Ever since it was discovered years ago that workers in Japan who washed rice gathered from paddies had soft, smooth, young-looking hands, the grain has been used as a skin beautifier. "Women would splash the water used to rinse rice on their faces, believing it would brighten their skin," says Lieve Declercq, Ph.D., Vice President Basic Science Research Europe & Asia at Estee Lauder. The practice was so common that the women were called nuka bijin, which translates to "rice bran beauty."
This use of the grain led researchers to explore exactly how rice helps skin. "Rice is a relatively simple plant, but it has many components that benefit the skin," says Stephen Mandy, M.D., a dermatologist in Miami Beach. From the hull to the off, different parts of the plant can exfoliate, soothe, protect, or hydrate. Follow our guide below to find the right part of the rice plant for your specific skincare needs.
Two parts of the rice plant can be used to exfoliate. "The extract contains an alphahydroxy-like ingredient that exfoliares in the same way glycolic acid does," explains Leslie Baumann, M.D., a dermatologist in Miami Beach and author of The Skin Type Solution. Called phytic acid, it provides a gentle chemical exfoliation. Rice bran can also exfoliate when ground and used to scrub off the top layer of skin.
"Rice is rich in a complex of B vitamins called inositol that helps promote cell growth and stimulate blood flow," says Diana Howard, Ph.D., vice president of Global Education and Research and Development for The International Dermal Institute (IDI) and Dermalogica in Carson, Calif. Rice starch is added to makeup because it absorbs oil, while hull powder is pulverized and used to reduce the appearance of pores by reflecting light, making skin appear smoother.