Rice water – the starchy water that remains after cooking or soaking rice – has long been used to promote hair development.
Back in secondary school, nearing graduation, my classmates developed the habit of washing their hair with rice water from the school kitchen. I recall the habitual oozing from their heads as they walked by en route to the shower.
When asked about it, they would say that the carbohydrates, proteins (amino acids), vitamins and minerals in rice water make their hair grow quickly.
When I left school and exposed myself to a lot more people, I realised my classmates were far from alone in this practice.
But does rice water really help the hair? And whoever thought of that?
It May Have Begun in East Asia
Women in China and Japan have traditionally used rice water to help their hair grow longer and prevent it from going grey. The practice can be dated back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185 AD) in Japan, but it was largely utilised by the wives of Chinese rice farmers.
Today, there is even a village in China called Huangluo, where the females grow their hair up to six feet long by washing their hair with leftover rice water.
Does Science Back This Up?
There is no concrete evidence of the benefits of rice water to human hair. However, anecdotal data suggests that it may increase hair strength and texture, and also help prevent tangles.
What Is the Best Way to Collect Rice Water?
There are three methods of collecting rice water:
Put your rice in a strainer and put it over a large bowl of water. Immerse the strainer containing the rice in the water, and take it out.
Repeat this process over and over again until you have a thick cloudy solution. You can then pour the rice water into a cup or container for use.
You can soak the rice in a bowl of water for 10mins – 1 hour. Strain the rice from the water and your rice water is ready to use.
You can strain the excess water from boiling rice and collect it for use.
How to Use Rice Water to Wash Your Hair
Plain rice water
Wash your hair with shampoo first, then soak it in the rice water. Pack your soaked hair into a shower cap and massage it to your scalp for 10-20 mins.
Rinse with cold water before repeating another rinse with a conditioner. After this process, your hair should have a curly rich look to it.
Fermented rice water
Fermented rice water is thought to be better for the hair. It has more antioxidants, which aid in the removal of dead and damaged cells from hair.
To use fermented rice water, cover the stored rice water and keep it for 24-48 hours to ferment. The fermented rice water will have a nasty odour to it.
You need to dilute it with water before using it as it is acidic. Soak your hair in the fermented rice water, cover it with a shower cap, and massage it to the scalp for 10-20 mins before washing it out with shampoo and conditioner.
NB: Always keep a towel around your neck to avoid leakage from your shower cap to the rest of your body
Valerie Ihenachor|Thephotonaut studios