No-Rinse Shampoo: How It Works, Who Should Use Each Type & Side Effects
Let's say you're in a hairstyling pinch: You need your blowout to last just a day longer. Or your curls are starting to look limp at the root from oil. Or you need to jet straight from a yoga class to an errand, no time to hit the shower. The often-used go-to product for any of these is some version of a dry shampoo. But dry shampoos are actually part of a larger, somewhat loosely defined, category of no-rinse shampoos.
So what does this hair care category include and what should you know before using? Don't worry, we did the research for you.
What are no-rinse shampoos, and what are the kinds?
No-rinse shampoos are pretty much as the name suggests: shampoos you do not rinse out of your hair. The "shampoo" part of the name is more of a nod to the fact that they mask, dissolve, or absorb oil and grease and make your hair appear cleaner. But we should note that they do not actually function in the same way as a surfactant, or the active ingredients in shampoos. These do not clean your scalp or hair in the same way that a proper shower might. So you can use a rinseless shampoo in a pinch, but don't swap in lieu of a wash too regularly.
So, what are the types? A quick rundown:
- Dry shampoo. These are the most famous with the largest market. They are sprays or powders that use various actives—like starch, charcoal, or astringents—to absorb or wick away moisture. These are often preferred by those with straight or wavy hair, and often don't work as well with curls (the reason being is you usually have to brush your hair after use, and curly-haired folk know that running a brush through dried curls is usually a no-go.)
- Rinseless foam shampoos. These, on the other hand, are preferred by those with curls as they have a water base, which can help reactive limp curls at the root. Not only that but you can more easily scrunch into the root (where you need the help).
- Blotters. These function similarly to a face blotter: Tap along your hairline, roots, and oily spots to absorb moisture.
- Liquid no-rinse shampoos. These are less common but are a pH balancing liquid that you wet the hair completely, massage at the scalp, and then towel dry off. These help loosen up dirt, oil, and debris without having to physically get hair wet from the shower or bath.
Con: Not a deep clean, and many will cause buildup.
Here's the thing: The most effective way to clean your hair and scalp is to shower with a proper shampoo, scrub, or cleanser.
"Dry shampoo doesn't actually clean the hair, so maintaining a proper washing routine for your hair and scalp is important for the overall health of your hair," celebrity hairstylist Sophia Porter tells mbg about traditional dry shampoo.
And relying on a rinseless option too often or for too long can not only make your hair appear dirtier, but it can do some serious damage (more on that soon).
The simple truth is that most people use no-rinse shampoos because they simply do not have time for a full wash and dry, like when running behind in the morning or after going to the gym. (It happens!) In these instances, a clean, dry shampoo that works for your hair and scalp needs is a perfectly fine temporary sub in.
Con: Many will cause scalp inflammation.
But let's get back to those more serious side effects of the traditional no-rinse shampoos out there: If you too regularly rely on powder, sprays, blotters, or foams without rinsing the hair between, you can cause major scalp irritation.
"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, suffocated, and inflamed," expert trichologist and hairstylist Shab Reslan explains to mbg. "Exposing your follicle to this environment frequently can affect your hair growth and possibly damage your actual follicle, leading to hair thinning over time."
The general rule of thumb is for every two dry shampoo uses, you should shampoo. Or look for any of the signs of scalp inflammation, as we explain here.
Pro: A great tool for those with shower limitations.
Rinseless shampoos are a great option for those who cannot shower or bathe as regularly or on their own for whatever reason, like dexterity or mobility limitations. In fact, liquid rinseless shampoos are extremely popular in this case and provide a great alternative as they don't carry many of the same scalp-harming issues as regular dry shampoos and get a deeper clean than other options. And because they have pH balance properties, they can help manage any scalp inflammation.
Many people use some version of a no-rinse shampoo because they just don't have time to hop in a shower; some use them to prolong time between washes. Others use them because of simple necessity. But as we've said with dry shampoo, these are fine options for your hair as long as you also cleanse hair too.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.