February 8, 2023
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Leo possesses more than 17 years of valuable experience as a researcher and lecturer within the fields of Biology and Genetics. Holding a PhD in Biology from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Leonela Carabajal Paladino
Rice water rinses have steadily gained a reputation in holistic hair care, captivating curly hair naturalists. It’s more than a fleeting trend; it’s a natural remedy with deep historical roots.
Rich in nutrients, a rice water rinse can invigorate curly hair by promoting healthy hair growth and adding strength. Curious about safety concerns like arsenic? We’ll cover that ahead.
Conducted in collaboration with a hair scientist with a PhD in Chemistry, this article aims to unravel the science behind this age-old practice. Our guide will walk you through what a rice water rinse is, how to prepare it, and its safety implications.
Rice isn’t just a staple food; it’s also a time-tested beauty regimen.1 If you’ve embarked on a natural hair journey, you’ve likely experimented with a myriad of oils, conditioners, and treatments. Yet, among these solutions, rice water rinses stand out as an exceptional, science-backed remedy for curly hair.
Is rice water truly the miraculous elixir it’s claimed to be? Cutting-edge research says yes, and here’s why.
When rice is soaked or parboiled, the starchy water left behind is far from ordinary; it’s a nutrient-dense concoction that we commonly refer to as “rice water.” Rich in antioxidants, minerals, and the organic compound squalene, this solution offers a plethora of hair benefits.2,3,4
A rice water rinse can not only stimulate robust hair growth but also fortify your curly strands from root to tip, minimize frizz, and add a natural shine that other products may fail to achieve.
The practice of using rice water isn’t new; it’s a beauty ritual that Asian and African communities have cherished for centuries. This reveals an essential truth: sometimes ancestral knowledge holds insights that contemporary research is only beginning to uncover.1
So the next time you’re washing rice, consider setting aside the milky water. Far from waste, this liquid is a treasure trove of benefits waiting to uplift your hair and skin.
While rice water has enjoyed a surge in popularity, it’s essential to acknowledge its roots in Asian beauty traditions, specifically among the Yao women of Huangluo Village in China. This village isn’t just any locale; it’s renowned as the “Long Hair Village” and holds a Guinness World Record to prove it.
These Yao women have astonishingly long, floor-length hair, a trait that has sparked curiosity and even pilgrimages from women worldwide eager to uncover their hair care secrets. The linchpin of their regimen? Fermented rice water. They credit this potent rinse as the reason behind their lustrous, long, and remarkably gray-free hair.5
Stay tuned as we dive deeper into the benefits of fermenting rice water in upcoming sections, exploring why this age-old recipe could be a game-changer for your hair care routine.
Far from just a traditional remedy, rice water offers a scientifically-backed bouquet of advantages that cater to various hair needs, from softening strands to adding a natural gleam.
One of the unique selling points of rice water is its dual functionality. It serves as both a gentle cleanser and a deep conditioner—making it particularly useful for those grappling with dry or frizzy hair.
Let’s delve deeper into the specific advantages:
Each approach offers unique benefits for your hair, and all start with the same simple ingredient: uncooked organic white rice. Before diving in, remember to rinse the rice to remove any lingering dust and dirt.
Before diving into the preparation, it’s essential to consider your hair’s reaction to the hair rinses. If you’re concerned about the strength of the rice water, you have two options:
Before applying the rice water treatment, you want to make sure your hair is cleansed and detangled, as there are no conditioning agents or detangling properties in the rinse.
For additional conditioning, I sometimes follow up with a protein-free deep conditioner after the rice water application or even layer the conditioner on top of the rinse.
Products that have worked for me personally include As I Am Classic Hydration Elation, DevaCurl Heaven in Hair Moisturizing Deep Conditioner, and DevaCurl Melt Into Moisture Treatment Hair Mask (heads up, while this product does contain hydrolyzed soy protein, the amount is quite minimal. In my experience, it didn’t have any adverse effects on my hair).
For optimal results, it’s recommended to leave the rice water in your hair for 15 to 30 minutes before rinsing it out with fresh water. This treatment is most effective when done at least once or twice a week for high-porosity hair.
While a single application may not yield immediate results, consistent use over 1 to 2 months will likely lead to noticeable improvements in your hair’s strength and shine. Persistence is key!
If you’re new to this treatment, start by applying the rice water for a shorter duration of 5 to 10 minutes. You can gradually extend the application time as your hair becomes accustomed to the treatment.
Let’s get into the specific methods:
Fermentation adds an extra layer of benefits to rice water, enhancing its already nutrient-rich profile. Fermented products, like Kefir and Kombucha, are high in antioxidants.10 Likewise, fermented rice water contains Pitera, a compound that naturally boosts cell regeneration and keeps your hair vibrant.9
Caution: This potent concoction may not be suitable for everyone. Those with immunosuppression, lactating mothers, or individuals with certain scalp conditions should avoid this method or opt for a diluted version.
If the tangy aroma of fermented rice isn’t your cup of tea, boiling offers a delightful alternative. This process allows you to extract a wealth of minerals without the pungent smell commonly associated with fermentation.
The boiled rice water will have a concentrated and slightly creamy texture once cooled. For additional benefits, consider adding essential oils to the mix. Oils like peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender have proven anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Simply mix them in a clean bowl with the cooled rice water.
The finished product can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Remember to shake the container vigorously before each use to ensure maximum potency and freshness.
By following these steps, you’ll create a rice water rinse that is not only beneficial but also pleasant to the senses. Whether you opt for this or the fermented method, incorporating rice water into your hair care routine is a step toward healthier hair.
If you have low-porosity hair, the cuticle layers of your strands are tightly packed, making it challenging for moisture and other treatments to penetrate.11,12 Adjusting the rice water rinse application to suit this hair type is crucial for optimum benefits.
To preserve the health and integrity of your low-porosity hair, exercise restraint in the quantity of rice water used. A high concentration can lead to unwanted residue, causing product build-up and rendering your hair straw-like.
By following these specialized techniques, you ensure that your low-porosity hair receives all the nourishing benefits that rice water has to offer, without the unwanted side effects of product build-up.
The video below showcases my remarkable results after I used the fermented rice water treatment – in glorious slo-mo!
These are the exact steps that I took to produce these results:
Embarking on a hair care journey can be an intricate process, and I’ve developed a regimen that combines the best products and methods for superior results. Here’s a detailed walkthrough:
Before stepping into the shower, I applied Righteous Roots Rx Oil to my hair as a pre-treatment and left it on overnight to maximize its nourishing effects.
The following morning, I washed my hair using Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen and Restore Shampoo. To make the detangling process easier, I then applied Bounce Curl Super Smooth Cream Conditioner, which is free from proteins.
After detangling, I generously applied fermented rice water to my hair. Using a wide-tooth comb, I ensured the rinse was evenly distributed throughout my curls. I also spent a few extra minutes massaging the rinse into my hair to fully coat each strand before squeezing out the excess liquid.
Next, I applied As I Am Classic Hydration Elation, a protein-free deep conditioner, over the pre-existing layer of rice water. For even coverage, I used a comb to distribute the conditioner through my hair.
I allowed the deep conditioner to sit in my hair for roughly 15 minutes to fully penetrate the strands.
After the waiting period, I rinsed out all products completely. I styled my hair using Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Leave-In Conditioner and Bounce Curl Light Hold Creme Gel for that extra hold and shine.
I prefer air-drying my hair as a final step, finding that it enhances the texture and health of my hair.
For those using this rice water rinse technique, I highly recommend pairing it with a protein-free deep conditioner for the best results. While Soultanicals Marula-Muru Moisture Guru isn’t technically a deep conditioner, I inadvertently used it once and was amazed by the extraordinary results it delivered.
By following this regimen, I’ve found that my hair looks and feels healthier, stronger, and more vibrant. Feel free to adjust these steps based on your own hair’s unique needs.
Now that we’ve delved into the practical application of this ancient beauty regimen, it’s worth understanding why rice water is so effective. Let’s take a closer look at the chemical composition of rice water and how its unique properties benefit hair health.
Rice water is a nutrient-dense elixir teeming with essential vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin E, along with vital antioxidants like phenolic compounds.2,14 Yet, what makes it especially beneficial for hair health is the presence of Inositol—a carbohydrate molecule that acts as a shield against environmental stressors by regulating cellular water balance.15
According to scientific research, Inositol excels at repairing damaged hair. It not only penetrates each hair strand but also forms durable bonds with various compounds, boosting hair strength and health.16 Additionally, it enhances your hair’s elasticity and minimizes friction between strands.1 The upshot? Consistent use of rice water offers a treasure trove of benefits for your hair.
Although rice contains only about 2-3% protein, these proteins play a crucial role in cellular processes, offering some level of benefit for hair care.17,18 However, it’s essential to consider the preparation method of your rice water, as it significantly impacts its composition and efficacy.
While the study on rice water’s benefits for hair health is somewhat limited, studies do indicate promising results. For example, a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science affirms rice water’s effectiveness in improving hair health.1
However, it’s essential to note that some people might experience side effects like flaking due to rice water’s high starch content.1 Combining rice water with other products and methods could offer a more balanced approach to hair care.
By understanding the chemical composition of rice water and its research-backed benefits, you can make an informed decision on how to incorporate this natural remedy into your hair care routine.
The natural hair community has been buzzing about the potential risks of using rice water rinses due to the presence of arsenic in some rice varieties.19 So, let’s cut through the noise and examine the facts about arsenic, its origins, and its relevance to your rice water hair treatment.
Arsenic is a natural element found in soil, water, and even in the foods we eat. While its presence is common, it’s important to note that arsenic is highly toxic, even in minimal concentrations.20 Over the past few decades, regions like West Bengal, Bangladesh, and the Southwestern United States have seen a rise in arsenic levels in soil and water, which inevitably affects the food supply.21
Rice plants require a large amount of water for growth, and if this water is contaminated with arsenic, the crop will likely absorb it. Interestingly, rice plants can absorb arsenic through the same channels they use to take in phosphorus—a nutrient they need to grow.22,23 Therefore, arsenic concentration in rice largely depends on the soil and water used for cultivation.
You might assume that organic rice, which is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, would be free from arsenic. However, arsenic uptake mainly comes from soil and water. So even organic rice can contain arsenic if it’s irrigated with contaminated water.24,25
There is a published study specifically examining arsenic levels in rice water. Rice grown in regions with arsenic-contaminated water and soil, such as China and the USA, tends to have higher arsenic levels, which suggests that rice water might also contain this toxic element.
If you’re concerned about arsenic in your rice water rinse, there are detoxifying methods you can employ. Adding chelants like ethylenediamine tetra acetate (EDTA) has been proven to reduce arsenic absorption.26,27 A simpler home remedy involves adding a few drops of lemon juice, rich in citric acid, to your rice water.28 This not only captures metals but also adjusts the pH of the rice water to better match the natural pH of your hair, which is 4.5/5.5.29
By understanding the relationship between arsenic and rice, you can make informed decisions about incorporating rice water into your hair care routine.
The internet is buzzing with testimonials about the incredible results of using rice water for hair growth. However, the scientific evidence to support these claims is still inconclusive.18 While extensive research shows rice water’s benefits for plants and other organisms, there is limited data on its impact on human hair. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ineffective, but further studies are needed to confirm its benefits.
Rice water should not be considered a protein treatment. It’s primarily a moisturizing and soothing agent that can combat oxidative damage thanks to its rich polyphenols.
In contrast, protein treatments aim to enhance hair texture, strength, and appearance by reinforcing the hair’s outer structure. These effects are temporary, requiring repeated applications to maintain results. Such treatments usually employ hydrolyzed plant proteins, which are small enough to penetrate the hair cuticle effectively.
To prepare these proteins for optimal absorption, they are often broken down into smaller amino acids through boiling in a strong acid. These amino acids then fill in any gaps or crevices in the hair shaft caused by damage.
The frequency of using rice water for your hair really depends on your personal preference and hair needs. Some individuals apply it weekly, whereas others find that a monthly treatment suffices. Personally, I opt for bi-monthly applications.
Just like consistent exercise is essential for seeing physical improvements, regular and sustained use of rice water is key to noticing its benefits for your hair. One-time use is unlikely to bring about instant changes. Stay committed to the regimen, and over time, you’re likely to see the positive effects.
Absolutely. Rice water is free from chemicals that might fade or alter your hair color, making it a safe option for those with color-treated hair.
No, using rice water won’t lead to protein overload. While it does contain plant-based proteins, the concentrations are not high enough to cause an imbalance in your hair’s protein levels.
Absolutely, rice water can be especially beneficial for high-porosity hair. Speaking from personal experience with both high-porosity and color-treated hair, I’ve seen significant improvements since incorporating this treatment into my routine.
Rice water is the starchy liquid obtained from either parboiling rice or soaking it, while rice milk is created by blending cooked rice with water.
Though scientific evidence is lacking to confirm that rice water accelerates hair growth, it is widely recognized for enhancing hair health and strength.1 The Yao women, who have long used rice water for their hair, vouch for its benefits.
For optimal results, it’s recommended to use uncooked rice. Processed and enriched options like Uncle Ben’s rice are not advised for this purpose.
Rice water is generally safe for use, except for those with rice allergies, who should avoid using it as a hair rinse.
It is often touted for its potential to strengthen hair and reduce breakage, which can indirectly help in preventing hair loss. However, it’s important to note that there is no scientific evidence to conclusively support the efficacy of rice water for preventing hair loss. Therefore, if you are experiencing significant hair loss, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive treatment approach.
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