Dry shampoo can work miracles in so many different ways. Whether refreshing your roots between washes or adding volume to oily hair, the transformative hair-boosting powers of 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 it.
Dry shampoo is most commonly seen in spray form, but did you know there are many formulations and colors to suit all hair textures and colors? To understand how dry shampoo works and the best way to use it, we turned to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Rebecca Marcus and Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky 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?
"Dry shampoo" refers to powered or spray powder products that refresh hair between washes and reduce oil. In recent years, many brands have started to innovate dry shampoos as foams or creams that become 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, talc, or alcohol," she adds. Zubritsky agrees and warns that some dry shampoos can contain fragrance, butane, or propane—all of which can irritate sensitive scalps. Since dry shampoo stays in the hair until the next wash, it's important to ensure that none of the ingredients harm your scalp.
How Does Dry Shampoo Work?
"Dry shampoo uses ingredients like starch to help absorb the excess oil, grease, and sebum that our scalp produces," says Zubritsky, adding that it does not 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." Research suggests 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 improves the appearance of the hair by minimizing the appearance of oil. Still, it can have additional benefits for the appearance of hair and the ease of styling.
Benefits of Dry Shampoo
- Absorbs scalp and hair oil: As our experts explained, the primary benefit of using dry shampoo is its ability to absorb oil, masking the appearance of an oily scalp.
- 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.
- 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 dry shampoo to help secure a bobby pin slipping out of smooth hair.
How to Use Dry Shampoo
Dry shampoo is not designed for everyday use, although its benefits extend far beyond cleaning hair and can be used as a styling product. While the product may help hair look clean after a few uses, it builds up on the hair and scalp, making it look dirty.
"Those with an oilier scalp but don't want to wash their hair every day can use it more frequently than someone with a drier or more sensitive scalp. I recommend that dry shampoo not be used for more than two days in a row," says Zubritsky. "The risk of overusing dry shampoo is that it can build up in your scalp, resulting in occlusion of your hair follicles. Over time, this can lead to inflammation, acne, or dandruff, resulting in an unhealthy scalp environment."
Zubritsky also cautions that if you use dry shampoo, you are "properly cleaning and caring for your hair on the days you plan to wash, such as a double cleanse on your scalp to rinse it away properly."
Traditional shampoo (and even clarifying shampoo) is needed to remove the dry shampoo from your strands. "I recommend using a clarifying shampoo the next day, and this will help to clear the scalp of any residue, dirt, and oil," shares Marcus. How often you dry shampoo can depend on several 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.
How to Apply Dry Shampoo
Both experts stress that you want to apply dry shampoo by targeting the source of the oil on your scalp and use it sparingly—a little goes a long way. The biggest mistake you can make when applying dry shampoo to treat oil is to apply it to the strands instead of the scalp. 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; 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 allows the product 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 don't have time to shower after the gym, apply your dry shampoo before your workout to soak up the accumulated sweat and oil. Check for any missed spots at the end of your workout, 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, who 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, finding the right dry shampoo for your hair type and oil level is also essential. "I love Batiste dry shampoo—it's affordable and works great. I have dark roots, so I use the Divine Dark ($10); 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 irritate," 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.
Does Dry Shampoo Cause Hair Loss?
Dry shampoo can contribute to hair loss over time if the follicle weakens enough. Zubritsky recommends avoiding dry shampoo if you are already suffering from any hair condition, like seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis of the scalp, or hair loss. "The risk of overusing dry shampoo is that it can build up in your scalp, resulting in occlusion of your hair follicles. Over time, this can lead to inflammation, acne, or dandruff, resulting in an unhealthy scalp environment."
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 to avoid buildup on the scalp. Finally, it's important to thoroughly cleanse the scalp after using dry shampoo to remove all residue.
Can You Bring Dry Shampoo on a Plane?
Yes. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as long as the dry shampoo does not exceed 500 ml (17 fluid ounces), and is stored in a sealed plastic bag along with your other toiletries, you're in the clear.
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.