With wacky techniques like cayenne pepper scalp treatments, baking soda hair washes, and potato juice hair masks, I'm a little bit skeptical about the YouTube beauty tutorials that are always popping up. But rice water for natural hair is one that might actually be legit. Yep, the same rice from your cupboard and water from your faucet could be the secret to longer, stronger hair. Hear me out.
"Rice water is so powerful because it's in liquid form, which will absorb into your hair and scalp immediately more than a vitamin can," cosmetic chemist and trichologist Debbie Williams, who has her own line of haircare products, tells TZR. "A lot of the vitamins in stores are filled with silica, which deposits minerals into the bones, but they don’t really have enough of what the hair actually needs. Using rice water and fermenting the nutrients is more helpful for your hair."
In fact, it's a technique with ancient roots... and one that just so happens to cost less than all of the fancy serums and supplements on the market, too.
According to a 2010 study from the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Japanese women from the Heian Period (in 794 to 1185 AD) combed their floor-length hair with Yu-Su-Ru, or rinse water, from the washing of rice. Rice, according to the study, is widely known as an essential food in the Japanese diet, and "Yu-Su-Ru exhibited haircare effects, such as reducing surface friction and increasing hair elasticity." And according to Kerry Yates, trichologist and founder of Colour-Collective, women have claimed that rice water prevents premature graying and is the main reason for their substantially long hair. "Unfortunately, there is no definitive scientific evidence that confirms those claims. However, the starchy water does a great job of closing the cuticle down, creating a smooth surface and giving the appearance of healthy, shiny hair," she clarifies.
The water is wonderful for all textures of hair, Williams adds, because all hair needs nutrients, minerals and vitamins. In fermented rice water, there's plenty of selenium, magnesium, folic acids, vitamins B1 through B6, niacins, and vitamin K. If you're looking at a really good hair vitamin, it should contain those same nutrients, Williams says.
Regarding the type of rice to use, Williams suggests long grain white rice over other varieties. “Brown is rich, but the problem with richer rice is it that it has too much protein,” she adds. “You don’t want to use an instant rice or a pot-boiled rice, either, because with those types, all the nutrients have been pulled out.”
For each cup of rice, she says to use one cup of water. Depending on your length, you can add more. “It needs to ferment for a minimum of 12 hours,” Williams recommends. “When you ferment your rice with water, it ferments into this delicious liquid vitamin. After 12 hours, the nutrients are pulled out. But after 24 hours, you need to refrigerate it at a max of three days." After three days, Williams says to throw the water away.
“Once it’s been fermented, drain the rice water into a spray bottle," she directs. "You’re going to wash and condition your hair and once you rinse out your conditioner, spray your rice water in. Leave it in for 30 to 45 minutes before rinsing out” — not as a leave-in. Too much rice water can cause a protein overload, she says, and can harden the hair.
Beauty blogger Minerva Joy knows this from experience. She, too, came across a series of YouTube videos of women of all textures singing the method's praises. "I’m always looking to grow my hair out more, so I really wanted to try it," Joy, who vlogged her initial reaction in February 2018, tells TZR. But in May 2018, she updated her 16,800+ followers and noted that the rice water made her hair dry and brittle because of the excess protein.
According to Williams, calcium stores itself in our bones. If a person's body isn’t observing enough calcium, or if a person has a lot of calcium built up in their hair when they try to use the rice water treatment, it can cause brittleness and breakage.
"I used a ratio of 1/2 cup of rice to 1 cup of water," she tells TZR. "In hindsight, I probably could have diluted the mix more." Joy intended on using the treatment once a week, but ended up using it four times before quitting for good because of the breakage. Still, she'd recommend the method to others. "I would just warn them to check that their hair needs a protein treatment [like rice water]," she advises.
On the other hand, beauty blogger Victoria Jackson, who also deals with protein-sensitive hair, credits rice water in her Youtube video to her 171,800+ subscribers as the secret to her healthy hair growth.
"The first time I tried it, I was leaving it in too long," Jackson tells TZR. "Then, I targeted a different area and a deep conditioned after, aiming mostly for my scalp and massaging it in my hair, leaving it in for two minutes."
Jackson tried rice water for five weeks in fall 2018, three times a week, and wouldn't shampoo while using the treatment. By doing this, she avoids stripping the hair of its natural oils, which also results in breakage. In a November 2018 video, Jackson says that her hair grew by two inches after a month of consistent use.
Beauty blogger Maryam Hampton also attributes her drastic hair growth from 2015 to 2017 to the technique, telling TZR that her very curly hair usually grows about half an inch per month. But when she started using rice water once a week, she had up to two inches of more growth than before.
Because Hampton doesn't struggle with protein overload and has a coarser texture, she leaves her rice water treatment in for a couple hours but always washes it out (though Williams doesn't recommend sleeping overnight with the water in your hair).
If you're still on the fence about rice water, don't fear: there are still lengthening products on the market that give similar results. See Yates and Williams' recommendations, ahead.
"Topical options, like the new Activators from évolis Professional, focus on extending the hair growth cycle by inhibiting a protein called FGF5," says Yates. "Clinical studies have found that by using this product twice a day, users have increased new follicle growth by 42 percent."
"Caffeine stimulates blood flow and the results have been the most amazing I have ever seen," Williams says of her own scrub. It detoxifies your scalp while boosting your hair cells, and stimulates blood flow to your scalp to activate and strengthen your hair follicles.
"Scalp Therapy is intended to be used on damp hair, then rinsed out to promote healthy scalp, and encourage healthy hair growth, as well as adding softness, shine and manageability," Kevin Wachs, founder and CEO of Earthly Body (whose child company EMERA recently launched a line of CBD hair products), tells TZR. "It’s really a hero product."