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Rice is a delicious and versatile food, but do you know just how versatile it is?

It may even offer benefits for your hair.

Rice water for hair growth has risen in popularity in the past few years. Many who are embracing their natural 4c or coily hair swear it gives them longer and healthier locks.

Using rice water to encourage hair growth for people with 4c hair may be popular, but what exactly does it do, and how do you use it? What exactly makes rice water such a phenomenal hair care product?

Despite the current popularity, using rice water on hair dates back — way back — to the Heian Period (794 to 1185) of Japan.

Additionally, the women of the Red Yao tribe living in China’s Huangluo Yao Village are known for their long, luscious, 6-foot locks. Their lengthy tresses are often credited to the practice of cleansing their hair with fermented rice water.

Rice water’s purported benefits include:

  • promotes hair growth
  • protects and repairs hair
  • increases shine
  • detangles

“Rice water used as a hair care treatment may reduce surface friction and increase the elasticity of hair strands,” explains Salem Wynter-Baxter, cosmetic scientist, trainee trichologist, and founder of eco-hair care brand Root2tip. “This strengthens the inner cortex of the hair where protein exists and thus makes hair appear to be stronger.”

Rice itself contains a mix of amino proteins, B vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Rice water is primarily composed of the starchy substance left behind when rice is soaked or boiled. The nutritional properties of the rice give rice water its unique hair-strengthening properties.

Promotes hair growth

Rice water contains amino acids that aid hair regeneration. This, in combination with vitamins B, C, and E, promotes hair growth.

Protects hair

Rice water contains inositol, a carbohydrate that can repair damaged hair. Additionally, the proteins in rice form a protective barrier on your hair that prevents breakage.

Increases shine

The amino acids in rice water not only promote hair growth but also increase hair volume and make the hair smooth and shiny.

Detangles hair

Rice water reduces surface friction, which helps prevent the hair from tangling.

Adaku Jennifer Agwunobi, PhD, is the founder of Hair Goals and also happens to have type 4c hair so she understands care and maintenance needs for this type of hair well.

When it comes to answering the question of whether rice water can help your hair grow, she explains that it really comes down to consistency.

“I think consistency is key when it comes to natural hair care growth, especially 4c hair,” she shares. “Prioritize health and you will see the growth even more. The fact is, hair grows around half an inch a month, but sometimes you don’t recognize it as your hair may be breaking simultaneously.”

That, she explains, is where the rice water comes in. As it helps to strengthen your hair, your hair can now actually grow and, hopefully, not break at the same time.

There are many different types of hair ranging from type 1, straight hair, to type 4, coily hair.

So what is 4c hair?

This subtype of type 4 hair is densely packed hair with strands that form delicate, tight coils. It can range from super fine to coarse.

The question remains: Is rice water a passing trend, or does it actually work for 4c hair?

According to Wynter-Baxter, “Yes, rice water is a benefit to 4c hair when used in the right way with the appropriate length of time left between each application.”

Due to type 4c hair being uniquely fragile, this type of hair requires regular strengthening treatments in the form of hydrolyzed protein. This process results in the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.

Given that rice water contains amino proteins, it’s potentially beneficial for type 4c hair, Wynter-Baxter adds.

Natural hair is any hair that hasn’t been altered by chemical straighteners such as relaxers or texturizers.

The same argument of being able to use rice water on hair effectively applies to natural hair.

“Natural hair needs a delicate balance of moisture and protein, but more so, it needs hydrolyzed protein sources to keep it happy and healthy,” Wynter-Baxter explains. “Rice water coats the hair and reduces the friction that natural hair may have when being styled and handled in general. This is a benefit.”

There are several ways to prepare rice water, none of which are difficult. It’s really a matter of preference and whether you want to use the rice for consumption as well.

One of the biggest downfalls of rice water is that it has a strong odor, especially if you go the fermentation route.

Agwunobi suggests a way around this that involves adding a moisturizing product that’s also enriched with essential oils to mask the smell. This also counteracts some of the dryness as well.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils.

Be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products and always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

The moisturizing product comes down to personal choice, but possibilities include conditioners like hair masks, or glycerine-based products such as Hair Goals Ultimate Moisture Boost.

Boiled version

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of clean, raw rice
  • 2–3 cups of water
  • 3–7 drops of skin-safe essential oils
  • 1 tbsp carrier oil

Directions:

  • Cook rice in a rice cooker or on the stove.
  • Strain when rice is nearly cooked.
  • Let water cool to room temperature.
  • Add essential oils mixed in carrier oil.
  • Rinse hair with the rice water.

Easy version

Agwunobi shares this easy rice water recipe that doesn’t require boiling. Do this on a day you already plan to make rice.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of clean raw rice
  • 2–3 cups of water
  • moisturizing product

Directions:

  • Wash rice thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Place rice in an airtight container.
  • Add water.
  • Add a moisturizing product, like a conditioner, hair mask, or glycerine-based product.
  • Close container.
  • Leave to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
  • Strain the rice water into a spray bottle or other container.
  • Apply rice to hair.

Agwunobi has a few suggestions as to how long and what methods to use. It really will come down to what works best for you and your hair.

  • Leave on for up to an hour before rinsing it out thoroughly.
  • Leave on overnight if you can.
  • Apply the rice water almost as if you’re rinsing your hair with it and then wash your hair right after.
  • Massage your scalp with the rice water, cover with a shower cap for 10 minutes, then rinse.

Pro tip: Using the spray bottle helps to make sure your hair is completely saturated.

Fermented version

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup clean raw rice
  • 2–3 cups of water
  • 3–7 drops of essential oil of choice
  • 1 tbsp carrier oil

Directions:

  • Place rice in a container.
  • Add water and mix.
  • Cover and leave at room temperature for 1–2 days.
  • Strain the water.
  • Add essential oils mixed with carrier oil.
  • Rinse hair with rice water.
  • Store remaining water in the fridge to stop further fermentation.

What’s the best method for hair growth?

A 2012 study involved reviewing the effect of three different types of lactic acid fermentations in solid and liquid states on an in vitro sprout culture over three different time frames. Results showed reduced acidity in each case.

The pH level of plain rice is higher than your hair. The fermentation process decreases that pH level to the same level of hair, which leads to better protection of the hair.

Additionally, fermented rice water is rich in antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins, and traces of pitera, a by-product of the fermentation process, and is known to promote cell regeneration.

Detangler

Almost instantly, rice water conditions the hair making it soft and easier to detangle.

  1. Spray your hair with warm water until it’s damp (not wet).
  2. Using a spray bottle, apply rice water generously.
  3. Leave on for about 5 minutes.
  4. Gently detangle your hair using your fingers.
  5. Rinse and air dry.

You can also use a rice water hair mist such as Hairfinity Rice Water Hair Mist.

Shampoo

You can prepare your own rice water shampoo by simply combining liquid castile soap with your rice water. You can also try these a rice water shampoo like Well’s Fermented Rice Moisturizing Shampoo.

Rinse

When it comes to using rice water on hair, using it as a rinse is one of the more popular ways.

  1. Shampoo your hair as normal.
  2. Apply rice water to hair.
  3. Leave on for about 10 minutes.
  4. Rinse and air dry.

Conditioner

You can try Well’s Fermented Rice Moisturizing Conditioner or use any deep conditioner.

Hair mask or pre-poo

Rice water can also be used pre-poo and overnight as a hair mask.

Ingredients:

  • rice water
  • pre-poo oil, like olive, almond, or jojoba
  • 3–7 drops of essential oil of choice

Steps:

  1. Mix pre-poo oil, essential oils, and rice water.
  2. Spray your hair with the mixture.
  3. Leave on overnight.

Not everyone’s hair is the same. If your hair becomes dry if the rice water is left on for too long, don’t leave it on overnight.

Additionally, there are rice water hair masks you can buy, like SheaMoisture Strength and Color Care Masque or Mielle Rice Water Split End Therapy.

Leave-in spray

An alternative way to use rice water is by mixing it with your hydrating leave-in spray.

“If you’re wearing a protective style like braids, rice water may be used weekly with a hydrating spray to strengthen your hair and fortify the scalp,” suggests Wynter-Baxter.

You can buy rice water-based sprays like Hair Thickness Maximizer Rice Water Hair Growth Spray or Mielle Rice Water Shine Mist.

How long to leave it on?

Rice water should be left on your hair for at least 15 minutes. This allows the nutrients to be absorbed into the hair strands.

How long you leave rice water on depends on several factors such as the type of hair you have. Individuals that have hair with low porosity may find that leaving rice water on for too long can lead to dry hair.

YouTuber SimplyDivineCurls shared a 1-week update, claiming her hair grew approximately half an inch after using rice water.

YouTuber Stella Orafu also shared an update after using rice water for 1 week.

It’s important to remember that these reports of hair growth are anecdotal. Everyone’s hair is different, so your results may not be the same.

Keep these tips in mind when using rice water on your hair.

Moderation is key

Rice water can dry out hair. This is especially the case with hair that is curly or coily in nature like 4c hair.

Wynter-Baxter explains that type 4 hair needs water regularly to remain healthy. Using the rice water too frequently can overload the hair with protein.

She suggests using rice water before a deep conditioning treatment. This way your hair will receive the strength from the protein in the rice water, plus the hydration from the deep conditioning. Choose a protein-free conditioner or hair mask.

Use with caution

Anything new you put on your skin or in your hair should always be used with caution. Rice water is no different. It can have a drying effect on type 4 hair especially.

Like any other home treatment, you should conduct a patch test on your hair and scalp before trying rice water.

If you’re using ingredients you have never used before, do a patch test of the product on your inner arm. If there’s no reaction, then the ingredient is likely safe for you to use.

While some evidence is purely anecdotal, there’s also some scientific evidence that rice water may be beneficial for hair.

Though results on whether rice water promotes hair growth are mixed, many experts say it works.

Always conduct a patch test prior to use and speak with a dermatologist if you have any concerns or questions.


Ashley Hubbard is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, focusing on sustainability, travel, veganism, mental health, social justice, and more. Passionate about animal rights, sustainable travel, and social impact, she seeks out ethical experiences whether at home or on the road. Visit her website wild-hearted.com.