Wait, Will Rice Water Actually Give Me the Shiniest, Smoothest Hair??

Brooke Shunatona
Photo credit: Raydene Salinas Hansen
Photo credit: Raydene Salinas Hansen

From Cosmopolitan

The internet is filled with—nay, overflowing with advice for how to grow your hair really long or the best products to make your hair super shiny, buuuut if you're someone who loves a good DIY, why not try something you can make yourself at home? Enter: rice water. "The use of rice water is an anecdotal but long-living beauty ritual in ancient Asian culture," says trichologist Bridgette Hill with Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa. "Rice water enthusiasts believe rice water detangles their hair, makes hair smoother and shinier, and grows the hair longer."

And it's even hit mainstream popularity, with countless YouTubers and beauty bloggers swearing by rice water to help grow stronger, healthier, shinier hair. But does it actually work for everyone? To find out the facts about using rice water for hair, I chatted with both Hill and board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, of LM Medical. So before you grab that bag of rice that's been sitting in your pantry for actual years, read this first.


Does rice water for hair really work?

According to Dr. Rabach, rice water (the liquid that you get after soaking or cooking rice) is filled with nutrients like amino acids, inositol (which helps strengthen hair), vitamins B and E, minerals, and antioxidants, so theoretically, it should have some topical benefits for your hair.

But as you know by now, just because something works for one person does not mean it will for another. Depending on a person’s hair type, texture, lifestyle, hairstyling habits, diet, and genetics, Hill says the results that using rice water has on the hair run the gamut. "The use of rice water in daily beauty regimens are cultural practices where the supported evidence is word of mouth," Hills says. But what about via scientific evidence? Keep scrollin'.

How long does it take rice water to grow your hair?

The question here isn't "when" but more like "if"—know what I mean? According to both experts, there is no reliable scientific evidence that rice water promotes hair growth, despite the anecdotal claims. "There hasn’t been any large randomized controlled studies to support the claims that rice water helps with hair growth," Dr. Rabach explains. In other words, while you wait to see if that rice water works, you might also wanna pay a visit to your doctor for scientifically-backed treatments that address the cause of your hair loss or thinning.

What are the side effects of rice water on hair?

Although you might find tons of people in favor of using rice water for hair, you'll find just as many who've experienced less than positive results, including flaky buildup on the scalp, protein overload on the hair cuticle, dryness, and breakage.

Although Dr. Rabach says there isn’t anything scientific to support certain hair types to use or avoid rice water, Hill advises some people using caution. Why? Because the heavy starch component of the water could lead to brittleness and breakage over time, so people with baby fine hair or low-porosity hair should tread lightly when experimenting with using rice water. "If you have low porosity hair, then rice water will create a protein buildup on the hair that can cause extreme dryness and damage fast," Hill explains. (Not sure how to figure out your hair porosity? Highly recommend taking a porosity quiz, since the whole thing can be confusing to parse through on your own.)

What about rice water for skin?

Dr. Rabach suggests people with dry scalps use caution as well. Hill points to a 2002 study that found that starch in rice water helped damage skin heal in people with dermatitis, but adds that although relief might be experienced from the use of rice water in one dermatitis case study, it could exacerbate the condition in another.

"Dermatitis on the scalp, traditionally, is a result of an over production of yeast," Hill explains. "It is the overproduction of yeast on the scalp that leads to dandruff and other abnormal scalp conditions. Through the lens of a trichologist, I struggle with suggesting adding highly starched water to the scalp and hair of anyone that experiences flaky, dry scalp."

How do you make rice water?

Just like there's no shortage of anecdotal testimonials of using rice water for hair, there's about a zillion different recipes (I counted) online to try. If the stories you've heard are convincing enough for you to give it a shot anyway, you can easily make the rice water yourself at home. Dr. Rabach suggests adding four times as much water as rice, boiling it, then straining it to get your water, or you can follow this popular YouTube video that goes into all the details.

The final takeaway

Will rice water work miracles for your hair? Maybe, but maybe not. Hill says try it if you're interested, but know that it might or might not work. "Reversing protein overload is a science," Hill says. "So just be very careful." If your main concern is hair growth, make an appointment with a dermatologist or trichologist to address the cause of your hair loss. But if you've checked your hair porosity and are looking to try a home remedy because you're bored in the house and you're in the house bored...just keep in mind this advice.


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