For months now, users on TikTok and other social media sites have been claiming that using rice water can make hair shinier and stronger and even help with hair loss.
As usual, this trend isn’t brand new by any means. People in Japan and China have used rice water for hair for centuries. And some research suggests it really can help hair become thicker and stronger.
But there are also alternative options available today with much more robust scientific evidence behind them, experts tell TODAY.com. For some, using rice water for hair may also come with certain side effects, like increased hair dryness and scalp irritation.
Here’s what to know before you try this treatment — and why you might want to take the claims with a grain of salt (or rice).
Does rice water stop hair loss?
There is some evidence that suggests rice bran extract, which comes from the outer layer of the grain, can be helpful for people experiencing hair loss, Dr. Shasa Hu, an associate professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, tells TODAY.com.
Many animal studies have shown compounds derived from rice bran may reduce hair loss, delay hair graying and drive the release of growth factors that “are important for maintaining the health and blood supply to the hair follicle,” Hu explains.
She and fellow dermatologist Dr. Shari Lipner both pointed to a 2022 systematic review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. The study compiled all the previous research on the use of rice products for hair growth and found 10 studies that analyzed the safety and efficacy of using rice extract products for hair.
Of those 10 studies, only one was conducted with human participants. That study, published in 2015, included 50 Korean patients with alopecia who were instructed to use a product containing rice bran extract (or a placebo) twice a day for 16 weeks.
At the end of the study period, the researchers found that people who used the rice bran extract product had significantly denser hair, and their hair diameter increased.
While that’s a promising result, the conditions of the study aren’t exactly realistic for the average person. “You’re not going to wash your hair twice a day for 16 weeks,” Hu says.
The other issue is that “rice bran mineral extract is not actually in the rice that we get from the supermarket because, during the milling process, that component is removed,” says Lipner, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center. So DIY rice water treatments won’t include that specific extract.
Rice purchased in the store does, however, contain a compound called inositol, which may contribute to hair growth (according to some studies unrelated to rice water), and amino acids, which can make hair look shinier. “That’s kind of the theory behind (rice water for hair),” Lipner says. “But there really isn’t real evidence for it.”
Fermented rice water may come with additional benefits for hair and skin health, Hu adds, but the evidence is still limited overall. “I’m not against (using rice water for hair), but I think it’s definitely something you have to take with a grain of salt,” she says. “It’s not going to miraculously change your hair growth pattern.”
Side effects of rice water on hair
That 2022 systematic review found that, overall, rice water is generally safe to use on the skin (topically). But some studies included in that review found instances of mild skin problems in animals, such as irritation, swelling, redness and scabbing.
People who have sensitive skin or skin conditions that make them more prone to skin reactions, like eczema or psoriasis, may want to stay away from rice water products, Lipner says. “A lot of these products have multiple ingredients in it. So even if they claim just to be rice water, a lot of times they’ll have fragrances and other things to make it smell good,” she explains, which can be irritating to people with sensitive skin.
Does rice water dry your hair out?
Some people may find that rice water products actually dry their hair out, leading to damaged hair down the line, rather than making it shinier or stronger. “Because of the starches, (rice water) can actually pull water out of the hair,” Lipner says, “and that can damage the hair.”
When should you not use rice water for hair?
Lipner discourages people with a history of conditions that might make the scalp a little more sensitive, such as eczema or psoriasis, from trying out the rice water trend, including both DIY and products you buy.
What to know before trying rice water for hair
If you’re going the homemade route, know that much of the rice at the grocery store is not sold with the rice bran intact. So you won’t be getting the potential benefits of rice bran extract if you make rice water at home, the experts say.
And, overall, Lipner recommends going with other more evidence-based treatments for hair loss. “The evidence is just not really there (for rice water). And even evidence for the rice brand mineral extract is not strong evidence,” Lipner says. “So I think it’s probably a waste of time and money. And I think, ultimately, it’s really going to dehydrate the hair.”
Hu says it’s OK to give DIY rice water and rice water products a try — as long as you keep your expectations in check and you only buy products from reliable sources. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk of exposure to harmful pesticides, chemicals or heavy metals, like mercury or lead, she says.
Other products for hair growth
Instead, both Lipner and Hu recommend trying over-the-counter hair growth options first. In particular, they suggest starting with topical minoxidil (Rogaine).
This ingredient has “been studied in clinical trials for men and women and does grow hair,” Lipner says. “So if you really want to grow your hair, that would be the thing to do.” Additionally, some dermatologists prescribe spironolactone off-label for hair growth, she says.
However, not everyone can use topical minoxidil or spironolactone. People who are pregnant should not use those ingredients, for example, and some people are irritated by products containing minoxidil, Hu adds. In those cases, alternative treatments like rice water or rosemary oil products could be worth a try.
People always want quick fixes, Lipner says, and it’s only natural that they’ll look to social media to get recommendations. But the best way to get up-to-date information on effective treatments that will work for your specific situation is to see a board-certified dermatologist, she says. “They can really tailor a treatment regimen to improve your hair.”
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