Eastern beauty wisdom first introduced us to the use of sake (and other rice-derived ingredients) for scoring glowing complexions, as beloved luxury lines like SK-II and Tatcha led the way. Now, rice water is having a moment — and the rumor mill is buzzing about the alleged haircare benefits of rice water.
Recent launches like NatureLab Tokyo Shine Clarifying Scalp Scrub are fueling the idea that this common, everyday ingredient, a culinary byproduct, could be the next big thing in haircare.
What is rice water?
"Rice water is rich with amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals and antioxidants, all of which have known benefits for the hair," explains Andrew Fitzsimmons, NatureLab TOKYO Brand Ambassador and celebrity hair stylist.
OK, so why is rice water good for my hair?
"With regular use, you can expect shinier, stronger, smoother hair," says Fitzsimmons. Industry insiders have long known of rice water's hair benefits, hence the ingredient's cult notoriety by word-of-mouth. Peter Lamas, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Peter Lamas Beauty, admits to using rice water for hair since the '70s.
How do you make rice water?
Take plain white rice (organic or non-organic) and wash it, as explained by YouTuber Lana Summers. You want to remove any impurities before you get started. She recommends two tablespoons of rice to two cups of water. Swish the mixture around and leave it for about a half hour. Once you see milky, cloudy water, you can strain it and prepare your hair to soak.
Or, you can see even better results if you ferment the rice water. To do this, leave the rice in the water for about 24 hours. It could smell after sitting for so long, so Lana suggests added in some orange peels. Then, strain it and dilute the solution with more water.
Check out exactly how Lana makes hers:
Can I leave rice water in my hair?
For hair stylists and YouTube beauty influencers, the DIY trick is to let rice water sit for up to three days and then use the strained water as a type of conditioner. Feel free to leave it in or rinse it out!
“My setting lotion has always been rice water,” says Lamas, sharing that he first experimented with using the starchy solution — which he saved from his wife's cooking the night before — on the hair of runway models backstage.
Beyond the ingredient's ability to hold style without weighing down hair, Lamas was impressed by improvements in hair sheen, body, and elasticity. (So much so that it inspired his Rice Volumizing shampoo and conditioner.)
Are rice water hair benefits confirmed through research?
While there's no shortage of people willing to attest to the wonders of rice water, there is little research to confirm the product's effectiveness. The claims of benefits range from detangling strands and offering thermal protection to improving split ends and growing to longer lengths. In most cases, rice water is often used to help relax hair.
"There is anecdotal evidence that rice water is healthy for hair and scalp; but there is no randomized clinical trial indicating such," says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology.
But just because a study has not been conducted yet does not make claims untrue — simply unproven. As such, she explains that vitamin E could explain reported improvements in shine. Meanwhile, the antioxidants and amino acids are great for overall hair health.
"Rice water contains starch, which is a complex sugar molecule," Robinson continues, listing minerals, vitamins B and E, antioxidants, and amino acids as its components. "These ingredients are key to hair health and are seen in many hair growth products."
As it turns out, there are studies to confirm the hair benefits of rice water's components — most notably, an ingredient called Inositol, which is linked to improvements in hair strength. "Inositol, or vitamin B9, has been shown to penetrate the hair shaft and strengthen and repair hair," Robinson confirms.
Dr. Hadley King, MD, FAAD, NYC-based dermatologist of Dr. Hadley King Dermatology, largely corroborates the concerns in credibility expressed by Robinson. "The purported benefits of rice water for hair are mostly based on historical stories from Japan and China, and anecdotal evidence," King shares. "Scientific data, however, is lacking."
Overall, King points to the findings of two scientific studies which link key ingredients found in rice water to two known improvements in hair. The first study confirms the strengthening effect of Inositol on hair. The second, conducted in 2010, noted improvements in hair elasticity.
Hmm … so can rice water help my hair grow?
That’s the one thing our experts can’t confirm. According to King, “Rice water has not been proven to help hair grow but it is possible that it may help hair look shinier and healthier.”
As intriguing as the notion of extension-length strands may be, the experts are clear that the research stops short of confirming any hair growth claims. But with a healthier hair and scalp, and fewer split ends, it seems plausible at least that longer lengths could follow.
For can't-miss news, expert beauty advice, genius home solutions, delicious recipes, and lots more, sign up for the Good Housekeeping newsletter.
You Might Also Like