Can Using Dry Shampoo Damage Your Hair?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

These alcohol- or starch-based products are experiencing a surge in global popularity. As dry shampoo use has expanded, some concerns have emerged about its safety.

It turns out a few of those concerns are well founded. As convenient as it is to spray your way to cleaner-looking hair, using dry shampoo too much can lead to hair breakage, clogged follicles, or hair loss.

Is dry shampoo bad for your scalp and hair?

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The short answer is that occasionally using dry shampoo is safe for most people. But using it too often, or for extended periods, could damage your hair and cause scalp problems.

Dry shampoo doesn’t clean your hair

Dry shampoo isn’t shampoo at all. The sprayed- or sprinkled-on starch and alcohol product absorbs the oil in your hair, making it less noticeable. It doesn’t remove oil and dirt the way a scrub with shampoo and water will.

It can lead to hair breakage

Aerosol hair care products often contain alcohols, which can be drying for your hair. When your hair is dry, the individual fibers can crack and snag on each other when you comb or style your hair, leading to breakage.

Overuse can clog hair follicles

Using dry shampoo too often or leaving it in your hair for prolonged periods without washing it out can lead to a buildup of the product on your scalp.

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An accumulation of styling products can make your scalp itch. It’s possible the buildup could also lead to folliculitis. This is a bacterial or fungal infection in the hair follicle.

Infrequent hair-washing can cause dandruff and scaly skin

While there aren’t any studies that indicate dry shampoo directly causes dandruff, doctors at the Mayo Clinic say an overly oily scalp can cause dandruff. So, if you’re leaving dry shampoo on your scalp, you’re also leaving the oils it’s absorbed.

Oils also feed on a strain of fungus known as Malassezia, which can cause a red, scaly scalp condition called seborrheic dermatitis.

The potential link to cancer

Some commercial dry shampoos contain talc. Talc is a mineral that, in its natural state, can contain particles of asbestos, a known carcinogen. Today, talcum powders made for cosmetic use in the United States aren’t allowed to have asbestos in them.

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Recently, concerns have emerged about a possible link between asbestos-free talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Research has focused on talc in products intended to be used in the genital area.

There’s no known risk of cancer from dry shampoos that contain talc, but the American Cancer Society encourages people who are concerned about the risk of cancer to avoid using the products until more research has been done.

Can dry shampoo cause hair loss or stunt growth?

There isn’t any research that indicates dry shampoo directly causes hair loss. However, studies do show that poor scalp health can cause hair loss.

When hair emerges from a follicle that’s been damaged by a bacterial or fungal infection, the hair fiber isn’t anchored firmly inside the follicle. The new hair is more likely to fall out.

Benefits of dry shampoo

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Given the list of potential drawbacks, why is dry shampoo so popular? The short answer is that it keeps you from having to wash your hair as often.

For some people, dry shampoo is a time-saver. A few quick shots at the temple and crown mean you can make it from your workout to work without having to wash, dry, and style your hair.

For others, dry shampoo allows them to wet-wash their hair less often. Some dermatologists and stylists recommend against washing your hair every day.

This is particularly the case if you have hair that needs more moisture, such as type 3 or 4 curls and coils, or if you’ve gone through menopause and your hair is less oily.

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In these circumstances, dry shampoo helps keep hair looking cleaner for an extra day or so between washes.

How often should you use dry shampoo?

To keep dry shampoo from damaging your hair and scalp, doctors recommend you use it no more than 2 days in a row.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Hold the canister about 6 inches away from your head.
  2. Spray the hair and not your scalp.
  3. Spray just the areas where oil is the most noticeable. This is usually at the temples and crown of your head.
  4. Use your fingers or a comb to loosen any accumulated spray near your roots, redistributing it evenly through the oily areas.

Alternatives to dry shampoo

The best thing you can do for your hair is to keep it clean and conditioned. How often you wash your hair will depend on your hair type and how much processing it’s had.

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If you’re concerned about the chemical ingredients on the label of your dry shampoo, you can opt for an organic commercial product.

You could also plunder the pantry for ingredients to make a DIY version. Popular absorbent starches you may already have include cornstarch and rice starch.

To make your own dry shampoo, take a 1/4 cup of cornstarch or rice starch and add a sprinkling of cinnamon or cocoa powder, depending on your hair color. You can add a few drops of essential oils as a natural fragrance as well.

Takeaway

Dry shampoo doesn’t actually clean your hair. Instead, the starch and/or alcohol in the product absorbs the oil in your hair, making it look cleaner and fluffier.

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For most people, occasional use won’t cause any problems. If you overuse dry shampoo, your hair may become more vulnerable to breakage. The health of your scalp could be affected.

To keep your hair and scalp healthy, you may want to limit your use of dry shampoo to just 1 or 2 days a week.

If you want to take advantage of the convenience of dry shampoo without coming into contact with a lot of chemicals, you could make a DIY version using kitchen starches and spices.

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