6 Side Effects of Rice Water on Hair and How to Avoid Them

July 25, 2022 6 min read

effects of rice water on hair

By Toia Barry

Let’s keep it real. Even though the rice water hair treatment is hot right now, that doesn’t mean that it can’t come without some side effects if you’re not careful.  Does that mean rice water is bad for your hair? No, not necessarily. 

In fact, there are many reported rice water benefits. Those who love it say it helps with things like hydration, frizz, and reducing split ends. Not to mention encouraging natural hair length and possibly providing some anti-aging protection.

So this again raises the question, is rice water good for your hair or not? The truth is that virtually any hair product you use can have some kind of negative effect on your hair. This is why it’s important to choose quality natural hair products and make sure they are designed for the need of your specific curly hair type. 

To help out our fellow naturalistas, we’ve outlined the top 6 potential side effects of using rice water on your hair so that you can stay fully informed and experiment safely. 

Rice Water Side Effect 1: Potential Protein Overload

Rice water contains a reasonable amount of protein. For most people, this won’t be a problem. However, if you happen to have low porosity hair, it could eventually become a problem. This happens because, in low porosity hair, they will attach to your hair instead of absorbing the proteins.

Alternatively, if you have high hair porosity, your hair will simply absorb the protein, which in turn will make it stronger and healthier. If you do have that little problem, though, 

This attachment of proteins to your hair can then prevent other hair treatments that you use from penetrating the follicles. This renders those hair products virtually useless. Additionally, the proteins become harder over time, which can lead to brittle and dry hair.

Does this mean you can’t use rice water hair products? No, it means you just have to be mindful. That means if you have low porosity hair, the key to success is moderation when working with this protein treatment. 

For instance, instead of using rice water as a conditioner every day, try cutting it down to one or two times per week and see how your hair responds. Using any type of hair treatment requires some experimentation to get it right and find what works best for your curly hair type. 

Rice Water Side Effect 2: You Could Make Dry Scalp Worse

It’s true that for many people that use rice water to treat their scalps, the results are encouraging. However, some people mistakenly think they should apply it more often when it comes to more extreme cases and/or leave it on for longer. Some even go so far as not rinsing it at all or leaving it on overnight.

The reality is that all of the rice water benefits your hair can absorb will be absorbed within the first half-hour. After that, you simply open yourself up to unwanted chemical reactions with your hair roots and scalp, which may not end well.

Keep in mind that a dry, flaky scalp typically stems from an overproduction of yeast in the system. Leaving that in contact with all of the starch and sugars contained in rice for too long is bound to make things worse.

So, if you have a bad dry scalp problem or experience dandruff, you should probably limit yourself to a maximum of two applications per week and see how your hair and scalp respond. If it seems to be going well, you could try using it more often.

Rice Water Side Effect 3: Rice Water Smells Interesting

Many people swear by the use of fermented rice water, and there are multiple pro beauty products that contain fermented rice water. While there may be some added benefit to the fermentation process, fermented rice water also comes with the treat of a distinctly pungent scent. 

This can be problematic for some, especially if you are one of those people who likes to leave it on your hair for long periods of time. Additionally, your hair can become stiff and hard after using fermented rice water, which probably isn’t the texture you were going for!

You can try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your homemade rice water mixture to help mask the smell, but your mileage will vary as to how successful that will be. Remember that chemistry is all about ratios. If you add too little, it won’t have any effect, and you (and anyone close to you) will still experience the pungent smell. If you add too much, you could end up with an overbearing scent that isn’t any more pleasant than what you started with. 

There is also the possibility of adding too much essential oil, and then the oil prevents other nutrients from being absorbed into your hair follicles. Remember that the nutrients you want your hair to absorb are all transported and absorbed in water. If the oil starts attaching to your hair, it makes that absorption difficult.

If the odor of fermented rice water is a problem, you can avoid allowing your rice water treatment to ferment by keeping it cold and using it right away. Or, consider using a trusted product with rice water for hair, such as one from Mielle’s collection!

Rice Water Side Effect 4: It Requires Consistent Use

While some products produce instant results, using rice water on your hair usually takes a month or more before you see any worthwhile results. You have to use it consistently to reap the most rewards.

This could make it a difficult hair treatment if you’re one of those naturally impatient types. It could also be difficult for those of you who find it hard to stick to a regular hair care routine. Moral of the story? If you don’t have the patience to wait for results or you aren’t committed to using it faithfully from week to week, a rice water treatment may not be the best bet for you.

Rice Water Side Effect 5: Efficacy is Anecdotal

Besides the 2002 Belgian university study done on rice water’s effects on atopic dermatitis, the last substantial scientific research appears to have been done more than a thousand years ago in Japan. 

Obviously, back then, research was probably not the well-oiled machine it has become in the last few decades. While that doesn’t mean that using rice water for hair retention doesn’t work, it does mean that there are many variables that still need more research.

For instance:

  • What are the effects of using rice water on different types of hair? 
  • What are the effects of using it with different skin types? 
  • What are the effects of using it on people with different scalp conditions?

The bottom line is that, even though there is enough anecdotal evidence that rice water is beneficial, you will probably still have to do some experimenting of your own to see how you can best use this trending product to your advantage.

Rice Water Side Effect 6: Rice Water Can Contain Arsenic

Wait, though, before you freak out, there are those that are fine with that and those that are not. The truth is that not all rice is equally bad. 

Rice that’s bred in the US is often bred in former cotton fields. Those cotton fields were—back in the day—sprayed with insecticides that contained arsenic. The residue of those insecticides is absorbed into the water which feeds the rice. For some reason, brown rice seems to absorb more of it than white rice, probably about twice as much.

However, these trace amounts are clearly not large enough for the government to take them off the shelf, so you’ll have to use your own best judgment for that. If you feel you would prefer to minimize your exposure, you can use Basmati rice instead. It’s imported from countries like India and Pakistan, and they don’t have the arsenic problem. To avoid this altogether, use a natural rice water hair product by a trusted brand, such as Mielle. Our organic rice water products are made for natural hair in order to prevent these unwanted side effects.

While there can be side effects of rice water on hair, they are fairly benign side effects and won’t be a problem for everyone. You can avoid some side effects by simply being careful and fully understanding exactly how to use rice water for hair. Additionally, start using a trusted and natural rice water hair product from our collection for the healthy hair you're searching for. Ultimately, you know your hair best, so proceed with eyes wide open, but don’t be afraid to give rice water a shot. You might just discover your new fave hair treatment! 


  1. "Can rice water damage your hair and other risks". Terrific Tresses. https://www.terrifictresses.com/qa/can-rice-water-damage-your-hair/
  2. "How to Use Rice Water on Natural Hair for Hair: Side Effects, Before and After Results, and More". Curl Centric. https://www.curlcentric.com/rice-water-for-hair/
  3. Side Effects of Rice Water on Hair (that they don’t want you to know). Botox capilar.  https://botoxcapilar.org/en/side-effects-of-rice-water-on-hair/
  4. Rice Water for Hair: The Benefits, Side Effects, and How to DIY It. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a32952121/rice-water-for-hair-benefits/
  5. Rice Water for Hair: Benefits and Side Effects in 2020. Ellis James Designs. https://www.ellisjamesdesigns.com/side-effects-of-rice-water-on-hair/

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