Why rice water is the ancient beauty practice with modern appeal

·3-min read
Photo credit: Peter White
Photo credit: Peter White

Long before it went viral on TikTok and YouTube – not to mention a Kardashian-founded blog – the beauty practice of washing hair in rice water had been used for centuries by women in Asia. According to research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Chemists, court ladies during Japan's Heian Period (794 to 1185 CE) used Yu-Su-Ru (leftover water from washing rice) on their floor-length hair.

The method was then popularised by a village in China called Huangluo. The Yao women, who inhabit the town, are famous for their long hair that averages six feet long. According to Medical News Today, the Yao women credit their strong strands and dark colour to washing it in rice water.

While most of rice water's proof of effectiveness is limited to history and tradition, there is scientific reasoning behind its benefits.

To dive into this further, we spoke to two experts, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jenny Liu and Richy Kandasamy, a colourist and R+Co Collective member, to explain the benefits of rice water — and how you can try it at home.

What are the benefits of rice water for hair?

Will rice water give you lengths to rival Rapunzel? Not exactly. But it does have properties that restore and promote hair growth. “Scientifically, 18 amino acids have to come together to create the protein to grow hair. Rice water contains eight of these amino acids,” Kandasamy explains. “So when rice water is used on hair, you experience more regeneration. The vitamins in rice water (B, C, and E) are also believed to boost hair growth, although scientific evidence is limited."

Dr. Liu echoes the importance of these acids. “We have limited studies, but few out of Korea demonstrate it may help with male pattern hair loss,” she adds. “Rice bran, in particular, has lots of fatty acids—linoleic acid and oleic acid that have been proposed to possibly inhibit the 5-α-reductase enzyme that is the cause of male pattern hair loss.”

How to make rice water at home

Washing your hair with rice water is easy to do at home. All you need is one cup of uncooked rice, a large jar or bowl, and a filter.

  1. Put water in a bowl and use a strainer to rinse your rice. You want to make sure all impurities are removed from the grains. Some videos suggest rinsing multiple times, until the water runs clear.

  2. Fill your jar or bowl with one cup of water and add the clean rice. Stir the rice in the bowl. If you have a jar, you can secure the lid and shake the rice. The water should look milky.

  3. Let the mixture rest for 24 hours.

  4. After 24 hours, strain the liquid from the rice. Store the liquid in a jar, empty shampoo bottle, or container.

Treat rice water like your typical hair mask or treatment. “First, you should wet your hair with the rice water, especially your scalp area, and massage it for five minutes,” Kandasamy says. “This step targets your follicles, which stimulates growth and strengthens your hair."

Wait five minutes and wash the rice water out using your favourite shampoo.

Is rice water safe for all hair types?

The short answer is: yes. Rice water will work on different hair types, but consider your hair porosity before using. “All hair types are the same structurally, including African, European, and Asian hair types, but all absorb moisture in different ways,” Kandasamy explains. “Rice water is rich in amino acids which strengthen hair roots, add shine and makes lengths smooth and silky. It also contains a carbohydrate known as inositol, which repairs damaged hair and protects from further damage."

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