Inside Out: Rice

A look at why rice—a staple food for more thanhalf the world—is equally as popular as a beautyingredient.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 05/07/2010

Rice has sustained cultures in Asia, Africa, India and the Americas and is a staple food for more than half the earth’s population.

This story first appeared in the May 7, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


The first documented evidence of rice’s existence is from about 2800 B.C. as a decree authorizing rice planting by a Chinese emperor. From there, rice plants traveled the world. According to Judith Carney, author of Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, West Africans first domesticated rice some 3,500 years ago and the grain arrived on American shores only around 1680. (Carney adds that First Lady Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather was an enslaved rice grower until the Civil War.)


Throughout many parts of Asia, rice hulls were used as construction material and for rope and papermaking. Rice bran oil, rich in vitamin E, squalene and micronutrients, has a nutty taste, and is often used for cooking, heralded for its cholesterol-reducing abilities. Rice is also used to make various beers, wines, sake and a Japanese desert called mochi.


Because rice flour is starch free, it is particularly popular for infant formulas and cosmetics. Around 1900, rice powder replaced the alabaster-hued, lead-based makeup used by geishas. Since then, it’s become a beauty staple. Rice bran also serves as a good moisturizer and exfoliant, because it improves blood circulation, promotes cell turnover and reduces dark circles with its antioxidant properties.


A number of new spring offerings look to harness its multiple benefits. Yves Rocher’s Lash Plumping Mascara contains rice wax extracted from the bran, while Almay’s Smart Shade Antiaging Concealer SPF 20 delivers rice protein for skin firming. Rice protein also stars in Redken’s Coverfusion Low Ammonia 100 Percent Coverage Color Cream hair color, providing conditioning benefits. Rice bran is used in both Elemental Herbology’s Reparative Serum for the Eyes and Rilastil’s Multirepair Serum. Amala’s Purify Blue Lotus Purifying Gel Moisturizer contains organic rice germ for hydration, while Kenzo Parfums attempts to capture the relaxing scent of rice steam in its Perfumed Skin Care Water in Sensual Rice.


All rice starts as brown rice, housed in indigestible hulls made of silica. Grains become white only after being “polished,” the process of stripping away the protein-rich, brown-colored bran layers. “There is so much demand for white rice that the nutritive bran has become a popular by-product used for food and nonfood purposes,” says Carney. There are more than 50,000 known varieties of wild and cultivated rice, most of which take between three to six months to be harvested. Rice needs ample water and is often cultivated on floodplains in places where rain patterns are irregular.


“Growing rice requires the organization of people and cultures,” says Carney. “The birth of the rice trade symbolizes the shift when people began to manipulate the landscape for food production.”








Rice Dreams


Redken Cover Fusion Low Ammonia 100 Percent Coverage Color Cream, redken.com for salons.

Yves Rocher Lash Plumping Mascara, $18.

Almay Smart Shade Anti-Aging Concealer SPF 20, $8.99.

Rilastil Multirepair Serum With Filling Effect Lifting and Repairing Action With Biotech Complex, $225.

Amala Purify Blue Lotus Purifying Gel Moisturizer, $68.

Kenzo Parfums Perfumed Skin Care Water in Sensual Rice MMM, $45.

Elemental Herbology Eye Elixir Reparative Serum for the Eyes, $57.

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