One of the first lessons in cooking rice in many cultures is to wash the grains. This step rinses the rice of the excess starch on its surface, leaving behind a cloudy water full of nutrients. While it's common practice to discard this water, you may just want to add it to your hair care routine.
Dating back to the Heian Period in Japan, rice water has long been known to possess the power to nourish the hair and scalp. Known as Yu‐Su‐Ru, the rice water rinse was originally utilized by ladies of the court, and was believed to have contributed to their floor-length hair. Some experts argue that the benefits of rice water are felt by the hair, while others believe it is the scalp that stands to gain the most from its use.
Should you be saving the rice water from your next meal prep for an after-dinner beauty treatment? We turned to the experts Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Karen Flowers, licensed cosmetologist, certified trichologist and founder of Curl House, and Dr. Kari Williams, a board-certified trichologist, licensed cosmetologist, and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.
Rice Water For Hair
Type of ingredient: Strengthener, antioxidant, and scalp nourisher.
Main benefits: Supports the scalp environment, can help strengthen and improve the condition of the hair cuticle, and boosts shine.
Who should use it: In general, rice water is safe for all hair types and textures. Rice water is highly concentrated in starch, so those with dry scalps or hair may want to deep condition in conjunction with its use.
How often can you use it: It’s safe to use up to two times a week
Works well with: Deep conditioners for those with dry scalps or hair.
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interfere with rice water.
Rice is one of the most important staples in the Japanese diet, due largely to the nutritional value found in its grains. When rice water is created, the water becomes “loaded in vitamins, amino acids and other trace minerals (zinc, magnesium, vitamins B and C, etc),” Flowers explains. Dr. Williams adds that rice water is also rich in antioxidants.
Our experts had differing opinions on where the nutrients in rice water are best observed: the hair or the scalp. Flowers believes rice water is better suited to treat the scalp, helping to create a healthy scalp environment which can then promote hair health. Dr. Williams shares that rice water can help strengthen and improve the condition of the hair cuticle, adding that the “antioxidants nourish the hair follicles and repair damaged cells” of the scalp. Dr. Zeichner notes benefits for both the scalp and the hair.
- Strengthens Hair: The starch in rice water can help to strengthen hair. Dr. Zeichner explains that “rice water contains high starch levels, which coats the hair shaft to add strength.” Flowers agrees, adding that “rice water coats the hair strand, similar to protein, so it does have the ability to strengthen the hair shaft and thicken the hair.”
- Improves Scalp Health: Flowers encourages the use of rice water on the scalp versus the hair itself, as “healthy hair grows from a healthy scalp.” In treating the scalp with rice water, it is possible to infuse scalp skin with the vitamins, amino acids and other trace minerals found inside.
- Calms Irritation: Dr. Williams shares that “a study in 2002 published in the National Library of Medicine found that the starch of rice water helped to improve the damaged skin of individuals with irritation from the use of sodium lauryl sulfates and also individuals with dermatitis. When blended with emollients and oils, it adds additional nourishment for the skin. So, a rice water rinse can help soothe inflammation in the scalp, but don’t over use it.”
- Boosts Shine: One of the leading causes of dull hair is split ends. Dr. Zeichner shares that rice water may improve the appearance of hair, as it adds hydration and minimizes the appearance of split ends.
- Increases Manageability: Using rice water may potentially increase the manageability of your hair. Dr. Williams says that some of the benefits people claim to experience when using rice water are improved elasticity, increased shine in the hair, stronger hair and softer hair that is easier to detangle. However, she does caution that these results have not been confirmed by scientific research.
- Potentially Aids in Hair Growth: Rice water’s ability to influence hair growth is related to its effects on the scalp. Dr. Williams explains that “rice water is rich in antioxidants. The antioxidants nourish the hair follicles and repair damaged cells. This promotes healthy hair by creating a supportive environment for hair growth.” Dr. Zeichner echoes this, adding that rice water allows for optimal functioning of the hair follicles themselves, which is where hair growth starts. Flowers agrees that rice water does help nourish and strengthen the follicle, thereby increasing the production of quality hair that is less susceptible to breakage. Although there are benefits to using rice water, all three experts stress that it does not prevent hair loss and there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it influences hair growth
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that rice water is safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair. “Since rice water is so mild, it can be used across all skin and hair types,” Dr. Zeichner explains. Dr. Williams shares that “any curl pattern or texture can benefit from the use of rice water because the physiological structure of a hair strand is the same. Curlier hair types that tend to be more dry and porous may benefit from the amino acids in the water that can help strengthen and improve the condition of the hair cuticle (the outer layer of the hair shaft).”
Dr. Williams cautions that it can have a drying effect on the hair and scalp, so individuals who suffer from a dry scalp should limit its use. Flowers agrees, adding “Generally speaking, because I recommend rice water for the scalp, it can be used by any texture. However, because rice water can also be very drying for the hair, particularly tighter textured/curly hair (the tighter the curl, the drier the hair); I would minimize the use to 1 – 2x per week, and deep condition hair as needed.”
How to Use Rice Water For Hair
Rice water’s origins as a haircare product began in Japan as a rinse. It is now used by women around the globe in many capacities, including its original form. Rice water is very mild and the chance of an adverse reaction is low, however you should monitor your hair and scalp for dryness. Flowers explains that applying rice water to the scalp or hair is not a quick fix or an overnight treatment, with results likely only being observable with consistent use – once or twice per week on average, contingent upon texture. As with any new treatment, a dermatologist should be consulted, especially if you have any pre-existing scalp conditions.
- Use it as a rinse: Dr. Zeichner recommends using it as a post-shampoo rinse. “After washing hair, rub rice water into the hair and scalp and allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Think of it like a primer for your hair, you can apply it and then use your regular conditioner afterwards if you need to,” he explains.
- Create your own bespoke shampoo or conditioner: Those with dry hair or scalps may want to avoid applying rice water directly. Dr. Williams explains that “it can have a drying effect on the hair and scalp, so individuals who suffer from dry scalp should limit their use and blend with their shampoo, conditioner or oils for additional hydration and lubrication.”
- Apply as a nourishing treatment: Both Dr. Williams and Flowers encourage leaving the rice water on for an extended period before rinsing to maximize absorption of its nutrients. Dr. Williams shares that “if you want to experience the anti-inflammatory properties for the scalp, use the rice water after shampooing and conditioning the hair and focus on applying it directly to the scalp. Let it sit on the hair for 15-20 minutes, then rinse out completely.” Flowers echoes this, sharing “after the hair is cleansed and conditioned, you can either pour the rice water though the scalp, or you can put it in a water bottle to spray directly to the scalp. I recommend it stays on the scalp for at least 30 minutes to properly be absorbed by the scalp. You can massage your scalp as well for maximum penetration - then rinse.”
Making Your Own Rice Water
Dr. Williams shared her preparation method for rice water for hair: “A common rice water preparation method is to rinse and strain your rice to remove any impurities. Mix the strained rice into a bowl with water and stir until the water becomes cloudy. You can also boil the rice. Strain the rice and preserve the water in a bowl with a lid. Let the water stand at room temperature for 12-24 hours to allow fermentation so all of the nutrients can be extracted into the water. Store unused rice water in the refrigerator for up to a week. Shake it well before using.”