Rice is one of the first plants cultivated in human history, and certainly among the most important. In addition to being a food crop, rice also provides a range of benefits in skin care. Each of the main parts of the rice grain includes important compounds which can be used to help moisturize, strengthen, repair and protect skin. Rice, an important plant in so many ways, can help create soft, glowing, youthful looking skin.
Even though there are thousands of different types of rice grown in the world, the original ancestors of all that diversity are actually only two cultivated species: Oryza sativa, Asian rice, and Oryza glaberrima, African rice. (What is commonly called “wild rice” or “Canadian rice” is from an entirely different genus, Zizania, and is not generally used in skin care products.) Oryza sativa first began to be cultivated approximately 14,000 years ago in the Yangtze River valley in China. Its cultivation began to spread throughout east and southeast Asia, into India, the Middle East and eventually reaching southern Europe approximately 1,000 years ago. Oryza glaberrima began to be cultivated in the Niger River delta about 3,500 years ago. Rice is now grown in every country in the world which has suitable climate, but the great majority of crop production comes from Asia.
Rice is a water-loving type of grass which produces small seeds on the upper portion of the stalk. These seeds have three layers, each of which has its unique composition and value in skin care products. The outer husk is called the chaff, which protects the inner seed but has no nutritional value. For that reason, the hull is removed and has traditionally been considered to be waste or used for fuel. In recent years, however, rice husk ash (RHA) has begun to be used in some skin care products and shampoos to help absorb excess oils. RHA can also be used in exfoliation products to gently remove old, dead skin cells and allow new, healthy cells to come to the surface.
Underneath the hull is the rice grain itself, composed of two layers. The surface of the grain is covered by bran cells. When bran is left on the grain, the rice is usually referred to as “brown rice,” and has a very high level of oils and nutrients. Unfortunately, those very advantages also make long-term storage of brown rice more difficult. As a result, the bran layer is usually removed through polishing to produce white rice. When bran is removed, it is saved and used separately or pressed into rice bran oil. In either bran or oil form, they make very valuable ingredients in skin care and hair care products. Both the types and specific balances of the fatty acids in rice bran provide an efficient and beneficial means of moisturizing skin tissues. Because rice bran oil is light, it is considered particularly beneficial for very delicate, very young, mature and very dry skin. It also contains a form of vitamin E called tocotrienols, which studies indicate provide powerful antioxidant benefits.
Finally, there is the white rice grain itself. When ground finely into a powder, rice starch has been used traditionally in many Asian countries as a cosmetic to lighten and brighten skin tone. It also works efficiently as an absorbent, to help gently balance oil levels. Unlike talcum powder, which is a mineral, rice starch is a biological product and, if left on the skin, can create an environment which can support bacterial growth. Most skin care products containing rice starch are therefore not “stay-on” products.
There is one more use of rice for skin care. The most famous recreational use for the grain in the West – aside from something to throw at weddings – is sake. As it turns out, sake is actually great for your skin. (Sake is the Japanese word for rice wine, but every rice-growing culture has developed its own type of rice wine.) The fermentation process of making rice wine yields some very useful ingredients called low molecular peptides, which help to moisturize the skin, sooth irritation and create a smoother, more youthful looking skin. When rice wine is used in skin care products, it is usually listed in the ingredients as “rice ferment filstrate.”