Will Rice Water Make Your Hair Grow Faster? The Experts Weigh In

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
From supplements and scalp scrubs to growth-stimulating shampoos and holistic massage therapies, there are countless products and treatments which claim to encourage longer, stronger hair. But there's one hair growth trend which everyone is googling at the moment, and the claims are pretty impressive.
Enter: rice water.

What are the benefits of rice water for hair?

Okay, so it might not sound as cool or buzzy as other hair crazes currently making waves, like summer glazing and hair filler. But with Google searches currently up 300%, rice water has definitely piqued the interest of those looking to grow and strengthen their hair. Head to Pinterest in particular and you'll discover various pins telling you how to make your own rice water treatments or 'rinses'. Thanks to the high levels of protein, starch, amino acids and vitamins B and E, advocates tout it for repairing edges and making it easier to style natural hair, as well as preventing breakage and imparting a shampoo-ad shine in all hair types and textures.
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How do you make rice water for hair growth?

Rice water isn't a new thing. It is said that the hair treatment originated in a Chinese village, where for many years the Yao women (known for their lusciously long, glossy hair) washed their lengths in a concoction of rice, water, pomelo peel, tea bran, fleeceflower root and ginger. "Rice water has often been quoted as being a traditional treatment for incredibly long, strong hair," says expert trichologist Jane Mayhead at The Private Clinic. "It is also credited for keeping grey hair at bay." The ingredients are brought to the boil, simmered, cooled and left to ferment for up to four days before the hair is immersed and the scalp massaged.

Does rice water make hair grow faster?

The anecdotal evidence is very convincing. If you click through YouTube tutorials and Instagram posts, you'll find hundreds of people extolling the virtues of rice water's bond-building, strengthening properties. Some even liken rice water to salon-favourite Olaplex, known for repairing parched, damaged hair. But what do the hair experts think?
Unfortunately, real research is scarce, despite rave reviews. "To date, there are no proper independent studies on rice water," says Jane. She cites one study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Chemists in 2010, which noted hair elasticity and a reduction in surface friction (for example rough-drying or brushing, both of which can cause damage). However, this particular study is not considered independent.
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Jane adds: "There have been far more studies and successful treatments using lipids, though." Essentially oils, Jane suggests that lipids are a little simpler to incorporate into your haircare regime, especially if you don't have the time or energy to whip up a rice water treatment. "Oils are more user-friendly natural haircare ingredients and can be used in many different blends," says Jane. "The most popular oils for hair include coconut, argan, jojoba and castor oil."

What are some alternatives to rice water for hair growth?

Castor oil especially comes highly recommended by trichologists and hairstylists for encouraging growth, especially for those with traction alopecia as a result of protective styles, which can often result in hair loss. Gemma Moodie, resident afro hairstylist at Neville Hair and Beauty, seconds this and suggests gently massaging the problem areas or scalp regularly with Jamaican castor oil.
Jane adds: "If you're choosing an oil that is right for you, always consider the hair type. Lighter oils work for finer hair types (such as grapeseed or monoi oil) and heavier blends or butters (for example shea butter) for coarser hair types."

Which hair products contain rice water?

If you still like the idea of rice water but don't fancy making it yourself, lots of brands are now formulating hair products with rice bran extract or rice protein (both rice byproducts) and the reviews speak for themselves. Hairdresser Michael Van Clarke says: "It’s not clear whether the claims made for rice water are about affecting the actual growth rate under the scalp or giving the hair shaft a boost from its protein qualities, but some products use rice protein and also the more common wheat protein. This can help hair retain moisture temporarily."
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R29 recommends Innersense Color Radiance Daily Conditioner, £28, which combines rice protein with a team of scalp-nourishing oils, such as coconut and avocado oil. Grow Gorgeous Root Stimulating Primer, £24, boasts menthol as well as rice protein and biotin. Victoria Elliott, consultant trichologist at Trichosynergy, rates menthol highly for stimulating hair growth effectively. Also try hairstylist favourite, JOICO JoiFULL Volumizing Conditioner, £12.99, which features a heavy helping of rice protein and a handful of deeply moisturising oils to impart shine, manageability and to seal split ends temporarily.
From Michael's own research and lifetime experience, he says that nothing truly works consistently to speed up hair growth beyond its normal rate, but that 99% of hair length issues are because the hair isn’t looked after on the outside. Michael recommends the LifeSaver Pre-Wash Treatment, £29, which is filled to bursting with a high concentration of cashmere protein hydrolysed into smaller amino acid molecules to penetrate hair strands and strengthen from root to tip. Apply before you jump in the shower and let it work its magic for 45 minutes before shampooing out. "The ingredients inside are almost identical to the human hair molecule, which means they are absorbed deep into the hair shaft to fill the voids or cracks and hold the hair together, so that it ages more slowly," says Michael. "That means less thinning, less breakage and less split ends."
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Also use a wide-tooth comb if you're brushing your hair when wet, such as the Large Handled Safety Comb, £19.50, to prevent snagging and breakage. Hairstylists like to use microfibre towels, like Aquis Hair Towel, £30, to absorb moisture without roughing up the cuticle. And if it's a healthy shine you're after, switch your current hairdryer to the ghd Helios, £159. It dries hair in record time, which means less heat and therefore much less damage.
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