Take a scroll through beauty YouTube, and you’ll find tons of rice flour mask tutorials. Fans of the ingredient say it exfoliates and brightens the skin and even protects against ultraviolet (UV) rays.
“Rice flour is not commonly asked about here in the United States, but it is a popular ingredient in cosmetic products throughout East Asia including China, South Korea, and Japan,” says Dr. Suzanne Friedler, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York City and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
While several components of rice are extracted and used in skin care products, it’s unclear whether rice flour on its own does much for your skin. Here’s what you need to know about this much hyped but little studied ingredient.
What is rice flour?
Rice flour is made by grinding down rice grains into a powder. Not all rice flours are made the same way, which can impact their potential health benefits.
Rice is a whole grain similar to wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and corn. All whole grains are made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
The bran is the hard outer layer of the rice grain. Because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s considered the healthiest part of the grain. Bran also contains bioactive components, such as ferulic acid and phytic acid, that are extracted and added to some skin care products.
Like all types of flours, rice flour is made by separating out the three parts of the grain and grinding them down in various proportions. The resulting flour may have more or less of the bran and germ.
Whole grain flour contains all three parts of the kernel. In “100 percent whole grain” flours, you’ll get all of the grain. In simple “whole” flours, most of the germ and some of the bran is missing. White flour usually contains just the endosperm.
Many rice flours that you buy from the grocery store are made from white rice, unless the label notes it’s made from brown rice. The bran and germ are removed from white rice, so all that remains is the starchy endosperm.
How rice flour (supposedly) helps skin
YouTube is overflowing with DIY “skin lightening” face masks where the main ingredient is rice flour. The ingredient is also sometimes claimed to be an exfoliant and even a sunblock.
“It’s hypothesized that the primary ingredients found in rice flour act as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents that function to prevent skin aging, reduce UV damage, promote skin lightening, and improve skin and hair regrowth. Brown rice protein has been touted as a natural exfoliant,” says Friedler.
Several skin care and hair care products also use rice starch to absorb excess oil.
Here’s a quick look at the research on each of these uses.
Some beauty influencers claim that rice flour can help with sun protection due to a couple of compounds it contains: ferulic acid and PABA. Experts say it’s not known whether these compound are concentrated enough in rice flour to have the same benefits of an extract.
Rice flour contains para-aminobenzoic acid (aka PABA or vitamin B10), which stimulates cell regrowth, says Friedler.
PABA also has been shown to protect against UV rays and was once used in sunscreen. Because it causes allergic reactions, it’s no longer generally recognized as a safe sunscreen ingredient by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source.
Ferulic acid is an organic compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It’s extracted from rice bran as well as many other plants, including oats, eggplant, citrus, sweet corn, rye, and beets.
Ferulic acid may also help protect skin from damaging UV rays, especially in combination with vitamins C and E.
“It’s often found in skin care serums. There have been several studies published in conventional dermatology journals that support its use as an antioxidant and photoprotective compound,” says Friedler.
Plants make vitamins C and E to protect themselves from the sun. In people, getting vitamins C and E from food (or supplements) protects against photodamage (or damage to the skin from the sun’s UV rays), especially when these vitamins are applied to skin.
But vitamins C and E aren’t very shelf-stable. Some research suggests that ferulic acid greatly improves the stability of both vitamin C and E in skin care solutions.
Ferulic acid itself is actually a strong UV protectant that’s easily absorbed by the skin. In skin care products, it may also increase the sun protection of vitamins C and E.
Acne and hyperpigmentation treatment
Some rice flour fans say it can help improve acne and lighten skin. That’s likely due to another compound extracted from rice — phytic acid — that has exfoliating effects. It’s uncertain how much of this compound is in rice flour itself and what effect it has on skin.
Phytic acid is an antioxidant alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It can be extracted from many plants, including beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. It’s then added to skin care products.
Phytic acid has been found to be as effective but gentler on skin than other AHAs like glycolic acid. A small 2019 studyTrusted Source found that phytic acid is as effective at treating acne and hyperpigmentation (dark spots) as glycolic acid and salicylic acid.
Because phytic acid helps skin shed dead cells, it can help minimize the signs of aging, says Dr. Bruce Robinson, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical professor of dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital. It’s used in chemical peels to reduce the appearance of dark spots (melasma) and scarring.
“Phytanic acid seems to be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate acne and post-acne inflammation,” adds Friedler.
Another organic compound in rice: allantoin, which has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, says Friedler. Some research in animals and in vitro (in lab studies) suggests it may support the wound-healing process.
Rice flour’s main benefit may be its ability to absorb excess oil in skin and hair. Rice starch is rice flour with all of the protein and fat removed, so all that’s left is the carbohydrate. Rice starch binds to water and stabilizes fat. Rice flours are mostly made up of starch.
Rice starch is found in many commercial skin care and hair care products. It’s used to absorb oil, control shine, and minimize pore appearance. try OUAI Superdry Shampoo, Skin Regimen Enzymatic Powder or REN Clean Skincare Mattifying Face Sunscreen SPF 30.
Rice starch “could possibly help absorb oil if in the proper preparation,” says Robinson.
Why rice flour might not work
Extracts are made by soaking a plant (in this case, rice) in a liquid for many hours. The resulting extract has a higher concentration of bioactive components, like ferulic acid or phytic acid.
Depending on how it’s done, you can end up with varying levels of these ingredients in the final product. But extracts are generally a lot stronger than the amount of the ingredient in the plant itself.
“How much active ingredient is absorbed by the skin is a big unknown,” says Friedler.
Dr. Robinson says it’s unknown whether you’ll get enough ferulic acid or phytic acid from simply applying a homemade rice flour or rice bran paste to the skin.
“There is limited clinical data related to rice flour, therefore I do not routinely recommend it for my patients,” says Friedler.
How to use it effectively
If you want to use rice flour at home, try an exfoliating DIY mask. Pair it with another gentle ingredient, like rose water or olive oil, that has been better proven to benefit skin
DIY rice flour mask
YouTube tutorials for DIY rice flour masks include several ingredients purported to brighten and soften skin. “Popular mask recipes on the internet combine rice flour with oats, avocado, honey, milk, castor oil, and egg white,” says Friedler.
“There is no clinical data to support these recipes. However, there is no harm in trying these homemade masks, as long as the skin is healthy and not allergic to any of the ingredients.”
Robinson agrees that rice flour isn’t likely to irritate skin, as long as you use it for brief periods of time. Stop using it if you experience any redness, itching, or signs of infection.
If you want to try your own rice flour mask at home, here’s a simple DIY recipe to try:
- Mix 3 tablespoons (tbsp) milk powder with 5 tbsp brown rice flour.
- Blend in 1 tbsp olive oil (leave out if your skin is very oily).
- Stir in rose water gradually until you have a thick paste.
- Apply to face, then allow to air dry for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Apply a bit of water to loosen up the mask, then gently rub to exfoliate skin.
Another option? Add brown rice flour to your bath or soak it in water and use it to wash your body, suggests Friedler.
The bottom line
Rice flour is a common ingredient added to DIY home face masks with a supposed ability to exfoliate and brighten skin and to protect from UV damage. For now, no research proves any of these benefits.
Some of the bioactive components of rice, including ferulic acid, PABA, and phytic acid extracts, are used in skin care products to lighten dark spots, exfoliate skin, and protect against UV rays. But these ingredients are more concentrated in extracts than in rice flour itself.
Rice starch is also used in cosmetic products to absorb oil and reduce shine. If you want to make a DIY at-home rice flour mask, you’ll likely get the best results by combining it with ingredients that have been shown to benefit skin, like olive oil. Rub it into your skin for an exfoliating effect.