growth.
- Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and rice water contains essential amino acids like tryptophan, valine, lysine, and phenylalanine. These are used by the body to synthesize (create) protein in the body. Keratin, the protein that makes up hair, needs these amino acids.
- Antioxidants: Rice water contains vitamin E and selenium, both of which are considered antioxidants that are said to boost collagen production and protect scalp and follicle cells for hair growth.
Is Rice Water Good for Hair?
Rice water is reported to be a sort of miracle tonic for hair. It’s supposed to improve multiple aspects of hair: Thickness, growth, strength, shine, color, smoothness, elasticity, and hydration.
But all claims aside, is it actually proven to work? Let’s look at the science. Rice bran extract, which is found in rice water, has been studied and reviewed by the Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin.
Rice bran extract contains linoleic acid and gamma oryzanol. This study found that these 2 substances encourage new hair follicles to form while promoting growth in existing follicles.
A study in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences found that ferulic acid, another component found in rice water, has been proven to stimulate hair growth as well.
The protein that makes up hair, keratin, requires 18 amino acids to form and grow. Since rice water contains at least 8 amino acids, it’s possible that applying it to the hair could create optimal conditions for hair growth and formation.
Overall, the components found in rice water do appear to be effective in strengthening hair and increasing growth. But there’s one important thing to consider: The method of delivery.
While amino acids, minerals, and vitamins are proven to promote healthy hair, they’re most effective when ingested. When applied externally, there’s still a positive effect.
Benefits of Using Rice Water for Hair
Now that we’ve got our inner skeptic out of the way, let’s take a look at the potential benefits of using rice water for hair health and growth. Here’s what the experts say rice water can do for your hair.
- Faster growth: Rice water contains several compounds that are proven to increase hair growth and follicle formation, including linoleic acid, ferulic acid, and gamma oryzanol.
- Shinier hair: Since rice water contains rice protein and amino acids, it’s like a liquid protein treatment. Protein plumps up the hair’s cuticle and fills in structural gaps, making it smoother and appear shinier.
- Stronger hair: The range of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins in rice water work together to strengthen each strand of hair from the outside. This protects it from damage and breakage.
- More moisture: Vitamin C, found in rice water, is necessary to produce the sebum (oil) that keeps strands moisturized and healthy.
- Reduced hair loss: Studies have shown that compounds in rice water, including inositols and vitamin E, can reduce or prevent hair loss.
- Thicker hair strands: Starch has been shown to increase the diameter of individual hair strands by about 10%, making the hair appear thicker. Since rice is about 75% to 80% starch, it does make sense that rice water could be an effective hair thickener.
- Fewer split ends: Plenty of protein building blocks, or amino acids, are needed to prevent split ends from appearing. Rice water contains 8 amino acids to help you avoid split ends.
- Reduced dandruff: Dandruff caused by Malassezia, a fungus, can be improved with fermented rice water because it has antifungal properties.
- Curbed hair loss: One study found that inositols, carbohydrates that make up about 4% of rice water, reduced hair loss by as much as 70%.
How to Make Rice Water for Hair
We’ve seen that rice water can indeed be an effective hair treatment. Are you ready to try making some? There are a few methods to make rice water for hair.
Some methods use the water left behind after boiling rice. Others will have you briefly soak rice in water then use immediately. Some recommend fermenting rice in water for days to get the maximum benefits.
We’ll show you how to do all 3 methods. We recommend using organic rice (preferably brown, but any type will work) for these recipes.
How to Make Soaked Rice Water
- 1 C. rice
Rinse the cup of rice and add it to a bowl. Add enough water to saturate your hair (amount depends on hair length and thickness) to the bowl. Allow the mixture to soak for about 30 minutes. Strain the rice out and use immediately by pouring it onto hair, then rinse thoroughly.
How to Make Fermented Rice Water
Fermented rice water has the most hair benefits and contains more antioxidants than soaked rice water.
- 1 part rice
- 6 parts water
- Plastic wrap
Rinse the rice to clean it, then add to a bowl with your water. The amount you’ll need depends on your hair’s length and thickness, but make sure the ratio is 1 part rice to 6 parts water. Allow the mixture to sit and ferment for at least 24 hours, but up to 48 hours.
The rice will become very soft or may dissolve in the water. Use a blender to blend any remaining rice into the mixture, then use immediately by saturating the hair with it. Rinse thoroughly.
How to Make Boiled Rice Water
- ½ C. rice
- 2-3 C. water
Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Rinse the rice to clean it, then add to the boiling water. Let boil for 15 minutes, then strain the rice out and cool to a comfortable temperature. Saturate the hair with the rice water and rinse thoroughly.
Things to Consider Before Using Rice Water for Hair
You’ve seen the scientific evidence that it works and know a few different ways to make rice water. Before you head off to try it, here are a few things to keep in mind before you start adding rice water to your hair care routine.
Rice Water Can Go Bad
Since rice water is all natural without preservatives, it can and will go bad if left out for too long. Try to use it immediately, or if fermenting, within 48 hours. It can last 5-7 days in the refrigerator.
Fermenting Can Make Rice Water Boozy
Fermenting rice water for too long will turn it into a low-alcohol rice wine. If oxygen is allowed to reach the fermented rice water, it will turn into rice wine vinegar.
Rice Water Can Damage Hair
Before you start using rice water for your hair, you should be aware that damage is possible if used incorrectly. Protein overload can occur if rice water is used too often or on hair with low porosity.
Protein overload manifests with the following symptoms:
- Dry, brittle hair
- Shedding and hair loss
- Stiff, inflexible hair
- Texture or curl changes
If you begin to notice any of these changes after using rice water or know your hair has low porosity, consider finding an alternative treatment for your hair that doesn’t contain protein.
Make Sure to Rinse Thoroughly
Leaving rice water on your hair can damage it with protein overload, making it dry and stiff. Make sure to completely rinse the rice water out of your hair to get the best results.
Pay Attention to Diet, Too
While external application of rice water may be effective, you’ll get the best results if you’re paying attention to your diet, too. Make sure you’re getting enough protein along with recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals to help your hair look its best from the inside out.
Rice Water for Hair: Yay or Nay?
We’ve analyzed dozens of studies, and the evidence is compelling: rice water, when applied to hair, can have measurable affects. But keep in mind it’s not for everyone, and you need to understand what can go wrong.
While we’re all for natural hair remedies, we also believe that a good shampoo is one of the best weapons you can use to fight bad hair days. Learn about our favorite products and where to buy them.