Do rice water rinses make your hair grow? About that…
Rice water is all the rage these days as many claim it can make your hair grow to outrageous lengths. I’m an evidence-based person, so I wanted to learn more about whether or not it lives up to all the hype. In this post we’ll go cover the history, all the evidence for and against their efficacy, my DIY recipe, and what products I find more effective than a rinse.
Let’s dig into it!
History of rice water rinses
Rice water is a traditional hair rinse that’s made by soaking rice in water, straining the rice, and then using the leftover water as a hair treatment. Its origins date back to Heian Japan, between 794 and 1185 CE.
At the time, it was fashionable for Japanese aristocratic women to wear their hair as long as possible, letting it fall straight down their back. This was apparently a response to the way Chinese women styling their hair, which was typically worn at shoulder length.
To maintain their locks, the Japanese women were said to comb their hair each day using Yu-Su-Ru, or the water obtained from the rinsing of rice. The practice eventually fell out of fashion in Japan but continued elsewhere – women of the Yao tribe in current-day China cut their hair once in their life, maintaining their floor-length hair by bathing it in fermented rice water.
Rice water rinse claims
If you start typing “rice water rinse…” into Google, one of the top suggestions is “rice water rinse or hair growth.” While many claim miraculous results from using it as a treatment, its hair growth benefits are debated. So let’s take a look at the science:
The length that hair grows is genetically determined
Hair growth occurs in 3 main phases:
- Anagen: Where the hair follicle is actively growing
- Catagen: Where the hair follicle stops growing
- Telogen: Where the hair follical prepares to shed.
How long each follicle stays in the growing phase is up to genetics – anywhere from 2 – 6 years. Given this, it’s unlikely that rice water really has an effect on hair growth.
There’s no research to support rice water encouraging hair growth
There’s not much research on rice water rinses available. A 2010 paper noted that rice water may “reduce surface friction and increase hair elasticity”, although the study relied heavily on historical examples for these conclusions which were unsupported.
The anecdotal evidence
Since there’s no hard research, we have to rely mainly on anecdotal evidence. So here’s what we do know:
Benefits of rice
Rice contains amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which can be beneficial for hair. When you make rice water, it’s thought that some of these nutrients are left in the water itself. Additionally, it’s thought to be a good source of protein via the amino acids in rice.
protein – the promising and the not-so promising
Protein is an essential nutrient for hair, and can increase its overall strength, shine, and can reduce breakage. It can temporarily repair damaged areas of the hair by filling in gaps in the cuticle and keep hair hydrated by slowing water loss. More info on protein here.
But here’s the thing – the protein that you find in your hair products is hydrolyzed, meaning it’s broken down into smaller molecules so that it can penetrate the hairshaft. Protein that isn’t hydrolyzed is too large to penetrate the hair shaft and can’t really be utilized by your hair. Pretty much any DIY protein treatment falls into the non-hydrolyzed category.
While a rice water rinse may not contain hydrolyzed protein, I find that the way my hair behaves after a rinse is similar (not the same) to how it behaves after I’ve done other protein treatments. It makes my hair a bit more bouncy and shiny – overall I’ve seen a positive effect.
In addition, I’ve recommended rice water rinses to my followers when they were going through a hair funk. Here’s one message I got after a follower took my advice – seems like it worked!
When should you do a rice water rinse?
I typically think of a rice water rinse as a protein treatment, so I’ve used it to keep my hair balanced. If you haven’t read my Protein/Moisture Balance post, I go through my entire framework for how to keep your curls in check – it should provide a bit more clarity here!
Here’s the quick and dirty version: if your hair is feeling limp, over moisturized, or your hair isn’t lasting through an entire day, it may be time to use a protein treatment. Protein can also be beneficial for damaged, bleached hair, or hair that is experiencing breakage. I tend to do a protein treatment about once per month, but I also use high protein products in my routine (such as my gels and other stylers) so I don’t feel the need to do them too often. Other curlies do them every week or every other week – it just depends on your hair and what it needs!
Rice water rinse DIY recipe
Let’s cut to the chase – how do you even make a rice water rinse?
RICE WATER RINSE RECIPE
- Rinse ½ cup (97g) rice in a strainer. Add to a pot with 2-3 cups (472-717g) of water.
- Bring pot to a boil on medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn down to low. Cover and simmer until fully cooked, about 10-15 min. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot so that the water doesn’t cook off completely. After cook time is complete, there should be a fair amount of milky white water left in the pot.
- Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain water into a bowl or jar. Set in the fridge until cool. Use immediately or store it covered in the fridge for up to 1 week. (Save the rice for dinner.)
How to use rice water
You have a couple options here:
Doing a straight rinse involves putting the rice water directly onto your hair and nothing else. This is what I do most often!
- Shampoo hair as normal.
- Apply rice water to soaking wet hair by scooping it onto your hair, dipping your head in a bowl, or dumping it onto your hair.
- Rake from root to tip to ensure that strands are fully coated. Leave on for 5 minutes.
- Once the 5 minutes are up, rinse completely. Condition and style as usual.
Deep conditioner rinse
Many people like to get two treatments in at once and mix their rice water in with another treatment.
- In a small bowl, scoop in one portion of deep conditioner. Use the amount that you’d typically use when deep conditioning your hair.
- A spoonful at a time, add in your rice water. Make sure the mix doesn’t get too runny. For me, this is about 3 spoonfuls. Mix thoroughly.
- Shampoo hair as normal.
- Apply deep conditioner mix on your length; skip the roots, if using this method. Rake through your hair to ensure it is fully coated. Leave on for 10-15 minutes.
- Once the time is up, rinse completely. Condition and style as usual.
These photos were taken DAYS apart using the same styling products. In the left, I was desperatelhy in need of protein. You can really see how much my hair sprung up after using rice water.
What I prefer to use instead
If you don’t want to do a DIY treatment, there are alternative options which will probably work better.
My absolute favorite packaged protein treatment is The Mender by Botanika Beauty. It’s so simple to use, contains hydrolyzed proteins, and has guaranteed awesome results. Here’s a photo of my hair from the last time I used it!
Do rice water rinses offer miraculous benefits for hair? Evidence says no. But if you’re looking for a super inexpensive way to give yourself a protein boost, it’s a safe bet!
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Hair Growth Phases