What Is Dry Shampoo, and How Does It Work?

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

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Before heading off to work, you like to wake up early and take a quick jog around the block to wake yourself up. But this morning, you’ve overslept. You try to figure out if you can still get that jog in, but by the time you get back to the house, you have no time to wash your hair. You can’t go to work with sweaty workout hair — so what do you do? The answer: Use dry shampoo.

Dry shampoo is a powder-like hair product that you can sprinkle into your hair to absorb the oil and leave your scalp (and tresses) looking and feeling fresh. You don’t need to wash it out with water after you apply it, either. Although it has gained popularity in recent years, the concept of dry shampoo has been around for centuries. In parts of Asia, people used to wash their hair by sprinkling clay in it, and French people have used powder to color their hair since the 18th century.

These days, you can use dry shampoo for cleaning your hair, and it’s available as both a powder and an aerosol spray. But there are a few important things to know about this hair product before you head to the local drugstore and stock up.

How Do You Use Dry Shampoo?

When you use a regular wet shampoo during a shower, the usual routine is lather, rinse, repeat. But, with dry shampoo, there’s no lathering or rinsing. Instead, there’s sprinkling or spraying, depending on the type of dry shampoo you’re using.

Here are the steps for using a powder shampoo:

  1. Lightly sprinkle the shampoo onto your scalp.
  2. Massage the dry shampoo into your scalp.
  3. Let the shampoo powder seep in for a few minutes so it can absorb the oil and debris on your scalp.
  4. Brush your hair thoroughly, and then style your hair.

If you prefer to use a dry shampoo spray, you can do so as follows:

  1. Shake the shampoo canister well.
  2. Lightly spray your scalp, holding the can 6–8 inches away from it.
  3. Let the shampoo seep in for a few minutes so it can absorb the oil on your scalp.
  4. Brush your hair thoroughly and set your style.

It may take a few tries to get it right and to get used to the way the powder works in your hair. But after you’ve used dry shampoo a few times, you’ll have the process down like a pro.

When Is the Best Time to Use Dry Shampoo?

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It’s best not to use dry shampoo for everyday washing. Instead, stick to using it when washing your hair with water isn’t an option. Here are some examples of when to use dry shampoo:

  • While on vacation
  • After a trip to the gym
  • While on a camping trip
  • If you’re in a time crunch
  • After getting your hair done
  • If you plan on going out after work

Dry shampoo is perfect to use when you’re in a hurry or are on the go. But you shouldn’t use it all the time, and there are a few key reasons why.

The Cons of Dry Shampoo

Although dry shampoo has gained popularity due to its convenience, easy use and portability, it has some cons. While some people like the fact that dry shampoo doesn’t strip their hair of its natural oils, others say that it makes their hair too greasy. Of course, it depends on how much oil your sebaceous glands secrete and how often you use dry shampoo.

Some beauty experts also claim that dry shampoo doesn’t clean your hair. They believe that it can chemically change how your scalp secretes oil, which makes it difficult for your hair’s natural oils to distribute evenly throughout the strands.

Dry shampoos can also have an aesthetic disadvantage. Some sprays may leave white streaks in your hair, while some powders may not adequately absorb, leaving behind tiny flakes in your hair that may look like dandruff.

Tips for Using Dry Shampoo

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Some hairstylists and beauty experts have specific recommendations when it comes to dry shampoo. Here are a few of them:

  • If you have fine hair that’s easily damaged, you may want to alternate wet shampoo with dry shampoo to prevent further damage.
  • If your hair is looking a little bit greasy, use some dry shampoo to dry things out. Just sprinkle some powder on the oily areas, blot them and brush your hair.
  • If you feel your hair needs a touch-up during the day, use some dry shampoo to bring it back to life. Spray some dry shampoo around your head, let it sit for a minute, and then brush it out and re-style.

The bottom line is that dry shampoo is a convenient product that saves time, and you can use it virtually anywhere. However, it does have some negatives — namely the fact that it doesn’t clean your hair like wet shampoo and it can change the way your scalp secretes oil. For those reasons, it’s essential to use dry shampoo only when you need it, not daily.

Resource Links:

Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know,” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Essentials of Hair Care Often Neglected: Hair Cleansing,” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

Does Dry Shampoo Actually Keep Your Hair Clean?” The Cleveland Clinic