What Is Rice Water and What Is It Good For?

This simple homemade concoction works wonders on skin and hair.

Glass jar of rice water with a wooden spoon and rice grains scattered on the table

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Women search the world over for beauty secrets from other cultures, and rice water may just be one of them. This ancient Asian secret, the starch-filled water remaining in a pot of boiled rice, has been used for centuries by women as a hair and skin treatment and even taken internally for health benefits.

How Do You Make Rice Water?

A pot of white rice boiling on a stovetop.

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I don't know about your cooking but the last time I made rice, all the water was absorbed, and I was left with my perfectly cooked rice. So obviously you have to go about making rice water differently, using way more liquid than rice requires. Put two or three tablespoons of whatever rice you have on hand—simple white, sushi, jasmine, basmati, arborio, brown, etc.—into a small saucepan and add two cups of water. Some people prefer organic rice, as they feel better about the agricultural practices that grew the rice. You can try purified, distilled, or spring water or prepare it with regular filtered tap water.

Don't add butter or salt. It's the starch from the rice we're after, not added ingredients. Boil for 20-30 minutes until the water becomes a milky white liquid. Some people don't even bother with the boiling and instead simply soak the rice for 30 minutes. However, some proponents insist that boiling draws out more of the starches from the rice into the water.

Regardless of your method, strain the rice after the allotted time, reserving the water. You may be able to use the rice in recipes like soups, salads, or for sushi, otherwise discard. If you do choose to eat it, you'll need to add flavorings, as it will taste bland. Cool the rice water and store in a glass jar with a lid. Keep in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Note: Some people dislike the slightly sour smell that rice water gives off. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to mask this, but know that the smell does not linger on your skin or in your hair after the water has been used. It dissipates as it dries.

So you have rice water now. What can you do with it?

Beautify Your Skin

Rice water and cotton pads for a natural skincare routine.

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For the skin, rice water is said to be an inexpensive and effective beauty balm for cleansing, toning, and lightening hyperpigmentation, sun, and age spots. Many say you can see and feel results after a single use. Helping with smoothing texture and hyperpigmentation and creating a porcelain finish, rice water illuminates, firms, and tightens skin to appear refreshed. It reduces pore size, leaving a powdery, soft feeling behind.

Over time, if you use rice water regularly, hyperpigmentation or brown spots are said to diminish, and the water works as well as any expensive skin lightening serum or cream at a fraction of the cost. We like the fact that it's DIY and zero waste, as well—no plastic containers with leftover cream in the bottom that can't be recycled.

Soak a reusable cotton pad, cotton ball, or the corner of a wash cloth thoroughly in rice water and apply all over your face in the morning and evening. Let your face dry naturally. Going to bed with freshly applied rice water is said to increase benefits. You can also add rice water to the bathtub or to a foot soak.

Rice water is also good for acne since it reduces redness and blemishes, and the starch in the water is said to soothe the inflammation of eczema. One study found that 15-minute baths twice daily in rice starch water can speed up the skin's ability to heal itself when it has been damaged by exposure to sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS).

Rice contains natural antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin A, and phenolic and flavonoid compounds, which may minimize free radical damage from age, sun exposure, and the environment. (Free radicals are volatile molecules that harm cells in the body.)

Tame and Condition Your Hair

Woman pulling back her conditioned hair

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As a hair treatment, rice water is said to deeply condition and soften hair, making it fuller, thicker, and healthier-looking. Yao women from the village of Huangluo in China believe that fermented rice water keeps their hair shiny, healthy, long, and manageable. Rice water is said to help detangle and improve hair elasticity.

The International Journal of Cosmetic Science did study Japanese rice water's (called Yu-Su-Ru) effect on hair and found it had significant benefits for improving elasticity and reducing surface friction.

After shampooing and conditioning as usual, rinse hair thoroughly with a generous helping of cooled rice water as the final finish. Try massaging the water into your scalp, as it will absorb the same vitamins and nutrients that make it so good for your skin. Use a rice water finish rinse once or twice a week for best results, always on clean hair.

Improve Your Overall Health

Rice soaking in water and spilling out of a sack sitting on burlap.

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Because the water retained after soaking or boiling rice is as nutritious as rice itself, and many cultures especially in Asia swear by health and longevity benefits from a diet heavy in rice, drinking rice water may provide some health benefits.

Though not much hard research exists, rice water is said to provide energy, help with stomach issues like bloating and constipation and diarrhea, help protect from the sun and regulate body temperature. One study from the Lancet found rice water helped prevent dehydration and was as effective as an electrolyte solution. Other studies have backed the fact that rice water is an effective treatment against diarrhea.

It seems, however, that the biggest boon for rice water lies in its skin and hair benefits. It's a simple, inexpensive beauty treatment that may offer improved skin and hair. Try it for a week and see if you love what it does for your complexion. Now, I’m off to make some rice water.

View Article Sources
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  3. Yaeger, L. Once in a Lifetime. Vogue. Published February 4, 2019.

  4. Medical News Today. What does rice water do for your hair?. Updated November 21, 2018.

  5. Inamasu S, Ikuyama R, Fujisaki Y, Sugimoto K-I. Abstracts: The effect of rinse water obtained from the washing of rice (YU-SU-RU) as a hair treatment: Symposium abstractsInternational Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2010;32(5):392-393. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2010.00605_3.x

  6. Doctor NDTV. Does Rice Water Have Any Health Benefits?. Published May 17, 2018.

  7. Mehta MN, Subramaniam S. Comparison of rice water, rice electrolyte solution, and glucose electrolyte solution in the management of infantile diarrhoeaLancet. 1986;1(8485):843-845. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(86)90948-7