Why Dry Shampoos Are Bad For Your Hair + What To Do Instead

Contributing writer By Rebecca Dancer
Contributing writer
Rebecca Dancer is a beauty and lifestyle writer who obtained a print and digital journalism degree from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. She’s worked at and contributed to various print and digital publications, including Byrdie, Allure, Brides, Teen Vogue, Beauty Independent, Shape, SELF, and Women's Wear Daily.
Unrecognizable Beauty Shot of a Woman with Hair in a Bun

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Scalp health, or lack thereof, has undoubtedly become a huge topic in the beauty world. After all, your scalp is made up of skin just the same as your complexion, and as such, it needs taking care of.

However, when it comes to scalp health—and more specifically, the use of dry shampoo—the line between safely extending a blowout and potentially causing scalp inflammation is a very thin one. "You can do long-term damage to your scalp by washing infrequently and using dry shampoo often," explains expert trichologist and hairstylist Shab Reslan. "Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, and dry shampoo is not your friend in that quest."

Why are dry shampoos so bad for your scalp?

Let's make one thing clear: We're not saying that dry shampoos are categorically bad or harmful. Rather, it's when they're used too frequently, left on the scalp for too long, or not sufficiently scrubbed off that problems can ensue. 

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1. You might be tempted to skip wash days.

The entire concept of dry shampoo is that it works to absorb excess oil on the scalp—a particularly enticing quality when you're trying to extend time in between shampoos. However, just like the skin on our face and body, our scalp also needs to be cleaned of dead skin cells, oils, and product buildup on a regular basis. Because dry shampoo only absorbs oil on the surface of the scalp, it should not be considered a substitute for actual washing. 

"You need to remember that dry shampoo does not truly cleanse the hair, it is only absorbing the excess oils from the hair and scalp," explains Vickie Vidov, a hairstylist in New York City. "If not properly cleansed and removed from the scalp, a film residue will eventually build up, resulting in clogged pores."

2. It can cause buildup and clogged pores.

Clogged pores, as we all know, are no good. In relation to the scalp, "when we have too much buildup, be it from dry shampoo or natural oils built up over a few days, the follicle opening (where each strand of hair grows out of) will become clogged and suffocated," Reslan explains. Not only will this lead to general irritation, including redness, itchiness, and maybe even some pain, but "exposing your follicle to this environment frequently can affect your hair growth and possibly damage your actual follicle, leading to hair thinning over time."

Attempting to mask dirt, oil, and pollution with a dry shampoo only adds more grime to your scalp and hair. Like attracts like, so the buildup you're adding to your scalp by using dry shampoo has a sort of snowball effect. Over time, this exacerbates another already problematic quality of dry shampoo: It's really difficult to truly slough off.  

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3. They can be hard to wash off.

"The problem with dry shampoo isn't [only] with the oil-absorbing power that it has; the issue lies with the fact that dry shampoo becomes difficult to sufficiently wash out of your hair," Reslan says. "Harsher cleansing shampoos or scalp scrubs do a better job at removing dry shampoo, but even then, using such products too often has its own side effects, including overcleaning the hair and drying out or irritating the scalp."

What to do instead.

There will be times in your life that call for dry shampoo, and that is OK. When that happens, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Use a natural-based dry shampoo with nondrying ingredients. Thankfully for all of us, beauty brands are keeping up with consumer demands for more natural product options, including within the dry shampoo category. Seek out a dry shampoo that's formulated with better-for-your-scalp ingredients that get the job done with less potential damage, such as micellar water, charcoal, clay, and witch hazel. To help in your search, we've rounded up a few of our favorite healthier dry shampoo options
  2. Think of your scalp just like your complexion. No, you don't need to wash twice a day or layer on toners, serums, and masks, but you'd be wise to maintain a proper regimen that promotes both hair and scalp health. "Treating your scalp is [just] as important as treating the skin on your face," Vidov advises. Why? Because healthy hair only grows from a healthy scalp. 
  3. Stick to the two-day rule. Although everyone—and their scalp's oil production rate—is different, Vidov recommends leaving dry shampoo in your strands for a maximum of only two days before shampooing. And the next time you do cleanse, "it is very important to make sure your scalp is properly washed especially if you use dry shampoo on a regular basis. If you feel like your go-to shampoo isn't cutting it, swap in a scalp scrub for an extra-deep clean. If you've been using dry shampoo regularly for a while, you might go so far as to try a full-on scalp detox.

The bottom line hearkens back to the adage "Everything in moderation"—dry shampoo included. 

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