What You Need to Know about The Yao Women Rice Water Recipe from China

You are here Home > Destinations > North Asia > What You Need to Know about The Yao Women Rice Water Recipe from China

The Yao women rice water recipe is a phenomenon that’s travelled from China to the US. But the story behind it is even more surprising. We took a visit to this tiny village in near the Longji rice terraces to find out what the story is all about.


I love sharing the best travel resources I can find. 

The Importance of a Woman’s Hair

In many a culture, the lusciousness of a woman’s locks says something about her status. Kate Middleton’s hairdresser arrived a good five hours before she ventured outside holding the third king in waiting of England. And the symbolic photo of US pop princess Britney Spears’ meltdown involved her hair, or lack of it. After hairdressing staff had refused to do the deed, she apparently grabbed the razor from their hands and shaved her head herself.

Despite the fact that women are expected to remove their hair elsewhere on an ongoing basis, for a woman to remove the hair on her head is deemed a clear sign of psychiatric illness.

In the small town of Huanglou, near Guilin, the role of women and their hair takes on a different but no less important role. For Yao women, the rituals surrounding their hair have transcended their original purpose (to symbolise their fertility and marital status) and instead become the principle way the town earns money in a 21st century economy.

Women preparing handmade textiles in Longji outside the Yao women rice water show
The Yao Long Hair Show is not a big tourist business in China

The Yao Long Hair Show

A girl’s hair is never cut until she comes of age (at around 18.) At that point, it’s lopped off in one go and kept somewhere safe. As she bears children, she changes her hairstyle and threads together the hair of her childhood with her current growing locks.

By the time she reaches the matriarchal stage of life, her hair reaches down to the floor, a shimmering, treacly threaded collection of gloss.

To be honest, while it’s a fascinating story, the show itself felt slightly awkward to me. Several of the women did not look all that thrilled to be going through the motions again.

And, well, I prefer to chat to people individually.

That said, it’s fascinating to learn more about this tradition. And why the Yao women rice water recipe is believed to help other women with their hair.

Let’s explore this further.

Yao women let down their long hair in Longji China
Yao women let down their long hair in Longji China
Yao women show their marital status with their hari
Different generations of women show their record-breaking hair in China
Yao women rice water hair recipe leads to long, luscious hair
It’s a complicated procedure to bind and unbind the hair
Yao stage where women show their long hair
Frequent performances show how the hair is taken down and fixed back up

The Yao Women Rice Water Phenomenon

Lately, a famous rice water recipe took over the internet, a natural product used by the women of Yao, that is said to give you floor-length hair and help you keep your natural hair colour for longer.

The best of it is that it implies the use of rice water made of only four cheap ingredients, so it will cost you a lot less than a professional shampoo and conditioner combination.

If I made you curious, keep reading to learn more about the benefits of rice water, its history, original recipe, and how to use it to your advantage.

Wide view of the villages in the Longji terrace region near Huangluo and the Yao women ricewater recipe origins
The walk through the Longji terraces to meet the Yao women

Who Are the Yao Women?

Until around 2002, hardly anyone knew where the Huangluo village was, as this small community in the autonomous region of Guangxi, China, was inaccessible to tourists.

However, once the Chinese government started promoting tourism in this area, this dreamy mountain village started telling its story.

Huangluo is also known as the “Long Hair Village” or the “World’s Longest Hair Village” due to the extremely long and healthy hair the women here display. One woman in particular, Xie Qiuping, became world famous for entering the Guinness Book of Records for her 5.62 metre-long locks.

A special potion

The red Yao women (nicknamed thanks to their traditional hand-woven red jackets) use a mixture of rice water and other natural ingredients to wash their hair and have done, well forever. This miraculous potion is not specific to this village. In fact, you’ll find it used heavily by women across China and into Japan during the Hein period (8th to 12th century.)

However, it is this village which still preserves the tradition.

Yao women hair traditions

As we mentioned upthread, hair is an important asset to the Yaos. The women cut it only once in their life at the age of 18, as it is believed that long hair brings prosperity, a long life, and good fortune.

In general, unmarried women don’t show their hair in public and single woman in Huangluo wear a black scarf. Married women wear their hair wrapped around their heads, while married women with children keep it in a bun at the front of their heads.

This helps establish their status but it also helps protect their hair from natural elements like wind or dust. And falling in their eyes, the soup, the kids game and so on.

What’s the Secret behind Yao Women’s Incredibly Long Hair?

Although “the secret” is no longer a secret, not everybody seems to get it right. This is because Asian Yao women do more than spread rice water on their hair. They have a routine they follow every day of their life, which includes the following:

  • They always wash their hair in cold river water that is free of pollutants and chlorine. The cold water helps close the cuticles and is one of the reasons for their shiny hair.
  • They flip their heads upside down while washing their hair. This practice is not only more practical, but it also promotes blood flow to the scalp, which in turn provides more nutrients to the growing hair follicles.
  • The Yao women always use a wooden comb to spread the rice water across their hair, thus ensuring that no strand is left uncovered.
  • Last but not least, keeping their hair up in a protective style plays an important role in reducing surface friction, which contributes to their hair looking healthier and stronger.

The Beauty Benefits of the Yao Women Rice Water

Now. Who knows how much of this is true? After all, where are the double-blind randomised control trials? So, no. None of this has been extensively tested. But neither have most harmless beauty treatments. So, go test yourself and see!

However, the rice water that Yao woman prepare is rich in antioxidants and contains B vitamins, along with a combination of C and E vitamins that nourish the scalp and stimulate hair follicles, helping the hair grow faster.

The Yao rice water is said to:

  • Reduce hair loss: it restores the pH balance at the scalp level, preventing skin problems that can lead to hair loss.
  • Prevents the appearance of grey hair: promoters of the Yao water claim that the nutrients in the water keep the hair younger for longer and help preserve its natural colour.
  • Increases hair elasticity: the high protein content of the rice water repairs dry hair leading to a noticeable difference in shine and looks. Since the hair strands are more elastic, they are less prone to break, so the hair is easier to detangle.
  • Smooths out split ends: Proponents of using rice water for hair claim that this hair care method works for all hair types to reduce frizz and split ends leading to beautiful hair if the treatment is applied continuously.

Should you use Yao Rice Water or Fermented Rice Water?

Traditionally, Yao rice water is fermented for two weeks to increase its antioxidant potential. The more antioxidants it has, the more efficient it is in combating hair and scalp cell damage.

However, fermented rice water is also richer in protein and using it too often can lead to protein overload, causing the opposite effect. It’s best to use it once every two weeks to make sure that your hair doesn’t turn dry and brittle.

The Original Yao Women Rice Water Recipe

Although you can find many alternatives online, it’s generally best to stick to the original recipe. This is the only one that has been tested for centuries, and although there’s still not enough scientific evidence to prove its qualities, at least there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from the Yao women who still use it every day.


The original recipe contains only four simple elements: white rice, pomelo peels, tea bran, and water.

White Rice

The most important elements found in plain rice water are antioxidants, along with vitamins B and vitamin E.

Antioxidants boost collagen in hair cells, thus reducing breakage and delaying ageing, while vitamin B is known to promote the production of red cells, leading to better support for hair follicles and hair growth.

The vitamin E found in rice helps preserve the protective lipid layer at the surface of the scalp, reducing the risk of irritations and giving your hair a strong base to grow.

Alternatives: Yao women use organic white rice for their recipe. Brown rice, wild rice, or black rice can be used, but only for the fermented water recipe.

Pomelo Peels

The pomelo peels are added to the rice water for their high vitamin C content. This helps revitalise the scalp and, combined with the amino acids and spermidine found in this citrus fruit, fights ageing and the premature greying of hair.

One of the major factors leading to damaged hair is the presence of free radicals. The high content of flavonoids in pomelo reduces their damage to the hair, slowing down ageing.

Pomelo is also rich in natural oils that have an anti-bacterial effect and they can help fight dandruff and other scalp conditions that can lead to hair loss.

Alternatives: Grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime, or other citrus peels would work just as well. However, if you are looking for something as close to pomelo as possible, that would be grapefruit.

Tea Seed Cake

Yao people are big fans of Longjing tea, a variety of green tea, so they always have a lot of tea bran at their disposal. These tea seeds are rich in amino acids and antioxidants that have a relieving effect on an itchy scalp and can help reduce hair loss.

Alternatives: If you cannot find tea seed cake, you can replace it with tea seed powder or essential oils (tea tree or rosemary are the most commonly used).


Yes, Yao women wash their hair in clean river water, but this is something that many of us don’t have access to. In which case, use bottled or filtered water to make sure your hair doesn’t get a chlorine treatment instead of enjoying the benefits of the rice water.

But avoid using distilled water or water that was filtered by a reverse-osmosis system, as these filtering methods remove minerals, and your hair could really benefit from the iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium naturally found in the water. Apparently.

Optional Ingredients

Now, the original Yao women rice water recipe ends here. But as it has spread around the world, it has picked up an ingredient or too. Such as…


So, ginger is said to contain gingerol, an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals. It combines with fatty acids to fight dandruff and other scalp problems. Moreover, ginger is also already known to have anti-fungi and anti-bacterial properties and is a natural healer for irritated scalp skin according to many.

Fleece Flower Root

In Chinese medicine, this medicinal plant is used in rejuvenating and anti-ageing lotions, so you can see why some add it into the Yao women rice water recipe. It’s supposed to keep hair younger for longer and ward off the emergence of grey hairs.

How to Make Yao Rice Water

Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients together, it’s time to make your own Yao women rice water recipe. Here are the steps:

  1. Combine 1 cup of organic white rice (basmati or sticky rice types work best for this recipe) with three cups of water and use your hands to thoroughly wash the rice. Strain the rice and discard this water.
  2. Add 3 cups of fresh water over the washed rice and let the mixture sit for half an hour.
  3. When the 30 minutes are over, rub the rice in your hand until the water starts looking milky. Drain the starchy water.
  4. Wash the pomelo or other citrus fruits you are using thoroughly to remove dust from their surface. For best results, choose organic fruits.
  5. Peel the fruits and add the peels to the rice water. The peels from half a pomelo are enough for these quantities.
  6. Next, add the tea bran into the water – about 2-3 tablespoons.
  7. Warm up the mixture and let it boil for 5 minutes.
  8. Now let it cool off.
  9. You can now use it directly or transfer it into a jar and let it go through the fermentation process. If you choose the second option, ideally you should store it for two weeks at room temperature, opening the jar occasionally to let the air enter, as it is needed for fermentation.

How to Use Rice Water

Right, OK. So, we can’t all be washing our hair daily in river water. So that part of the Yao women rice water recipe is just not going to work.

But we can follow these steps to get the next best thing:

  1. Pour the rice water into a spray bottle or a jar you can handle with ease.
  2. Spray the mixture on your hair or pour it from the jar. Use a wooden comb to spread it from the roots to the tips of your hair.
  3. Let it sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Massage the mixture into your scalp. Keep going for two minutes.
  5. As always, rinse with cold water for best results.
  6. Save the leftover water for later washes across the week. If it is not fermented, make sure to store it inside the fridge.

Do Yao Women Use Shampoo?

This is a valid question, but as expected, the answer is no. Rice water rinse is the only treatment Yao women use for their hair, and it contains all the necessary ingredients to keep their locks looking shiny and healthy. However, if you naturally have oily hair, you can first shampoo yours and then only afterwards apply the rice water.

More about China

7 thoughts on “What You Need to Know about The Yao Women Rice Water Recipe from China”

Comments are closed.