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Why Rice Water, an Age-Old Skin Care Ingredient, Is Having a Moment

Rice water has long been a staple in Asian beauty regimens, but you might be discovering it for the first time – the age-old ingredient is currently a top skin care trend in the U.S. Here, we detail its skin benefits and share our favorite rice water-infused products.

We all know rice has been a staple in the diets of East Asian cultures for centuries. However, for almost as long, rice water and bran have also served a role in cosmetic hair and skin treatments. With more and more Western interest in the ingredient and K-beauty brands releasing products that harness its powers, we’re breaking down exactly what it is, what it does, and why it works. Read below to discover the history and benefits of this superstar skin and hair care ingredient.

The historic benefits of rice water:

Although it feels like it’s just been recently that rice water has been popularized in mainstream skin care products, East Asian women have been reaping its cosmetic benefits for centuries. Most notably are the Japanese court ladies during the Heian Period (794-1185). These women were famed for hair that was so long and healthy it reached to the floor. Historians have discovered that the court ladies used rice water extract, or Yu-Su-Ru, to comb their hair each day.

For centuries following, women in Japan, China, and Korea have been harnessing the power of rice water for hair and skin. For example, the Yao women of Huangluo Village in China still cleanse their hair with fermented rice water. The women boast and average hair length of about 6 feet and don’t develop grey hairs until they’re in their late 80s. A scientific study in 2010 on this hair care practice revealed that washing hair with rice water decreased surface friction and increased elasticity, resulting in hair that stayed stronger and healthier for longer.

The ingredients in rice water:

Aside from hair care, rice water, particularly fermented rice water, also boasts numerous benefits for the skin. Left to ferment, rice water becomes a veritable anti-aging elixir. It’s rich in minerals, antioxidants, B and E vitamins, and traces of pitera. These minerals and antioxidants help to purify and smooth the skin, working to minimize fine lines and decrease the appearance of pores. Pitera is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process that’s one of the main benefits touted by the SK-II treatment line.

Naturally fermented rice water contains a similar form of pitera that offers many of the same benefits. It helps to boost cell regeneration, keeping the skin bright and supple. Sourced correctly, rice waters and bran oils also contain linoleic acids, which are fatty acids that offer anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties which help to keep skin soft and supple. Rice bran can also be refined and used as a gentle exfoliator. Not only does this sweep away dead skin cells, but the rich vitamins and minerals in the rice bran help to leave the skin brighter, softer, and more supple than many other exfoliating ingredients.

How to make rice water:

In these ancient traditions, all of the rice water was made at home, and similar practices can be used today. Rice water is one of those star ingredients that can be easily turned into a DIY. Use a high quality organic rice to ensure you’re avoiding pesticides and fertilizers as much as possible, and you’re good to go.

All you have to do is cook rice as you normally would, and simply adjust the rice to water ratio so that there will be enough water leftover to use as a cleanser. Once you’ve finished cooking, drain the water into a pot or bowl, and let it sit for one day at room temperature to ferment. When it starts to turn slightly sour (that means it’s fermented), boil the water to stop the fermentation process, and let it cool. Once your water is ready, you can simply rinse your face and/or hair with the water on its own, or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, like tea tree, for added benefits.

Products with rice water:

As with most things, it can be better to purchase rice products that are specifically formulated for skin and hair to ensure you’re getting maximum benefits. While DIY rice water certainly captures a lot of the beneficial vitamins and nutrients in rice, many skin care companies have refined and specialized practices for ensuring you get the most out of your rice products.

Fermented rice water (sake) is a star ingredient in the Then I Met You Soothing Tea Cleansing Gel. It’s included in the formula for its nourishing enzymes and amino acids and for its brightening effects. 

Another cleanser you can find it in is the Beauty of Joseon Radiance Cleansing Balm, also for its brightening abilities and because it helps skin retain moisture.

Another great option is the Neogen Cereal Real Fresh Foaming Cleanser. This cleanser actually has fermented rice kernels in the bottle, ensuring you get the purest fermented rice benefits possible.

Skinfood has a range of rice products, including the Rice Mask Wash Off. The brand uses rice extracts from Odae Rice, which is sourced from the Cheorwon region in South Korea. This rice is incredibly expensive and high quality, as the Cheorwon region is located inside the Demilitarized Zone, which has much cleaner air and water, improving the quality of the crops.

Bottom Line

It’s clear that rice has a place not only on your dinner table, but also in your beauty regimen. Time tested over centuries, and carefully refined in modern skincare, rice can help tackle many pressing skin and hair concerns. So, whether you make a DIY hair rinse or let your skin soak up the benefits of a rice mask, your skin and hair will love the benefits of this star ingredient.

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