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Rice Water and Hair Growth: Is it Legit?

We are asked this question often regarding rice water - does it do anything for hair growth? Well the answer may not be as simple as yes or no. The answer really is - we don’t know. 
If you take a look on various blogs and social media posts and Youtube pages you’ll see super unrealistic results of people achieving 1-2 inches of hair growth after a week of using rice water. This is absolutely untrue as the physiology of hair growth really doesn’t support that at all. However, is there something to using rice water rinses for other reasons. Perhaps. Let’s see what the science actually says. 

What is Rice Water?

Rice water rice contains about 75 to 80% starch and the water is a starchy left over after the rice is cooked or is left to soak. It’s thought to make the hair smooth and shiny and make it grow faster.

Proponents claim it contains many of the vitamins and minerals contained in rice and these include amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals and antioxidants. It’s important to understand that there are no studies on rice water specifically. There is an article that anecdotally discusses the benefits of rice water and its usage in Japan.

According to a report from the International Journal of Cosmetic Science (794 to 1185 CE) researchers were interested in the histories of the hairstyles and hair care practices of Japanese women and found a very close relationship between the two. Some women had extremely long hair they kept healthy by bathing it in rice water. They used Yu-Su-Ru (water obtained from rinsing rice). Rice is considered to be the most important food in the Japanese diet, and it was used for hair care. The researchers focused their attention on the Yu-Su-Ru hair care practice in the Heian Period, and examined its effects on hair. The study found Yu-Su-Ru provided benefits including reduced surface friction and increased hair elasticity. It also found that Yu-Su-Ru extracts were found to be better than applying rice water directly to the hair as they offer hair care benefits without some difficulties of application. 

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. 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.

In recent years, beauty advice websites and product developers have caught on to this tradition. Now, the rice water trend is spreading. With the lack of research, it's difficult to determine if this is a positive or negative development. 

What does the science say?

While there aren't a lot of studies or rice water specifically, there is some research on rice extracts. Rice bran extract and components of it (linoleic acid and gamma oryzanol) induce the formation of hair follicles and promote hair growth (Study from the Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin). Ferulic acid is present in gamma oryzanol and it may stimulate hair growth (study from the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences). 

Proponents of rice water believe it has the following benefits to the hair:

  • Detangles hair
  • Smoothes the hair
  • Increases shine
  • Strengthens hair
  • Makes it grow longer
  • May increase elasticity

More studies on rice water are actually needed to determine the effects of DIY products and those on the market on the hair.

How do you make rice water rinses?

One of the best ways to use rice water is as a rinse. In general, there are 3 different methods:

  1. The Soaking Method
  2. The Boiling Method
  3. The Fermentation Method

The Soaking Method

This is the quickest method for making rice water.

  • Place 1/2 cup of uncooked rice in a bowl and add 2-3 cups of warm water
  • Let it soak for 30 minutes in a bowl before straining out the rice
  • Pour the strained water into a spray bottle
  • Apply it to freshly washed hair. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes and then rinse out before using a conditioner.
The Boiling Method

This is similar to soaking but it involves heat.

  • Place 1/2 cup of uncooked rice in a bowl and add 2-3 cups of water. Cook the rice over medium heat until the water starts boiling. 
  • Scoop out the excess water on top of the rice or water until the rice is cooked
  • Strain the liquid into a spray bottle.
  • After shampooing, spray or pour the rice water onto your hair. Leave it on for 10-20 minutes, massaging it into your scalp.
  • Rinse it out with water.
  • Follow up with a conditioner. 

The Fermentation Method

This method may help restore and balance the high pH levels found in plain rice water. Fermented water contains a high amount of antioxidants, enhancing vitamin and nutrient levels.

  • Combine uncooked rice and water water in a bowl and let it soak for 30 minutes. Strain the rice.
  • Pour the liquid into a jar and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. Then place the jar in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  • Transfer the rice into a spray bottle and add 1-2 cups of warm water.
  • After shampooing, spray or pour the rice water onto your hair. Leave it on for 10-20 minutes, massaging it into your scalp.
  • Rinse it out with water. Follow up with a conditioner. 

These are the three different methods of preparing the rice water. If you want to do a test which methods work best on your hair, try all 3 of them on different wash day, then record the results. There are always subtleties in how various products or ingredients can affect the overall look and feel of the hair. So noting them will give you an idea of how the different rice water prep methods will work for your hair.

Have you used rice water? How has it worked for your hair? 

Further Reading

  1. The effect of rinse water obtained from the washing of rice (YU-SU-RU) as a hair treatment
  2. In Vivo Hair Growth-Promoting Effect of Rice Bran Extract Prepared by Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Fluid
  3. Health Benefits of Rice Bran - A Review

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