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Dry shampoo is a staple beauty product on any vanity for its transformative hair-boosting powers. Whether it's refreshing your roots between washes or adding volume to oily hair, dry shampoo can be the difference between a good or a bad hair day. Like most products, however, there is a right and wrong way to use dry shampoo—as anyone who has ever seen a streak of white dry shampoo in a picture of themselves hours after applying it can attest.
Dry shampoo most popularly comes in the form of a spray can, but there are many formulations and colors of dry shampoo to suit all hair textures and colors. To understand how dry shampoo works and the best way to use it, we turned to two hair experts— board-certified dermatologists Rebecca Marcus, MD, and Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD—for their advice. Keep reading to learn the best way to use dry shampoo.
Meet the Expert
- Rebecca Marcus, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at North Dallas Dermatology Associates
- Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery.
What Is Dry Shampoo?
The term "dry shampoo" typically refers to powered or spray powder products that are designed to refresh hair between washes and reduce oil. In recent years, many brands have started to innovate dry shampoos in the form of foams or creams that turn into a powder following application.
Regardless of the formulation, dry shampoo is typically made of ingredients that absorb oil when applied to dirty hair, explains Marcus. "These ingredients may include starch, clay, and talc or alcohol," she adds. Zubritsky agrees and warns that some dry shampoos can contain fragrance, butane, or propane—all of which can be irritating to sensitive scalps. Since dry shampoo stays in the hair until the next wash, it's important to make sure that none of the ingredients are irritating to your scalp.
Uses for Dry Shampoo
While called "shampoo," Zubritsky says it's important to understand that dry shampoo does not actually clean or shampoo the scalp. "Dry shampoo uses ingredients like starch to help absorb the excess oil, grease, and sebum that our scalp produces," but does not actually provide any cleansing. Dry shampoo is not rinsed out like traditional shampoo, so it's important to understand that it can build up on the scalp and begin to impact the health of the hair and scalp.
Marcus agrees, adding: "Whereas traditional shampoo cleanses the hair by grabbing on to dirt or oil which is then rinsed away with water, dry shampoos instead work by absorbing the oil in the scalp and helping hair to appear fresher when a traditional water-based shampoo is not possible." There is research to suggest that ethanol-based dry shampoo can have an antibiotic effect, making it both an esthetic and hygienic hair treatment, but this is not the case for other dry shampoos. Dry shampoo primarily functions to improve the appearance of the hair by minimizing the appearance of oil, but it can have other benefits for the appearance of hair and the ease of styling.
- Absorbs scalp and hair oil: As both of our experts explained, the primary benefit of using dry shampoo is its ability to absorb oil, masking the appearance of an oily scalp. Dry shampoo is effective at targeting oil after the gym, after applying too many conditioning products, or even just hiding the fact that you haven't washed your hair in days.
- Boosts volume: Oil often weighs hair down, especially at the roots. In absorbing oil, dry shampoo gives more volume to the hair starting at the scalp. Additionally, spray dry shampoos in particular can offer some hairspray-like hold that boosts volume as well.
- Adds texture to hair: As Marcus pointed out, dry shampoo typically contains starch, clay, or talc, all of which add texture to the hair. These ingredients can make styling easier, particularly for those with thin hair that does not hold waves or curls. You can even use a little bit of dry shampoo to help secure a bobby pin that is slipping out of smooth hair.
How Often Can You Use Dry Shampoo
While there are many benefits to using dry shampoo, it is not designed to be an everyday product. Dry shampoo may help to make hair look clean at first, but after a few uses it just builds up on the hair and scalp, making it look dirty. Traditional shampoo (and maybe even clarifying shampoo) is needed to remove the dry shampoo from your strands. "I definitely recommend using a clarifying shampoo the next day. This will help to clear the scalp of any residue, dirt, and oil," shares Marcus. How often you dry shampoo can depend on a number of factors like your hair texture and oil level, but our experts have similar advice on a general rule of thumb for dry shampoo frequency: two days.
"For those who have an oilier scalp but don't want to wash their hair every day, they can use it more frequently than someone with a drier or more sensitive scalp. I would recommend that dry shampoo not be used for more than two days in a row," says Zubritsky. "If using dry shampoo, I recommend making sure that you are properly cleaning and caring for your hair on the days you do plan to wash. For example, use a clarifying shampoo or double cleanse your scalp to properly rinse it away."
"The risk of overusing dry shampoo is that it can build up in your scalp, resulting in occlusion of your hair follicles," Zubritsky continues. "Over time, this can lead to inflammation, acne, or dandruff, resulting in an unhealthy scalp environment. I would recommend avoiding dry shampoo if you are suffering from any sort of hair condition already, like seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis of the scalp, or hair loss."
Don't use dry shampoo more than two days in a row, according to Marcus and Zubritsky.
The Right Way to Apply Dry Shampoo
The biggest mistake you can make when applying dry shampoo to treat oil is to apply it to the strands instead of the scalp. Both experts stress that you want to target the source of the oil at your scalp and use it sparingly—a little goes a long way. They both offered the following tips to ensure a successful dry shampoo:
- Apply it directly to the scalp: "I recommend applying only to the oily parts of the scalp and ensuring you are spraying it at least six inches away from your scalp for an even distribution," explains Zubritsky.
- Give it time to work overnight: "One of my favorite tips is to apply at night instead of in the morning," Zubritsky explains. This allows more time for the dry shampoo to absorb the oil and grease, so you wake up with a fresh look. If you forgot to apply before bed, no worries; both experts say letting it sit after application also helps. Marcus says to wait at least two minutes before brushing the dry shampoo through your hair. This really allows the dry shampoo to do its job and absorb the grease and oil in your scalp, adds Zubritsky.
- Apply it before a workout: Why wait for the oil to overwhelm your hair? If you know you don't have time for a shower after the gym, apply your dry shampoo before your workout to soak up the sweat and oil that accumulates. At the end of your workout, just check for any missed spots and brush out your hair.
- Use it sparingly: Both experts say how much you need will depend on your hair type and oil level, but start with a small amount. "If you overdo it, you run the risk of making hair look weighed down and dull," says Marcus. Marcus also cautions against applying other products such as oils or leave-in conditioners on the hair at the same time as dry shampoo, as they can overload and weigh the hair down.
While the application method is important, it is also important to find the right dry shampoo for your hair type and oil level. "I personally love Batiste dry shampoo—it's affordable and works great. I have dark roots, so I use the Divine Dark ($9); it doesn't leave any white residue on my scalp. If you have a drier or more sensitive scalp, I like Klorane's Dry Shampoo With Oat Milk ($20) because it's light on the fragrance, gently formulated, and does not contain ingredients that are known to cause irritation," shares Zubritsky.
"I love the Aloxxi Dry Shampoo ($22) because not only is it good for all hair types and hair colors, but the invisible formula doesn’t leave a heavy residue on the hair. Also, ingredients such as natural clay, rice, and potato starches absorb any excess oil and impurities," shares Marcus.
The Final Takeaway
Dry shampoo is a must-have beauty staple to transform oily hair between washes. It's important to apply it sparingly and give it time to take effect, but it also shouldn't be used for more than two days in a row to avoid buildup on the scalp. Finally, it's important to thoroughly cleanse the scalp after using dry shampoo to remove all residue.
Curious about what our favorite dry shampoos are? Discover Byrdie-approved dry shampoos below.
D’Souza P, Rathi SK. Shampoo and conditioners: what a dermatologist should know? Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(3):248-254.
Ryu C, Jeong NH. Antimicrobial activity and skin safety of ethanol-based dry shampoo. Journal of the Korean Applied Science and Technology. 2014;31(1):14-22.