Last Updated on September 13, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
Washing, drying, and styling your hair every single day is incredibly time-consuming… But it’s also not good for your hair! It’s no wonder dry shampoo has become so trendy over the past decade. Dry shampoo can keep us looking and feeling fresh, while saving lots of time and energy that can be better spent on other things.
The only problem is, most conventional dry shampoo brands contain toxic ingredients that can cause allergic reactions, fertility problems, and even cancer. In this post, we’ll walk you through the problematic ingredients to look out for and then give you our favorite non-toxic dry shampoo brands to use instead.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient standards.
First of All: How Does Dry Shampoo Clean Your Hair? (Hint: It Doesn’t!)
The extent of ‘cleansing’ done by dry shampoo is simply to reduce the oily ‘appearance’ of our hair. This oily material is called sebum, which our sebaceous glands produce as our follicles sprout hair strands. Sebum isn’t bad—it has a purpose. According to the National Institute of Health, sebum protects, regulates, feeds, and heals our skin. Things like friction, excess moisture in our environment, sunburn, bacteria, and inflammation are all controlled in part by sebum carrying antioxidants throughout our skin.
An excess of sebum can be inflicted by a lot of different things. Without going into that for this article, we do want to acknowledge the obvious: keeping our hair follicles clean is important.
Well Then, How Does Dry Shampoo Work?
Dry shampoo comes in two primary forms: powder and spray. Most dry shampoo spray (though not all) is actually just powder that has been combined with aerosols to make it into more of a hairspray texture for application.
Dry shampoo works in two primary ways:
- It absorbs oil (sebum), mostly at your hair roots
- It masks odor to keep your hair smelling fresh
Is Dry Shampoo Bad For You?
Just like with almost any and all cosmetics, personal care, and cleaning products, whether or not dry shampoo is potentially harmful completely depends on the specific brand and/or product you’re using. Many brands use ingredients that are either suspected or known to cause long-term negative health effects. The good news, however, is that there are plenty of safe (and effective!) non-toxic dry shampoo brands on the market today, which we’ve researched and rounded up for you below.
P&G Dry Shampoo Recall
[UPDATE!] In December 2021, P&G recalled 32 of its dry shampoo and conditioner products because they contained “unexpected levels” of benzene in them.
What’s the deal with benzene? Well, it’s actually a widely used chemical throughout various industries. When it comes to personal care and home goods, benzene (and similar chemicals) are commonly used in fragrance products like air fresheners. (Although it’s toxic, benzene is allowed under the fragrance loophole). Derived from crude oil, coal, or natural gas, it actually has a sweet smell to it.
Benzene is a known carcinogen, specifically linked to leukemia. In the short term, high doses of benzene can effect the nervous system (causing drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and more). In addition to cancer, longterm effects of benzene exposure can lead to things like anemia as well as suspected reproductive harm.
Here are the brands that were affected by this P&G recall:
- Hair Food
- Herbal Essences
- Old Spice
P&G stated that no known negative effects were caused by these dry shampoo brands, and the recall was a voluntary one.
What Ingredients Should I Avoid In Dry Shampoo?
Aerosols: Even if the active ingredients aren’t harmful, the butane, propane, isobutane, and tetrafluoropropene gasses used just for functioning the spray are toxic for respiratory tracts and can exacerbate allergies.
Fragrances: We’ve talked about this before (and will continue to do so), but the word ‘fragrance’ should always raise a red flag. There are almost 4,000 ingredients (many toxic, some not) that are legally fair game to use under the ‘fragrance’ umbrella without having to be disclosed.
Talc: It does have awesome absorbency, but it may contain asbestos (more on that below).
Alcohol: It’s just too aggressive. Its harshness can strip too many of those oils our scalp still wants in order to be healthy. If alcohol is in the ingredients list and you’re using it a lot, dandruff, blocked pores, and dry hair are very likely.
Phenoxyethanol: This is a synthetic version of a chemical naturally found in green tea. Since it’s synthetic, it’s cheaper and can be created in large quantities. The chemical’s purpose (natural and synthetic) is to fight bacteria. More research needs to be done on the specific potential harmfulness of this ingredient, but as of right now, it’s indicated that it can cause respiratory irritation and can cause issues with non-reproductive organs. It is only approved for maximum of 1% use in the E.U. and Japan. If it’s in an ingredients list and mentions green tea nowhere, pass and look for one that does.
Cetrimonium Chloride: This is used to decrease static, but many people are allergic. It is a completely banned ingredient in the E.U.
Siloxane, Silicones, & Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane: These help wet products dry faster because they don’t break down. They build up over time on our bodies and in the environment when we wash them down the drain.
What to Look for in Safe, Non-Toxic Dry Shampoo
Non-Aerosol Sprays and Powders
I know, I know… Aerosol can be so convenient when it comes to evenly dispersing the dry shampoo into your hair. But if you’re really serious about using a non-toxic dry shampoo, using aerosol just isn’t worth it.
The recommended brands below are powders that can be shaken onto your head through a pinhole in the bottle, shaken on like you’d sprinkle salt on your dinner, misted with a non-aerosol spray bottle, or applied with a makeup brush. If you’re used to aerosol, it might take a little bit of adjustment to figure out how to apply it optimally, but I promise it’s really not difficult!
Natural and/or Organic Ingredients
Look for the following ingredients in your non-toxic dry shampoo:
Rice starch, arrowroot powder, cornstarch, cassava kaolin clay, and baking soda: these are all safe, natural ingredients that are great at absorbing excess oils.
Cocoa powder: this can also absorb moisture, and can be a key dry shampoo ingredient for those with darker hair!
Witch hazel: a natural astringent that helps to dry out oils while conditioning the scalp.
Essential oils: look for brands that use sustainably-sourced essential oils for scent instead of mystery “fragrances.”
What Is The Best, Safest Non-Toxic Dry Shampoo?
The good news is that there are plenty of safe, non-toxic dry shampoo brands available. Here are our favorite recommended brands:
La Tierra Sagrada translates to “the sacred Earth” and is created by an experienced stylist, Stefani Padilla. Stefani’s purpose is to ‘share the wisdom of plant medicine and help educate others about how these sacred ingredients can heal and transform the hair.’ The adaptogenic ingredients are what really set this brand apart from the others. By offering both blonde and cacao shades, a specialized application brush, and medicinal plant infusions, you’ll get what you pay for with this, though spendy, ‘whole package’ dry shampoo.
We love Primally Pure’s dry shampoo; it’s simple, yet effective. It uses ingredients like arrowroot powder, kaolin, cacao powder, baking soda, and essential oils. Everything from Primally Pure is natural, sustainably-sourced, and handcrafted in California. It comes in two colors: light and dark.
This vegan and cruelty-free dry shampoo is made in the USA out of mostly organic ingredients like corn starch, arrowroot powder, baking soda, and turmeric. It comes in both light and dark, and you can save 15% if you sign up for a subscription, too!
Billie (yes, the popular razor brand) carries non-toxic dry shampoo and volumizer combo, which they call “Floof.” It’s EWG verified, which means it’s been third-party audited by the Environmental Working Group for safe ingredients. It uses ingredients like biotin (which helps to add volume to your hair), along with rice starch and baking soda (to absorb moisture). It comes in two different shades (light and dark).
Acure’s non-toxic dry shampoo powder comes in two different varieties: Rosemary & Peppermint for lighter hair and Rosemary & Cocoa for darker hair. It uses corn starch, arrowroot, kaolin, and sodium bicarbonate to absorb moisture. Not only is it vegan, cruelty-free, and free from all the nasties, but it’s USDA certified organic as well!
This women-run company located in the Hudson Valley offers Mermaid Dry Shampoo with over 50 5-star reviews. Captain Blankenship is a big-mission brand worth reading about, giving Mermaid Dry Shampoo a confident foundation.
They also have an alphabetical list with descriptions of the ingredients across all of their products, and each one is scored on the EWG scale. This is so helpful with filtering even the most natural ingredients and their non-toxicity. The Mermaid’s compostable packaging comes in beautiful 4oz or 2oz sizes.
This brand uses organic, food-grade cassava, which is an edible root that’s been a staple for Amazonian people for thousands of years. Combined with other natural ingredients like cosmetic clay and star anise (evergreen seed!), this dry shampoo comes in a non-aerosol spray dispenser for even dispersement. It not only leaves hair feeling refreshed and volumized, but the star anise also offers antimicrobial properties that help maintain a healthy scalp.
This simple, herbalist-formulated dry shampoo only contains a few ingredients: Cocoa powder, arrowroot powder, kaolin clay, and lavender essential oil. It’s handcrafted, vegan, and cruelty-free. This one is more suitable for brunetters.
Chagrin Valley’s non-toxic products are made in Solon, Ohio. They’re USDA Organic, cruelty-Free, non-GMO, and vegan. Plus, their packaging is compostable and recyclable.
This dry shampoo is talc-free, child-safe, and vegan. Their beautiful packaging and variety of scents (essential oils), come in both 4 oz. and travel size, 1 oz.
It’s Certified UCSA Organic & Oregon Tilth Organic. Lulu Organics fiscally supports organizations that politically and publicly protect the health of humans and the planet.
If you’d like to shop from local artisans and small businesses, Etsy is a great place to shop for organic and natural dry shampoo as well! Here are the ones we’ve vetted and can recommend:
- High Maintenance Hippie
- Mother Mountain Herbs (for redheads!)
- Vital Herbals
- CoCo Lavish
- Little Tree Naturals
The Just-Okay Dry Shampoo Brands
These ones are definitely better than most conventional dry shampoo brands, but they just have a couple of semi-questionable ingredients in them:
- Kaia Naturals Overnight Dry Shampoo: this is overall a good product, but it contains “pigment.” Without actually knowing that that “pigment” contains, we can’t fully recommend this one.
- Innersense Refresh: this product contains a few different “just-okay” ingredients, such as benzyl alcohol.
- Briogeo: this dry shampoo is made from mostly natural and non-toxic ingredients, but it also includes undisclosed “fragrance.” You can read more about why that’s a problem right here.
- Vegamour GRO: if you absolutely HAVE to have an aerosol dry shampoo, this one is a good option. It does have isobutane in it, but that’s really the only problematic ingredient.
Dry Shampoo Brands to Avoid
These brands contain more than a couple concerning ingredients, and we recommend staying away from them:
- Batiste (you can read our full article about Batiste right here.)
- Garnier Fructis
- Hair Food
- Herbal Essences
- Living Proof
- Love, Beauty, & Planet
- Not Your Mother’s
- Old Spice
Other F.A.Q.s About Dry Shampoo
The Origins of Dry Shampoo
Throughout our days, weeks, and years, our hair changes… in texture, cleanliness, sensitivity, and so on. Similarly, dry shampoo has evolved over centuries!
Here’s a super simple timeline:
- In the early 1400s, clay powders were used in eastern cultures since regular bathing was limited. Different colored clays and even plant pigments were added for style.
- In the late 1700s, starches (like rice and corn) were used in the U.S. to deodorize and alter the colors of wigs, which were primarily worn by men since long hair signaled masculinity and power/authority.
- By the late 1800s, a foam-based dry shampoo was used by barbers.
- Then in the late 1940s, MINIPOO, the first commercially produced dry shampoo product, was used by women and children for a wide range of reasons, from not being able to bathe because of a bedridden illness to freshening up for a last-minute social hangout.
How Can Shampoo Be Dry?
Dry shampoo is a bit of a misnomer because it isn’t really shampoo. It doesn’t actually do what regular shower shampoo does (that is, clean your hair). Rather, dry shampoo is a powder that allows one to go longer in between washes by absorbing oils, giving the appearance of clean hair.
Why Would I Use A Dry Shampoo?
There are a number of reasons one might use dry shampoo throughout their week:
- If you have a midday workout and don’t have time to completely dry and restyle your hair, you might take a body-only shower and use dry shampoo to tide you over until you can wash your hair.
- If you have thick or textured hair that can’t or shouldn’t be washed and styled as frequently, you may use dry shampoo to give your hair freshness and volume between washes.
- If you have really straight hair, oil can become more visible because it just slides straight down from your hair follicles to collect all over your head, so you may want to use dry shampoo to reduce that oily appearance.
- You may use dry shampoo as a volumizer, since it mattes at the roots to provide some plump for styling.
- If your hair is producing too much oil from overwashing, you may use dry shampoo as you “oil train” your hair.
Are You Overwashing Your Hair?
Washing your hair too much can actually lead to an overproduction of oil. Each time you wash your hair in the shower, you’re sending signals to your scalp to produce more oil. So the more you wash it (and get rid of the oil), the more oil it produces. Over time, this can lead to oil buildup on your scalp, which can be difficult to get rid of.
Dry shampoo can help prevent you and your scalp from falling into this cycle by allowing you to go longer in between washes.
And if you already have an oil-overproduction problem, dry shampoo can help you get out of it. By “oil training” your hair, you can re-teach it to stop producing so much oil by washing it less. During your initial phase of oil training, there might be an uncomfortable transition time where you’re walking around with hair that feels… well, gross. Using dry shampoo can help you slowly extend the time in between washes.
Can Dry Shampoo Cause Cancer?
As mentioned above, it is not uncommon for conventional dry shampoo brands to contain carcinogenic ingredients, whether unintentionally (as was the case with P&G’s recalled products), as an unlisted “fragrance” ingredient, or something else.
That being said… Using dry shampoo a few times is unlikely to cause cancer in and of itself… BUT, when you use conventional dry shampoo combined with all of the other environmental toxins that our bodies are exposed to each and every day, then yes, cancer can be a result.
Unfortunately, some environmental toxins can’t be avoided. That’s why we should avoid carcinogenic ingredients where we do have control… that includes hair care!
Some ingredients that are commonly found in dry shampoo like phthalates and talc are known to increase one’s risk of cancer.
Does Dry Shampoo Cause Hair Loss?
Yes, it can. As one former dry shampoo fanatic discovered in interviewing several dermatologists and hair experts, as dry shampoo absorbs oil, it can irritate the scalp and lead to inflammation of the hair follicles. This inflammation can cause weakened follicles, which can then lead to shedding and hair loss.
To prevent hair loss from dry shampoo, experts recommend using dry shampoo only a few times per week, max. Of course, we highly recommend using non-toxic dry shampoo brands that don’t cause inflammation and irritation of the hair follicles in the first place.
Is Dry Shampoo Safe For Lungs?
Whether you’re using a spray or powder, you’re pretty much guaranteed to breathe in some of the dry shampoo during the application process. We’ve already discussed the toxic ingredients that are commonly used in dry shampoo above, and you really don’t want to be breathing any of that in.
Since breathing in at least a little bit of dry shampoo is unavoidable, you should use a brand with safe ingredients in order to reduce your risk of allergic reactions or other long-term health issues.
Does Non-Toxic Dry Shampoo Actually Work?
But then there is always the question of quality and efficacy. Is non-toxic dry shampoo as good as conventional dry shampoo? The short answer is: yes! There are so many great non-toxic dry shampoo brands out there that really do the job (see below for our favorites).
But, since everyone’s hair is very different, you might have to do some trial and error to find the brand that works best for you individually!
Is Batiste Dry Shampoo Bad For You?
What about one of the most popular and recognizable dry shampoo brands: Batiste? Is Batiste dry shampoo safe?
To adequately answer this question, we actually have an entire article all about Batiste and its ingredients, which you can check out here.
What Is A Good Alternative to Dry Shampoo?
Wondering what else you might be able to use instead of dry shampoo? Here are some commonly used alternatives:
Can I Use Baby Powder Instead of Dry Shampoo?
Before dry shampoo became trendy, my friends and I used baby powder as dry shampoo all the time. It was cheap and it did the job (although, if you have darker hair, you might have to mix it with cinnamon or cocao powder).
These days, however, I know better. I would strongly recommend NOT using baby powder as a dry shampoo alternative. Over the past decade, the safety of baby powder has come into question. The main ingredient in baby powder, talc, is very commonly contaminated with asbestos, which is known to cause cancer.
There have many several lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson over the past several years, and the company has paid out billions of dollars to families because of this. It’s better to just stay away.
Can I Use Talc Instead Of Dry Shampoo?
I wouldn’t! (See above.)
Other Dry Shampoo Alternatives
Instead of baby powder, if you’re looking for an inexpensive DIY dry shampoo alternative, you can try cornstarch (which may need to be mixed with cinnamon or cocoa powder depending on your hair color), powdered foundation or makeup setting powder (just make sure it’s a non-toxic brand!), or apple cider vinegar (put into a spray bottle).
Is Powder Dry Shampoo Better Than Spray?
This is totally a personal preference. Most of the non-toxic dry shampoo brands come in powder form so they don’t have to worry about those toxic aerosols, so that’s what I recommend trying. If you definitely prefer a spray, try Rahua‘s non-toxic, non-aerosol spray.
You don’t have to settle for toxic chemicals in your dry shampoo! Shop from the recommended brands above and rest easy knowing your hair care products aren’t filled with carcinogens, irritants, and more.
If there are any dry shampoo brands that you’re wondering about and aren’t listed here, just let us know in the comments below and we’ll look into it!
About the Author
Jaclyn Stephens is an artist, farmer, and writer. Her work generates associative play between environments, materials, meanings, and sensory perceptions. Utilizing a variety of mediums, her work suspends the buoyancy we experience between the known and unknown about nature. Cultivating a relationship with landscape is both a way of living and a way of making, but primarily what connects everything she is constantly doing.