Is rice water the secret to making your hair grow fast?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY claudia fischer

DIY growth for only $2?

During 2020 I, like many, went through the lockdown rite of passage of dramatically changing my hair. At the start of the pandemic, I chopped my long, dark brunette locks into an above-the-shoulder bob and lost my hair dye virginity, adding bright purple streaks throughout. 

I loved it at the time – I was channelling my grungy Melbourne inner-north persona while ordering an almond latte at my local and wearing my chunkiest pair of Dr. Martens. But after six months and four lockdowns, the novelty wore off. I regretted damaging my natural curls further (after years of existing damage from straightening every day) and craved the long hair I had in the summer of 2019. 

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I’ve been on a quest ever since to grow my hair back longer and thicker. I’ve even dabbled with hair supplements, trying the JS Health Hair & Energy vitamins for a while, and have now been taking the Aéde hair, skin and nails supplement, which has actually improved the thickness and elasticity of my mane immensely over the past two months. 

But could the solution to my first-world hair crisis be solved in a cheaper way, with a method using only one simple ingredient I already have at home? You may have heard of the rice water trend on TikTok, where the hashtag #ricewater has over 500 million views and #ricewaterforhairgrowth has nearly 150 million. It allegedly started when Kourtney Kardashian shared on her health and lifestyle website, Poosh, that Kim K uses rice water to wash her hair and promote growth. 

What is rice water for hair growth?

Originating from ancient Japanese culture, the idea is to soak your hair in rice water to help not only with growth, but also shine, colour, smoothness and strength. There are multiple methods to make rice water, but the most simple (in my opinion) is to rinse a cup or two of rice, then soak the rice in water for at least 30 minutes. Afterwards, strain the rice and save the water.

One of the more popular methods I’ve seen for using this water for hair growth is to shampoo your hair as usual, rinse and then pour the rice water over your hair (or put it into a spray bottle for an easier application) and massage into the scalp. Let it soak for another 30 minutes, then rinse and condition. 

What’s it supposed to do?

Millions of TikTok users have sworn by this method to promote growth and overall hair health. Although, apparently the milky-coloured water smells on the funky side, with one user making her concoction with orange peels and essential oils to combat this. 

As this ancient method has only recently been popularised, there is little research available on the topic. Some experts say that the benefits are due to vitamins B and E which are found in rice, and that these can help with growth and elasticity, while the starchiness can help with smoothness and shine. Another TikTok user even brushed rice water through her lashes for seven days and noticed a difference in fullness and growth.

What should you know if you’re keen to try it?

Rice water may not be for everyone though, and there are some hair types that should look to alternative methods for growth. Damage may be caused to low porosity hair types when using rice water – low porosity refers to hair that struggles to retain water and moisture. 

When using rice water, people with this hair type noticed damage, breakage and an increase in frizz and dryness. So, take it with a grain of salt and be cautious about trying this method if you think your hair has low porosity. You can test for this by placing a strand of hair in a glass of water – if it floats, you likely have low porosity hair. 

Michael Rothschild, head trichologist at Clive Hair Clinic, also warns against using rice water for treating hair loss or a receding hairline. “One product cannot cure hair problems,” he tells me. “The reason for losing hair or a receding hairline is due to androgens meeting up with an enzyme and forming a chemical called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).”

Michael says that this chemical will send a message to the cells of the hair root to stop production. “When this happens, the hair root gets very thin and moves away from your blood,” he says. “It is necessary to understand that the only thing that grows your hair is your blood, giving the hair roots nutrients, glucose and oxygen.”

The takeaway? There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying this trend, and if it helps assist with hair growth and strength – great! But if you struggle with serious thinning or damage, it’s probably best to seek professional advice from a dermatologist or trichologist. 

For more on hair growth, try this.

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