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… like sleep!
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 our favorite non-toxic dry shampoo brands to use instead.
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.
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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.
How Does Dry Shampoo Clean Your Hair? (Hint: It Doesn’t!)
As mentioned above, 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
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.
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.
What Ingredients Should I Avoid In Dry Shampoo?
Aerosols: Even if the active ingredients aren’t harmful, the butane, propane, and isobutane gasses used just for functioning the spray are toxic for respiratory tracts and can exacerbate allergies. Plus, we really don’t want to be inhaling into our lungs any of the ingredients, toxic or not.
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 compositions that have 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.
Dry Shampoo Ingredient Gray Area
There are two main ingredients that sit in the gray area in terms of toxicity:
Silica: Silica is a natural mineral (often found in quartz and other diverse living organisms). When it is synthesized and bonded with other compounds, silicates, silicones, etc. are formed. While silica is a natural mineral, it is still harmful to inhale. However, you will find non-toxic brands that use silica and are still reputable. We will only list brands below that do not list silica as a concentrated ingredient.
Clays: Clays are also natural minerals, and often do contain up to 50% of silica. Again, this is a respiratory concern that lies in a very gray area and will often depend on the type of clay and how it was sourced. So, we highlight whether the non-toxic dry shampoo brands below use clay or not in case clay brings you concern.
At the end of the day, you will have to decide what’s best for you with regard to these two ingredients!
Can Dry Shampoo Cause Cancer?
Using dry shampoo a few times is unlikely to cause cancer… 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 (under the “fragrance” umbrella) 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 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!
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 recommended brands, separated out by the ones that DO and DO NOT contain clay, so that you can make the best decision for yourself.
Non-toxic dry shampoo brands that DO NOT use clay:
Lark + Owl’s dry shampoo offers THREE accommodating shades, where most offer one or two. They offer sample size products and the option to purchase their recommended dry shampoo brush to pair your dry shampoo powder. The founder of Lark + Owl, Corrine Wiens, created this natural-living small business after spending part of her career as a salon hairstylist. We will bet she knows a thing or two about hair! An ingredients page shows gorgeous drawings and descriptions of what she’s using and why. Clays are used in their face mask products, but not the dry shampoo.
BLONDE – Arrowroot Powder, Orris Root powder, Lavender Oil, Ylang Ylang Oil, Peppermint Oil
BRUNETTE – Cocoa powder, Arrowroot powder, Cinnamon, Orris Root powder, Lavender Essential Oil
BLACK – Black Cocoa powder, Arrowroot powder, Orris Root powder, Cocoa Powder, Lavender Essential Oil, Sweet Orange Oil, Ylang Ylang Oil
This non-toxic dry shampoo spray is unique in a couple of ways. First, it is one of the only non-toxic dry shampoo brands that is actually a spray, not a powder. Secondly, it uses Rosemary-infused vodka. Wait, what? I thought alcohol was no good? Well, for those with super sensitive skin and hair, it may not be as hydrating as other brands. But, in their description, they tell us the benefits of each of the four ingredients: the rosemary infusion is actually a large component of the vodka being beneficial because the vodka brings out the skin loving components of the rosemary. People rave in the reviews. Handmade in a glass bottle!
Ingredients: Distilled Water, Rosemary Infused Vodka, Non GMO Cornstarch, Bergamot Mint Essential Oil
La Tierra Sagrada is stamped with ‘The Credo Clean Standard’. All within the circle of transparency, they prioritize a brand’s: safety, sourcing, sustainability, and ethics.
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. Note: the ‘brown-cacoa’ blend does not include clay, and the ‘blonde-kaolin’ does.
BROWN-CACOA – *sun potion* he shou wu, *sun potion* mucuna pruriens, arrowroot powder, horsetail, cacao, orris root, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), lavender flower, rosemary essential oil, palo santo essential oil
BLONDE-KAOLIN – *sun potion* he shou wu, *sun potion* mucuna pruriens, arrowroot powder, horsetail, kaolin clay, orris root, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), lavender flower, rosemary essential oil, palo santo essential oil
Non-toxic dry shampoo brands that DO use clay:
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.
Ingredients: Maranta Arundinaceae (Arrowroot) Powder,* Kaolin (white clay), Lactobacilius Ferment, Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Cymbopogon Martini (Palmarosa) Oil,*Pelargonium Graveolens (Rose Geranium) Oil.
*certified organic ingredients; inactive probiotic that offers anti-microbial properties
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.
Ingredients: *organic corn starch, white clay, baking soda, *organic horsetail powder, *essential oils
We feature this Atlanta-based brand more than once because they have a wellness-focused approach to a wide range of products. Their sharp, minimal branding offers that put-together posture on their Flowers + Pink Clay Dry Shampoo. More importantly, this is by far the most minimal ingredients list we’ve found. Oh, and their essential oils are ‘wild-harvested’ which sounds swoon-worthy, balancing their modern aesthetic.
Ingredients: Rice starch*, pink and white clay, blend of essential oils*.
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.
Dark Hair: Organic Arrowroot Powder, Organic Cornstarch, Organic Cocao Powder (Fair Trade), Organic Tapioca Flour, Kaolin Clay, Organic Burdock Root, Organic Plantain, Organic Lavender Essential Oil, Organic Rosemary Essential Oil
Light Hair: Organic Arrowroot Powder, Organic Cornstarch, Organic Tapioca Flour, Kaolin Clay, Organic Burdock Root, Organic Plantain, Organic Lavender Essential Oil, Organic Rosemary Essential Oil
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?
The short answer is: no, it’s not safe. First of all, Batiste contains “fragrance,” which means it could potentially contain a number of 4,000(!) different toxic chemicals, including phthalates.
Batiste also contains butane, isobutane, and propane, all of which are known to cause allergic reactions.
Why use Batiste when there are so many other great non-toxic dry shampoo brands available?
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. But if you’re more of a spray person, try Moon Cheeks!
Conclusion: You don’t have to settle for toxic chemicals in your dry shampoo!
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.