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

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 vitamins E and B, amino acids, antioxidants and inositol (touted as a hair rejuvenator). 

The claim? Rice water may be useful for 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.

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 and massage it into your hair and scalp. Leave on for up to 20 minutes then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Is rice water hair treatment safe?

For any treatment plan, it’s important to consider the risks and the benefits, according to Matthew Stephany, MD, Nebraska Medicine medical director of General Dermatology. Countless products claim results without therapeutic trials or a body of proof that a product does what it claims. While there are very few risks to using a product like rice water for hair, there is also not likely to be any significant benefit.

Using rice water is considered a natural home remedy, but 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 itching. This does not guarantee a person with this condition will 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 – Use caution if 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, Dr. Stephany recommends 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.

Stephany’s 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. Remember 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 anyone to use for skin care. 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.