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Top Hair Loss Doctor Explains How Rice Water Can Help Reverse Thinning + Add Shine

The recipe to thicker, fuller shinier hair for pennies? Two cups of water and a cup of rice!

When it comes to keeping our hair looking healthy, shiny and lush — especially for those of us combatting hair loss — remedies and treatments from costly serums to pricey shampoos abound. But one low-cost and chemical-free treatment is gaining steam for its many hair-beautifying benefits: rice water. In fact, after just one use, the now viral hack reportedly delivers longer, thicker, silkier strands and those are just a few of the benefits of rice water on hair.

What is rice water and what are the benefits of using it on hair?

Rice next to bowl of rice water

As the name implies, rice water is the starchy liquid left after you boil rice. The only two ingredients needed for this healthy hair powerhouse: a few cups of water and one cup of uncooked rice. Used in Asian countries for centuries, the nutrient-infused water has many healthy-hair benefits.

Here are a few reasons to add rice water to your haircare regimen: 

1. Rice water helps hair grow

Rice water contains nutrients like vitamin B, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. “The vitamins and nutrients in rice water could nourish the scalp, potentially stimulating hair growth and minimizing hair fall,” explains Alan J. Bauman, MD, medical director of Bauman Medical Hair Transplant & Hair Loss Treatment Center. Plus, rice water contains a compound called inositol, which is study-proven to reverse hair thinning when taken as an oral supplement and is also found in numerous hair loss prevention products.

Rice water is a safe and reliable alternative for strengthening thinning hair and making it less vulnerable to loss, low hair elasticity and breakage. It can also increase volume so hair appears thicker thanks to its high starch content and amino acids that increase volume and smooth the frizz and dryness. The starch in rice water is even useful for reducing breakage caused by split ends.

Check out this video for more on how rice water can help thinning hair:

2. Rice water makes hair shinier 

When it comes to healthy and hydrating products that don’t have side effects, rice water is unmatched. “The compound inositol also imparts a natural shine to the hair, making it appear smoother and healthier,” attests Dr. Bauman. 

Rice water’s starch content, amino acids and essential vitamins help support shiny hair and healthy hair follicles. In fact, the vitamins you would find in most hydrating products (like vitamin B and vitamin E) occur naturally in rice water for a fraction of the price and work well to smooth out the surface of the hair and give it a fresh, glossy appearance. 

Another reason to consider a rice water rinse for shine is that it’s a much lighter alternative to hydrating and smoothing products. You won’t have to sacrifice volume (a common result of the weighty goop in commercial products) to achieve a shiny, healthy look. 

3. Rice water repairs hair follicles 

The amino acids found in rice water are essential for building protein. One particular amino acid, cysteine, is used by the body to build hair, nails and even the skin. Rice water helps with the repair process by sending essential nutrients like inositol, to damaged or weakened hair, thereby strengthening strands, reducing breakage and promoting overall hair health, affirms Dr. Bauman. 

4. Rice water protects the scalp

Closeup of woman's scalp

Rice water helps acts as a gentle scalp cleanser because it balances the pH levels of the scalp and hair, preventing excessive dryness or oiliness, explains Dr. Bauman. When we use a lot of products in our hair, we accumulate build-up that can cause irritation and itching. Rice water gently breaks down the buildup of products, relieving and relaxing the scalp. This results in less itching and scratching, which allows your scalp to heal.

It’s also important to note that when the scalp overproduces sebum (oil), often from excess exposure to oils or dryness, it can lead to dandruff. Using rice water on the scalp, we are thoroughly washing away build-up from serums and oils, and in turn, we’re reducing dandruff and flaking for a healthier, happier scalp. (Click through for more on dandruff vs dry scalp.)

Lastly, many of the vitamins and nutrients naturally found in rice water, like zinc, are useful for reducing irritation and protecting your scalp against itching.

5. Rice water softens and detangles

Sometimes, a classic conditioning treatment just isn’t enough. “Rice water is known to be a natural detangler,” attests celebrity hairstylist Cody Renegar. “And it’s good for every hair texture.” Renegar even recommends it to celebrity clients like Gwyneth Paltrow.

That’s because the starch in rice water coats the outside of the hair, making it easier to run a brush or comb through it and remove knots and tangles (even if you have damaged hair).

Tip: Leftover rice water? Click through to learn how it can ease stress diarrhea.

How to use rice water as a DIY hair treatment 

Uncooked rice on table

Besides being cheap and easy to make at home, a rice water hair treatment doesn’t require any adjustments to your existing haircare routine. 

​​To apply rice water to your hair, start with your normal shampoo and deep conditioner process. Once your hair is clean and rinsed of all products, apply your rice water treatment as described in this Renegar’s simple three-step process:  

  1. Boil rice in water until the water is cloudy, let it cool and then strain so you’re left with just the tepid water. You can also just soak one cup of rice (any variety) for a few minutes in a covered bowl and get the same effect. Just be sure to give the rice a quick rinse first to remove any impurities.
  2. Pour the rice water into a spray bottle and spritz generously onto your hair (or simply pour the cooled water right onto your head) gently distribute using a comb or your fingers. Be sure to massage it into the scalp. 
  3. Allow the rice water to sit for up to 20 minutes like you would a mask. 
  4. Using warm water, thoroughly rinse the rice water from the hair until it’s removed completely. 

How often should I use rice water for my hair?

Treatments using rice water vary based on your hair’s type. You can follow Dr. Bauman’s guide below:

If you have fine or thin hair:

If you have very fine or thin strands, which means each individual strand is so small in diameter that if you plucked one out and rubbed it between your fingers, you’d barely feel it, doctors advise you to use rice water sparingly, as it can be protein-rich and potentially overwhelming for fine hair. Dr. Bauman says that once a week should be plenty.

If you have curly or coarse hair: 

Rice water can be a game-changer for curly or coarse hair types because of all of its nourishing and smoothing vitamins. If you have more coarse hair, which means strands are thicker in diameter and tend to be dry and frizzy, use a rice water rinse 2-3 times a week for enhanced manageability and shine, says Dr. Bauman.

Check out this video of a woman who used rice water on her curly, coarse hair for one month!

If you have oily hair: 

While the starchy mixture can balance the pH of the scalp, if your strands are already on the greasy side, you may send sebum production into overdrive. Instead, focus the application on the lengths and ends of the hair, avoiding the scalp. This can help balance oil production.

If you have dry or damaged hair: 

Our strands can so easily get damaged from heat styling, excessive brushing, chemical treatments and even just sleeping with wet hair. But you can reverse that damage with a rice water rinse. If your hair is damaged, incorporate rice water into your routine 2-3 times a week for added strength and hydration. 

How long does it take for rice water to work on my hair?

Doctors say you should see the benefits of rice water in four to six weeks of continued use. “Consistency is key when it comes to reaping the benefits of rice water for your hair,” advises Dr. Bauman. 

While there seem to be no adverse effects to doing a rice water rinse for your hair, Dr. Bauman notes that there haven’t been enough studies to prove they can actually replace other clinically approved treatments to regrow hair. But we can’t see the harm in trying!

For more DIY hair treatments, click through these stories:

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