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9 Things You Don’t Know About Using Dry Shampoo

Every day is a good hair day when you can turn limp, greasy strands into a clean coif in seconds. But there are some catches. Here's what you need to know.

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Dry shampoo is not new

Dry shampoo is having a moment—one beauty editor famously wrote that by week’s end, her hair is 90 percent dry shampoo—but it’s actually been around in some form or another for centuries. (There’s some evidence that people in Asia were using clay in their hair thousands of years ago.) Even the dry shampoo we know today got its start sometime in the 1940s, when it was primarily known as Minipoo. These days there are over 50 varieties of dry shampoo on store shelves, and many do more than just salvage a blowout or disguise a missed shower. For example, if you’re looking for cool-girl body and texture, there’s Kérastase Couture Styling Powder Bluff. For fine strands, there’s Alterna’s Cleanse Extend Dry Shampoo, a lightweight spray that won’t weigh hair down even on the fourth day after your blowout. Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk Natural Tint has a formula made for brown hair to ease the process of blending out any residual white powder. If you’re looking to get out the grime rather than just mask it, Living Proof Perfect Hair Day has little molecular sponges that soak up oil, sweat, and odor, so you can whisk them away when you brush.

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iStock/Djura Topalov

Dry shampoo is not actually shampoo

Despite its name, dry shampoo is not a hair cleanser. Unlike regular shampoo, which is formulated with water and cleansing agents that rinse away oils and impurities, dry shampoos are mostly made up of alcohol, starch, or clay (spray versions) or clay, talc, and starch without the alcohol (powder versions), according to Hien Nguyen, cosmetic chemist and co-founder of Function of Beauty, a start-up that offers customized shampoos and conditioners. With either type of dry shampoo, the porous ingredients work by soaking up excess oil, which is what breathes new life into yesterday’s blowout or your sweaty strands after hitting the gym. (For super-sweaty post-workout hair, we like Elizabeth and James Nirvana White Dry Shampoo—it has micro powder enriched with natural rice starch to absorb oils while adding a mist of its most addictive scent.

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With dry shampoo, you can have too much of a good thing

Dry shampoo is a godsend between real washings or as a touch-up after your workout, but it’s not meant to replace a good old-fashioned shampoo and conditioner. And spraying it on every day will actually make your hair worse, because it will lead to a build-up of product that can dull your color and irritate your scalp, according to Butterfly Studio Salon stylist Danielle Allyson.  Like your face, your scalp needs regular cleansing and exfoliating to get rid of bacteria, remove dead skin cells, and stay healthy. Allyson’s recommendation: Use dry shampoo no more than three times a week to give your hair some time to breathe between uses, and follow it up with a clarifying shampoo the next time you wash your hair. Try Fekkai Apple Cider Shampoo, an apple and pear-scented, silicone-free cleanser for removing product build-up.

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Dry shampoo needs time to set

When you first use dry shampoo, you might be surprised to see a powdery white residue on your hair. But don’t panic—it’s completely normal. Just wait two minutes for your hair to absorb the dry shampoo, then work it through with a comb, a brush, or your fingers, and the white-powder look will vanish. If you’re worried about it, try a formula that’s expressly designed to disappear: Style Edit’s Invisible Dry Shampoo, with a blend of oil-absorbers and neutralizers that cleans hair without dulling its natural shine.

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Dry shampoo does not play well with others

“I see a lot of people apply dry shampoo and then add oil for shine, and that is a big no-no,” Allyson says. A good-quality dry shampoo will add shine to your hair, so using hair oil after dry shampoo defeats the purpose of using dry shampoo in the first place. If glossy, salon-worthy locks are your ultimate goal, go for a spray dry shampoo over a powder version. Two of Allyson’s favorites are Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo and Shu Uemera Color Luster Dry Cleaner. Both are safe for color-treated hair and, unlike other dry shampoos, contain translucent micro-fine powders that absorb oil without leaving behind any residue.

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Dry shampoo needs a light touch

You don’t actually want to blast your roots at close range. Instead, spray individual sections of hair, making sure to hold the canister 8 to 10 inches away from your scalp, according to Allyson. Any closer will leave your hair looking dull and wet-looking, and overly saturated with product, making it harder to comb through. If you’re using a powder version? Tap it sparingly only onto the roots of your hair. Our favorite powder formula is Mineral Fusion Dry Shampoo, a tinted mineral powder that uses Kaolin clay to lift oil from hair.

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Dry shampoo is not one-size-fits-all

It might take some trial and error to find the right dry shampoo formula for your hair color or texture. Allyson says she’s noticed that most blondes prefer powder dry shampoo because it brightens their locks. Brunettes, on the other hand, might find that powder versions leave a dingy, gray-looking layer of residue, preferring sprays. For women with natural hair, Nguyen recommends the environmentally-friendly Rahua Voluminous Dry Shampoo. It includes rahua oil, which seeps deep into your hair’s cortex to bond and repair it while smoothing the cuticle for shiny, healthy, soft hair. Ultimately, everyone’s haircare needs are different, so ask your stylist to recommend the best products for your hair.

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Dry shampoo is not for everyone

Most healthy heads of hair can take dry shampoo. The exceptions are people who are prone to severely dry skin, because excess dry shampoo can throw your skin out of balance and dry out your scalp, according to Nguyen, and people with thinning hair, since it can inflame and clog your hair follicles, disrupting your scalp’s natural and growing shedding cycles.

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Dry shampoo doesn’t last forever

Most hair products last between two and three years once opened, but if you notice that your dry shampoo smells funny or seems off in any way, it’s probably best to toss it. Allyson recommends updating your products every few years anyway. “Your hair type and needs change constantly, so toss old products you haven’t used and always keep your product stash up to date,” she says. Make sure you know about these other non-food items that can also have an expiration date.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest