February 20th 2021
Does rice water make your hair grow? A hair doctor explains
January 22nd 2021 / 0 comment
The rice water hair rinse is all over TikTok, with claims it makes your locks longer and stronger and grow faster. It's an ancient Chinese tradition, but does it work?
From supplements to shampoos to scalp scrubs, there's a wealth of products claiming to make your hair grow longer. The latest remedy to surface is using homemade rice water as a mask post shampoo. It's said by legions of people online to improve the condition of the hair, making it stronger, grow quicker and look shinier.
Makeup artist Keshia East tried the remedy on her hair to "nourish, detangle and strengthen," she wrote on Instagram. "Since I’ve been doing this my hair has grown super fast and looks so healthy."
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Google searches for 'how to make rice water for hair' are up 350 per cent, while TikTok is awash (sorry!) with videos showing exactly how to make rice water with views in excess of 136,000.
While it may be new to TikTokers, rice water for hair growth is hundreds of years old. "Rice water rinses for hair are an ancient tradition used for hundreds of years in East Asian countries," explains consultant dermatologist Dr Sharon Wong, who specialises in hair health. "Originally, women in the Heian period in Japan, (794 AD) who had floor-length hair, attributed this to bathing the hair in rice water. The practice was also adopted by the Yao women in Huangluo in China, who again credited their incredibly long hair and its retention of colour to the use of rice water."
So what is rice water and why is it believed to make our hair grown? It's exactly what it sounds like; the milky white starchy water left behind after soaking rice. Soaking rice pre-cooking isn't that common in the UK, but doing so speeds up the cooking by kick-starting the absorption of water before the rice even enters the pot. "Rice is approximately 80 per cent starch," explains Dr Wong. "The water derived from soaking rice unsurprisingly contains starch, a complex carbohydrate, which coats the hair and makes it shiny and glossy but also acts as a humectant to hydrate the scalp and hair.
Rice water also contains the carbohydrate inositol, says Dr Wong. This which has been shown in one study to penetrate and remain in the hair fibre even after rinsing, suggesting it may continue to help hydrate the hair from the inside after a wash, she adds.
"Rice water is also thought to contain amino acids which deposit on the hair shaft and give a strengthening and volumising and thickening effect to the hair in addition to reducing surface tension making it easier to detangle, smoother, less frizzy and generally more manageable."
So far so shiny but what about making your hair grow faster? Sadly, if this were true then someone would have bottled Dr Wong notes that there are no data or studies to support the idea that rice water has any influence on their hair cycle to improve hair growth, hair density or as a treatment for any specific hair loss conditions.
"The cosmetic benefits all sound plausible based on the raw materials rice water contains, but it is worth noting that these reported results are anecdotal and speculative."
Nonetheless, the Internet is buzzing with concerts to the rice water method. In case you want to give it a go, here's your need to know.
How to make rice water for hair
Making rice water for hair isn't as simple as cooking and draining your rice and liberally applying the leftover water to your hair. First, you need to rinse your dry rice (about half a cup) in water, before draining and then adding two to three cups of warm water and giving it a gentle mix until the water turns milky. Next, seal it shut for 24 hours to let it ferment, which is thought to enhance its antioxidant properties. It does create a funky, musty smell, so some people add orange slices to distract from this. Once it's finished fermenting simply apply to your hair via a spray bottle, leave to soak in as you would a hair mask and rinse.
How long does rice water take to work?
You'll be pleased to know that rice water offers fairly instant gratification. We should consider rice water as a conditioning treatment with potentially hydrating and strengthening properties, says Dr Wong. As with most conditioning products, the temporary results and changes to the hair are evident very quickly, usually after the first use.
Does rice water work on skin too?
The beneficial contents of rice water (carbohydrates, amino acids and antioxidants, according to Dr Wong) theoretically work the same way on skin, something musician Pharrell Williams obviously agrees with, as he included the ingredient in his skincare line Humanrace, which launched in November in 2020 and was a total sell-out (restock pending). His moisturiser, named Humidifying Cream, £37, includes rice water with niacinamide and snow mushroom for a hydrating, soothing product.
Are there any side effects of putting rice water on your air?
Rice water has no fragrance, preservatives or plant oils, which some people can become sensitive to, points our Dr Wong, so as a DIY conditioning treatment it's low risk. "However used too frequently, inadequate removal of the rice water and depending on your hair type, the heavy coating of the strands with starch and amino acids could lead to build-up, flaking and even breakage in some people," warns Dr Wong. Moral of the story? Do your rice water hair treatment once a week and be sure to rinse out thoroughly.
The bottom line
While there is much anecdotal support of rice water making hair grow, we must keep in mind what Dr Wong said, that there are no studies backing this up. The components of rice water certainly lead to healthier-looking, stronger hair, which is less prone to breakage but there's nothing to say rice water will actually make it grow quicker.