The Chinese Village of Long-Haired Rapunzels
By 2019, the global shampoo market is expected to reach an estimated value of $25.73 billion. But deep in the mountains of southern China’s Guangxi province, the women of Huangluo Village won’t be contributing a single dime to the industry– because apparently, it’s not worth it …
For the Yao minority of ethnic women, hair is their most prized possession. The ancient settlement is known across China as the “Long Hair Village” and is even recognised by the Guinness world book of records as the “world’s longest hair village”. They grow their jet black hair up to 2.1 meters (6.8 feet) long, and manage to keep it looking strong and healthy (and free of greys) well into their old age. Their secret? They wash with fermented rice water. You know, that milky-colored liquid left over from rinsing or boiling rice. It’s been the secret to beautiful hair for these village women as well as imperial princesses in the East since ancient times.
The women of Huangluo can only cut their hair once in their lives, on their 18th birthday. But the chopped hair isn’t exactly sold off only to find its way into a packet of Kardashian brand hair extensions. Here, it’s given to the girl’s grandmother and made into an ornamental headpiece. It’s ironically at this time, with an ear-length haircut that the young woman is supposed to begin looking for a lover. When she marries, the hair is gifted to the groom, and later becomes a part of her everyday hairdo.
So about that ancient shampoo. Essentially, it’s fermented rice water that has gone slightly sour. Rich in antioxidants, minerals, vitamin E, washing your hair with the stuff will make it shiny, soft, strong and healthy. It’s also known to help to heal scars and reduce fine lines, and inflammation, “leaving the skin with a healthy glow”. Okay, I’m starting to sound like a beauty column.
But seriously, Red Yao women claim that most of them don’t see a single grey hair until well past the age of 80.
A New York-based natural health consultant, Dr. Margaret Trey decided to give rice water a go and noticed that it cleaned her hair well without drying it out, noticing that it also felt strong, softer and more manageable. Now a regular user of rice water, she finds that when she occasionally goes back to a commercial-brand shampoo, her hair is immediately stripped of its natural oils and becomes “wispy and almost too fragile to brush” and then has to use a hair-repairing product to moisturise it. (I might be losing the guys at this point).
But for those of you willing to try out this ancient hair-washing method (because you’re worth it), here’s a few tips on how to make the Red Yao shampoo. It’s pretty simple.
How to Make Rice Water “Shampoo”
First, collect the rice water (not the water you use on the initial rinse to get off any dirt). “If you cook rice two to three times a week, you should be able to collect enough rice water for two to three rice-water hair washes”, notes Dr. Taylor. She even suggests making friends with the staff at your favorite Chinese or Asian restaurant and bringing a plastic container to add to your stock! Then leave the rice water at room temperature for a day or until it turns slightly sour and starts to ferment. Boil it, then allow to cool and maybe add a few drops of tea tree, lavender or rosemary essential oils and store it in the refrigerator. A 60-fluid-ounce container will usually last about a week and you can use the rest for a daily face wash.
Needless to say, I’m washing my hair with this stuff tonight.