Rice water for hair: Is it the miracle social media claims?

Published January 6, 2022



Popular TikTok beauty influencers are singing the praises of rice water hair treatments to achieve smoother, shinier and stronger hair. Could the secret to growing long luxurious locks be as easy as reaching into your pantry?

The rice water claim

The alternative treatment has recently attracted a lot of attention online, but women in China, Japan and Southeast Asia have used rice water on their hair for centuries. The thinking is that the starchy water from rice is rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E and B, amino acids, antioxidants and inositol (touted as a hair rejuvenator). 

The claim? Rice water may be useful on all hair types and help grow floor-length, silky hair. It may promote elasticity, increase volume, tame frizz, protect hair from damage and cure dandruff.

"For any treatment plan, we need to consider the risks and the benefits," says Matthew Stephany, MD,
Nebraska Medicine medical director of General Dermatology. "There are countless products claiming results with no therapeutic trials and no body of proof that a product does what it claims. This is important in the sense that while there are very few risks to using a product like rice water for your hair, whether making your own or buying a rice water product; there is also not likely to be any significant benefit." 

The rice water method

Take a cup of uncooked rice, rinse it, add two or three cups of water and soak for 30 minutes. Strain the rice water into a bowl and presto – you have a home hair elixir. Some claim you can boil it, while others believe there are benefits to fermenting the rice water, claiming the process boosts the antioxidant levels.

How do you use it? Start by washing your hair with shampoo and rinsing. Pour the rice water over your hair, massage it into your hair and scalp. Leave on for up to 20 minutes then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

"I would imagine if rice water was the miracle product that is claimed, it would have made its way into nearly every home in America," adds Dr. Stephany. "Though it may not be the single greatest addition to your hair care routine, it is unlikely to cause any problems for your hair or scalp unless you have a history of sensitive skin or other skin condition."

Is rice water hair treatment safe for everyone?

While using rice water is considered a natural home remedy, those with certain skin conditions should use caution.
1. Eczema or atopic dermatitis
"This is a condition in which the skin is unable to maintain an adequate moisture barrier, which then leads to inflammation and itch," says Dr. Stephany. "Patients with atopic dermatitis are more prone to getting cutaneous reactions from various products. This does not guarantee they would have a reaction to rice water, but it should be approached in a more strategic manner in which they could test a small area on the scalp for a reaction before lathering the entire scalp." 

2. Any hair loss or alopecia
"I would also urge caution for any patient considering rice water as the initial treatment for any hair loss (alopecia). There are several different types of hair loss and some have FDA-approved medications. If a person is experiencing significant hair loss, I would recommend seeing a health care provider."

Is there really a difference between natural or synthetic products?

Debates rage on between so-called natural hair products and synthetic hair products. Despite the controversy and passion each side possesses, very few solid scientific studies validate one side or the other.

"My general advice: If using a product makes your skin, hair or nails feel better, that's what matters as long as it's not putting your health at risk," says Dr. Stephany. "I do always caution my patients that natural products can cause as much of a problem for your skin as synthetic products. For example, poison ivy is a natural product, but not recommended for any patient to use it for skincare. On the other hand, petroleum jelly is a synthetic material great for wound healing and is highly unlikely to cause any sort of allergic reaction or irritation on the skin." 

The rice water verdict

A miracle cure? Probably not. But if you're free of troublesome skin conditions, scalp inflammation or sensitive skin that may be irritated, most likely it won't hurt to give it a try. You may even find it helpful. Still, the benefits of rice water remain unproven. More research is needed (beyond studies tied to commercial interests) to validate anecdotal evidence.