This buzzy ingredient is a star player in many new-age hair care products.
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Each and every year, beauty product formulators debut buzzy ingredients to get consumers excited for another 365 days of self-care. When it comes to our hair, 2022 is all about rice water, a natural ingredient that is supposed to help with multiple facets of hair health. The real question is, however, can rice water actually encourage hair growth? To find out, we asked the professionals.

The Benefits of Rice Water in Hair Care

According to Dr. Gaby Longsworth, a Ph.D., scientist, certified hair practitioner, and the founder of Absolutely Everything Curly, rice water is known for its protein and vitamin content—both of which can lead to a stronger, healthier head of hair. "Rice water is packed with proteins, vital vitamins, such as vitamins C and E, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants," she says, noting that where vitamin C boosts sebum which moisturizes the scalp, vitamin E coats the hair, creating soft, silky hair. "Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are small and able to penetrate the strand where they aid in strengthening and repairing the hair from within." Dr. Longsworth also calls out inositol (which is often how rice water shows up on product labels), a naturally-occurring carbohydrate that's prevalent in rice. "Inositol benefits your hair in three ways: It increases elasticity, decreases surface friction (when the hair strand's surface is smoother, the strands glide by each other with less friction, leading to fewer knots and tangles), and remains inside your strands even after the rice water has been rinsed out," she shares.

It's no wonder, then, that this ingredient has become so popular in hair care formulations—particularly those suited for curls. "If you suffer from over-moisturized, limp, mushy, gummy, lifeless hair that is unable to hold a curl for very long past wash day, a weekly rice water rinse is highly effective," Dr. Longsworth affirms, noting that rice water makes for the ultimate strengthening protein hair treatment, too. "You will not see results overnight, but should see the benefits after four to six weeks of continued use." And that goes for just about any so-called miracle worker: "It takes patience and consistency to see long-term improvements in the hair," she says.

woman tossing shiny hair
Credit: Mike Kemp/Getty

Rice Water and Hair Growth

Full disclosure: Rice water creates the appearance of longer, thicker hair, but it doesn't necessarily boost growth. "The larger proteins in rice water are too big to enter the hair strand and instead create a thick protective coating over each one," Dr. Longsworth clarifies. This phenomenon is why so many people connect this ingredient with growth: "The coating minimizes breakage allowing your natural growth to show more clearly—but this treatment does not cause your hair to grow faster," she shares. With that said, Dr. Longsworth points out that if you have scalp issues—it may be dry, itchy, flaky, irritated, sensitive, or oily—rice water can help. "When the rice water is massaged in, it promotes a healthy scalp and encourages hair growth in this manner," she says.

The Pros and Cons of Rice Water

The best candidates for rice water protein treatments are those with damaged hair that has been chemically processed, bleached, or colored. "The rinse acts as a strengthening agent and aids in repair," Dr. Longsworth explains. Those with already-healthy or fine strands, on the other hand, should steer clear. "If your hair is already healthy and protein-rich, adding rice water can make it dry and stiff," she warns, explaining that this result is generally referred to as protein overload. "In general, protein treatments, such as rice water rinses, are unnecessary if you have low porosity hair (healthy hair with a strong cuticle layer) or fine hair strands that are easily overwhelmed."

How to Use Rice Water in Your Routine

For optimal efficacy, Dr. Longsworth notes that rice water should be used on freshly washed, towel-dried hair that is free from buildup (you can also apply the rinse on dry strands). After letting the treatment sink in for 10 minutes (or however long your specific product recommends), rinse it out to prevent over-treating. "Always deep condition after a rice water rinse," she says. "Or mix the rice water with your deep conditioner." Using a clarifying products in between sessions is also key, she shares: "If the old coating is not removed, it will prevent moisture from reaching the core of the hair strand," she warns. "Protein overload will result, and hair will feel dry and stiff, and be prone to breakage."

And if you're on the hunt for a product that contains this hair-boosting agent? Dr. Longsworth says to play close attention to ingredient lists. For the best results, she recommends only using formulas that have rice water in the first five slots; Briogeo's Don't Despair Repair Rice Water Protein + Moisture Strengthening Treatment ($42, sephora.com) and Camille Rose's Honey Nectar Deep Conditioning Masque ($19.50, amazon.com) are great options. "This means that rice water is present in a high amount," she explains.

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