Along with being an easy side dish and a convenient way to save a waterlogged iPhone, rice is now being touted as a standout hair care ingredient. According to proponents, rice water has the ability to make hair shinier, strengthen strands, and encourage hair growth, among other alleged benefits. (Even celebs such as Kim Kardashian and Cardi B. have shouted out rice water as a hair care savior.)
If you’re thinking that all these supposed rice water benefits sound too good to be true, we’re right there with you. That’s why SELF asked hair care experts to break down what’s behind the hype—so you can determine if using rice water on your hair is a trend worth trying. Here’s what they had to say.
What is rice water? | What are the benefits of rice water? | Can rice water increase hair growth? | Does rice water work for all hair types? | How to use rice water for hair | The bottom line
What is rice water, exactly?
Rice plus water equals rice water. Yes, it’s that simple. Rice water is the nutrient-rich water that’s leftover after rice has been soaked, Rick Wellman, a hairstylist and color expert at the Salon Project in New York City, tells SELF. While using this liquid as a hair treatment has only recently become a viral TikTok trend, there’s actually nothing new about it.
“Using rice water for hair is a centuries-old Japanese and Chinese practice,” Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Great Neck, New York, and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells SELF. Rice water has also long been used for beauty and hair treatment in Southeast Asian countries, including Korea and Thailand.1
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What are some potential rice water benefits?
There’s no denying that rice is nutrient-dense—it’s rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, says Dr. Graf. That being said, how much of that good stuff ends up in the water and how, exactly, it can affect your hair remain to be seen. While there are some studies in the works, the science that’s exploring the anecdotal claims is still in the early stages, she adds.
Still, it’s fair to say that rice water likely contains many of the same nutrients as whole rice and therefore could offer some cosmetic benefits for hair, potentially improving things such as shine, elasticity, and overall hair health, Dr. Graf says. For example, vitamin B5 (also known as panthenol) can help soften hair, while fiber might theoretically coat your strands and make them feel thicker. Antioxidants, including ferulic acid, may offer protection from oxidative stress—an imbalance of unstable molecules in the body that can be caused by things like exposure to sun and pollution—which can contribute to hair graying and breakage.2,3 Rice is also loaded with amino acids (eight to be exact), which are the building blocks of protein, including keratin, the primary protein that makes up our hair, says Dr. Graf.4 That’s why rice water has the potential to be a good strengthening treatment too.
Oh, and if you’ve heard that fermented rice water is even more potent than its standard counterpart, know that the evidence is mostly anecdotal and theoretical there too. Fermentation is a chemical process during which starches or sugars are converted into an alcohol or acid, via enzymes from some type of microorganism. Fermentation may increase the amount of antioxidants in rice water, notes Dr. Graf, but there’s no research to support that this boost will benefit your hair.5
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What about using rice water for hair growth?
Here’s where things get a little dicey. Just as all of the experts SELF spoke with agreed on the potential cosmetic benefits of rice water, they also all recommended taking its supposed hair growth benefits with a grain (pun intended) of salt. “Rice contains inositol, also known as vitamin B8, and there is some science indicating that it may support healthy hair growth,” says Dr. Graf, adding that it’s been shown to treat alopecia—but only in mice and when taken orally, rather than used topically.6 “It’s quite possible that it may be beneficial for hair growth, but more clinical studies need to be conducted before we could make that jump,” she says.