Rice water — the water left over after you cook rice — has long been thought to promote stronger and more beautiful hair. The earliest known use of it was over 1,000 years ago in Japan.

Today, rice water is gaining popularity as a skin treatment too. It’s said to soothe and tone your skin, and even improve different skin conditions. Even more enticing, rice water is something you can easily and inexpensively make at home.

Rice water contains substances known to help protect and repair your skin. Despite some real benefits, there are many claims about it that science hasn’t fully proven.

Rice water for skin lightening

Many websites recommend using rice water to lighten the skin or reduce dark patches. In fact, a lot of commercial products — including soaps, toners, and creams — contain rice water.

Some people swear by the skin lightening powers of rice water. While some of the chemicals in it are known to lighten pigment, no evidence exists for how effective it is.

Rice water for the face

A showed that rice wine (fermented rice water) can help improve skin damage from the sun. Rice wine increases the collagen in the skin, which keeps your skin supple and helps prevent wrinkling. Rice wine also appears to have natural sunscreen properties.

Other studies show strong evidence for the anti-aging benefits of fermented rice water because of its antioxidant properties.

Dry skin

Rice water is known to help with skin irritation caused by sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), an ingredient found in many personal care products. Anecdotal evidence has shown that using rice water twice a day helps skin that has been dried and damaged by SLS.

Damaged hair

Hair that’s been bleached can be helped by inositol, a chemical in rice water. It helps repair damaged hair from the inside out, including split ends.

Digestive upsets

Some people recommend drinking rice water if you get food poisoning or a stomach bug. While there’s solid evidence that rice helps diarrhea, it often contains traces of arsenic. Drinking a lot of rice water with a concentration of arsenic can lead to cancers, vascular disease, hypertension, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

Eczema, acne, rashes, and inflammation

Plenty of people claim that applying rice water topically can soothe the skin, clear up blemishes caused by skin conditions like eczema, and help it heal. Based on what we know about the properties of rice water, there’s reason to think that some of these claims are true. However, hard evidence is still lacking.

Eye problems

Some say that drinking rice water or eating certain types of rice can help fix eye problems like macular degeneration, which usually affects older people and can result in blindness. So far, that claim hasn’t been proven, however.

Sun damage protection

Chemicals contained in rice have been shown to help protect the skin against the sun’s rays. A 2016 study showed that it was an effective sunscreen when combined with other plant extracts.

There are several different ways to prepare rice water. They all require thorough rinsing of the rice before working with it. Most say that the type of rice you use doesn’t matter.

Boiling rice water

Rinse the rice thoroughly and drain. Use about four times more water than rice. Stir the rice and water together and bring to a boil. Remove it from the heat. Take a spoon and press the rice to release the helpful chemicals, strain out the rice with a sieve, and refrigerate the water in an airtight container for up to a week. Dilute with plain water before using.

Soaking rice water

You can also make rice water by soaking rice in water. Follow the same process as above, but instead of boiling the rice and water, let it soak for at least 30 minutes before pressing the rice and straining it through the sieve. Finally, refrigerate the rice water.

Fermented rice water

To make fermented rice water, use the same process for soaking the rice. Then, instead of refrigerating the water (after pressing and straining out the rice), leave it in a jar at room temperature for one or two days. When the container starts to have a sour smell, put it in the refrigerator. Dilute with plain water before using.

Rice water can be applied directly to skin or hair. You can experiment by adding fragrance or other natural ingredients to customize it. You should first dilute with plain water if you boiled or fermented it.

Hair rinse

Try adding a little essential oil to give your homemade rice water a pleasant aroma. Apply the rice water to your hair from the roots to the ends and leave on for at least 10 minutes. Rinse out.

Shampoo

To make shampoo, add some liquid castile soap to fermented rice water, plus your choice of aloe, chamomile tea or a small amount of essential oil.

Facial cleanser and toner

Put a small amount of rice water on a cotton ball and gently smooth over your face and neck as a toner. To clean with it, massage it into your skin. Rinse if desired. You can also make a face mask with a thick sheet of tissue paper.

Bath soak

Grate up a little natural bar soap and add it, along with some vitamin E, to the rice water for a soothing bath soak.

Body scrub

Add some sea salt, a bit of essential oil, and citrus to make a natural exfoliant. Rub on and rinse.

Sunscreen

Buying sunscreens that contain rice water extracts may improve protection from the sun’s rays. Sunscreens that contained rice bran extracts, along with other plant extracts, showed improved UVA/UVB protection.

Rice water is very popular right now. While not all claims about how it can help your skin and hair are proven, there’s evidence that it helps certain types of skin problems, like sun damage and natural aging. It also repairs damaged hair.

While it’s not recommended that you drink a lot of rice water due to its possible arsenic content, applying it to your skin and hair may bring positive benefits. Speak with a dermatologist first before beginning any skin regimen.