Rice water for hair: Benefits of this unique hair growth routine

Rice is a pantry staple that has beauty benefits too. For hair care, rice water has become a viral beauty hack that seemingly delivers silky, luscious strands after just one use.

The milky liquid is easy to DIY at home and can even be made as a byproduct of cooking rice to eat. “Rice water itself comes from soaking or boiling rice within water to extract beneficial nutrients,” explains Dr. Tiffany St. Bernard, a biomedical engineering PhD and founder of HairDays. “This starchy water is nutrient-dense, even containing antioxidants that are believed to help cleanse the scalp.”

Beyond the thousands of TikTok videos testing out homemade rice water and celebrity devotees like Kim Kardashian, the beauty treatment has a centuries-old history in Asian cultures to prove its efficacy. The Japanese ladies of the court in the Heian Period (from the late eighth to twelfth centuries) maintained floor-length hair with the help of Yu-Su-Ru, or leftover rinse water from washing rice. In the Guangxi province of China, the Yao women of Huangluo village are known for their extremely long and lustrous hair, which is at the center of local traditions. The women only cut their hair once in their lives, during a public ceremony, and rice water is a key component of their hair care routine.

While St. Bernard says the scientific community has not yet “reached unanimous agreement on the conclusive benefits of rice water on hair,” the treatment could still be worth trying if you are suffering from hair health problems.

The TikToks aren’t fooling you — rice water can help you achieve serious growth, shine and silkiness thanks to the nutrient-rich ingredient. “Rice water is a great way to utilize the nutrients within rice and apply these benefits to your hair care routine,” says St. Bernard. “Rice comes in many different types, and across the spectrum has nutrients that range from vitamin B, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, amino acids and more.”

Amino acids are especially helpful for hair growth, as they are the building blocks of the proteins that make hair. Along with the vitamins found in rice water, these elements may help with hair regeneration.

According to St. Bernard, the benefits of applying rice water to the hair include “increased hair volume, better hair shine and appearance, stronger follicles, repair to cuticle damage, dandruff prevention and anti-inflammatory effects on the scalp.”

Devin Graciano, hair stylist and head of product development at Aussie hair care brand Goldie Locks,  adds that rice water is also beneficial for those with thinning hair. “Rice water has inositol, which has been linked to preventing premature hair loss and hair shedding by strengthening the hair on the scalp level while penetrating the hair strand itself delivering vitamins, minerals and amino acids that are essential to your hair strength,” she says.

The simple treatment is good for all hair types, as it works with the natural composition of the hair. “All hair strands are created with a similar foundation of having a cortex (inner layer) and cuticle layers that protect the integrity of your hair,” Graciano explains. “While genetic factors make differences in specific hair types and characteristics, rice water will benefit all hair types because of its focus on replenishing amino acids, and nutrients your hair absorbs quickly.”

While rice water is safe for all hair types to try, as with any beauty treatment, results may vary. Different hair types are likely to see different results. “Everyone has what I like to call a unique ‘hair profile,’” St. Bernard says. “This is a combination of characteristics including type, porosity, volume and other factors that are unique to themselves and help to define the state of their hair, their hair health and how their hair reacts to different environments, products and routines. Things that can work well for one person’s health, may not do so for another, and part of each of our own hair journey’s is learning more about ourselves and the best way to care for our unique needs.”

With rice water, St. Bernard explains that “those with lower porosity hair will see their hair less likely to fully absorb all of the nutrients into their hair cuticle, due to the nature of hair porosity.”

Too much of a good thing can also bring unwanted results — St. Bernard notes that drying is one of the top reported side effects of overusing rice water, so those who are already struggling with a dry scalp and strands should use it in moderation. “Due to how nutrient rich rice water is, you should look to use it no more than two times per week,” she advises. “Overuse can cause protein-overload which contributes to drying, frizz and brittle hair.”

Rice water is actually as simple to make as it sounds — it consists of infusing water with rice. “To make your own rice water at home, you can soak, ferment or boil the rice and then strain out the water,” St. Bernard says.

When choosing what type of rice to use, she recommends looking at the nutrient profiles of different varieties of rice — black rice, for example, has the highest levels of antioxidants  — and choosing a type based on your personal hair needs.

Whichever kind of rice you choose, you can use the same steps to DIY the rice water. The soaking and fermenting methods use uncooked rice, or you can make cooked rice with twice the amount of water you would normally use and then strain out the excess rice water once the rice itself is cooked.

Soaking the rice to make rice water is perhaps the easiest method. Here are St. Bernard’s easy-to-follow steps:

  • Use 1/2 cup of uncooked rice
  • Rinse well
  • Put into a bowl with 3 cups of water
  • Soak for 30+ minutes
  • Strain into a new bowl, jar or spray bottle

You can also go a step further and ferment the rice water. “When making rice water at home, opt for a fermentation process if you have the time and patience,” Graciano says.

The process to make fermented rice water is essentially the same as the soaking method of making regular rice water, but requires more time for the rice and water to sit together — at least 24 hours and up to two days — in order for fermentation to take place. You’ll notice a slightly sour smell, which indicates that the starches from the rice are being converted into acids.

“Fermented rice water amplifies the benefits of rice water while also lowering the pH of your rinse, giving your cuticle the opportunity to retract and keep those nutrients trapped inside the hair,” Graciano says.

Store your rice water in a jar or even a spray bottle — it will keep in the fridge for up to a week — for easy access when you need to bring it into the shower for your wash days.

Once you have the rice water made, you can use it like a rinse in your hair care routine. Bring your jar or bottle of rice water with you into the shower, and apply it to the scalp and hair after shampooing and conditioning as normal.

Graciano recommends starting with the back nape area of your head, sectioning it out so that you can coat the hair that falls underneath the top layers. Then, you can tip your head back and allow the rice water to rinse through your hair from the front hairline back. Both experts say that the treatment is a good opportunity to give yourself a gentle scalp massage, working the rinse into your scalp before combing it through your hair with your fingers or a wide tooth comb. Leave the rice water in your hair for as long as you have time for in the shower, up to 20 minutes, before rinsing it out.

If you don’t want to add an extra step to your routine or don’t have time to make rice water yourself, there are plenty of hair care products that incorporate rice water, rice bran oil or other rice-based ingredients for the same strengthening and shine-boosting effects. Although, Graciano notes, these products are also reliant on their other ingredients and if those are also agreeable with your hair. St. Bernard recommends testing a DIY rice water and hair care products containing rice water separately to see what works best with your own hair.

Connecting with the tradition of the Yao women, Viori ethically sources rice from Longsheng county in China to make these sustainable and nourishing shampoo bars. The brand partners with the Yao people by paying a “fair and sustainable premium for all Longsheng rice and products we purchase from the tribe.” In addition, Viori dedicates at least 5% of profits for initiatives that serve the Yao communities.

Shu Uemura Izumi Tonic Strengthening Rice Water Treatment

According to reviewers, this leave-in treatment made with Japanese rice water works as a great detangling treatment and leaves hair smoother and stronger than before.

Salon Yoshiko Signature Balanced Cleansing Shampoo

“Growing up with a Japanese mother I learned early on about the rituals of rice water and rice oil,” says Carol Nappi, owner and founder of Salon Yoshiko at Bergdorf Goodman. She opts for formulas with the latter for the salon’s hair care line. “Rice oil is rich and is a natural heat protectant. It is known to protect against UV damage and has soothing properties to help nourish the scalp and protect against free radicals and bacteria that cause irritation. I love it because it doesn’t leave a heavy residue.”

Prose Custom Shampoo and Conditioner

Prose Custom Shampoo

After completing a simple online consultation, Prose will create a custom shampoo and conditioner based on your personal hair needs. For adding strength, volume and shine, the brand uses fermented rice water sourced from Korea in its formulas.

Hairfinity Rice Water Hair Mist

Amazon reviewers love this rice-infused leave-in hair mist for its ability to stimulate growth and boost softness.

Inala Reset Rinse

“Rice water helps maintain a healthy scalp and promotes hair growth—the key to hair growth is starting with a healthy scalp,” says Kayla Vines, Inala’s head chemist. This rinse features a rice water complex that is “packed with 8 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins that promote hair growth and nourishment to the hair and scalp, as well as vitamin B, C and E that strengthens hair, prevents split ends and boosts shine,” she explains.

Mielle Rice Water Split End Treatment

This lightweight oil features rice water, coconut oil, baobab seed oil and more to repair damaged ends and encourage healthy hair growth.

Abyssian Hydrating Volumizing Shampoo

Inspired by the Japanese Yu-Su-Ru rice water rinse, this shampoo contains fermented rice water to boost the protein and volume of the hair.

Briogeo Don't Despair Repair Rice Water Protein + Moisture Strengthening Treatment

This restorative hair treatment is packed with rice-derived water, oil, ferment and protein to bring strength and shine back to damaged and dry hair.

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