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Dry Shampoo Is Absolutely a Scam

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But the idea of it is so lovely.

Photo: Jonathan Storey/Getty Images

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The problem with washing your hair is you have to keep doing it repeatedly until you die. It’s a chore from which we can never be freed, and unlike changing your sheets or washing your dishes, it’s not something that can be privately neglected without alerting your friends, coworkers, and the world at large to your tenuous grasp on responsibility, order, and your own deteriorating sanity.

Enter dry shampoo. It arrived on the American mass market in the early 2000s with promises to buy you some time before hair-wash day (or before your loved ones start to worry), and now basically every hair brand boasts its own formulation of the concept. There’s one problem, though: Dry shampoo doesn’t work for me, and possibly for you, but the idea of dry shampoo is so lovely and optimistic that we all just kind of go along with it. The whole concept is a comforting, collective, persistent myth that it might be possible to put in no effort and get good results, which is one of the most seductive kinds of lies to tell yourself.

I remember the first time I heard it might be possible to put something in your roots to soak up oil and go an extra day without washing your hair; I remember the feeling of joy and possibility, the intoxicating sense that I had located one of the many shortcuts to adult femininity that certainly had to exist in order to make the whole thing a plausible enterprise. Then, like probably everyone else who read that issue of Seventeen or whatever circa 1998, I tipped a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder upside down a few inches over my head and came plummeting back to reality in a cloud of white powder, looking like an adolescent Tony Montana who had somehow misjudged her dive into that mountain of coke.

I was in college by the time aerosol dry shampoo started to pick up steam on the American beauty market, and that fleeting hope that there might be a shortcut returned immediately. Again, I saw some kind of ad or beauty tip in a magazine, way back when teens held paper periodicals in their hands, and this time, it promised to stave off wash day without the mess or ghostly white cast that baby powder brought with it. I picked up a can at the first opportunity, and it did not work. It didn’t work because it can’t work, because dry shampoo is a fundamentally nonsense product meant merely to unstick your greasy hair from your head long enough for you to look in the mirror and decide you feel confident enough to leave the house for the day, but not for a second longer.

Calling dry shampoo “shampoo” at all is where the lie starts; adding more gunk to your hair doesn’t clean out the existing product, oil, and buildup, unless said gunk is some kind of cleanser and you follow its application by then rinsing it back out, along with all the stuff it stripped off your hair and scalp. Technically, the most dry shampoo can promise is to soak up and mask the oil that’s making your hair look dirty, but even then, the oil is still, like, in there somewhere; it did not vanish, it did not ascend to the astral plane. It’s still on your head, mixed with the dry shampoo and all the stuff that was already in there, forming a paste and, depending on sensitivity and frequency of use, maybe even making your hair fall out. Dry shampoo really wants you to think it’s the hair version of one of those blotting papers we all used in middle school, which worked by moving the oil from your face to a trash can in between fifth and sixth period. But instead of doing anything resembling removal, dry shampoo just makes your hair dirtier in a different way than it was before, which feels like progress long enough to give you the will to roll out of bed in the morning, shake up that aerosol can, and go participate in capitalism.

Whatever you’ve spent on dry shampoo in your life actually went toward buying a little self-forgiveness, to making a gesture toward narrowing the gap between how annoying it is to wash and style your hair several times a week and how much you want to be a person who has the hygiene and discipline to wash and style your hair several times a week. My initial dry shampoo purchase was in, like, 2002, and I have repeated that cycle a couple times a year since then, in spite of the fact that not a single one of those products has ever worked in any real sense of the word. I’ve bought the cheap versions, the expensive versions, the foam versions, and the versions recast as “dry texturizing spray,” which want you to believe they can work sort of like a dry shampoo but, in doing so, also sort of admit that dry shampoo isn’t effective enough for there to be a big difference between it and anything else you spray on your head. I’ve clicked on an untold number of links promising to tell me the secret to using dry shampoo effectively or boasting fourth-day hair tips and tricks, and somehow none of those life hacks is ever just “maybe wash your hair, and sooner than later, too, because if you spray any more shit in it, you’ll just have to shampoo it three times to get it all out.”

2017 has been a reckoning in ways great and small for almost all of us. We’ve had to give up the ghost on many of the shoddy collective delusions that have ordered American life for the past generation: that we can all more or less agree on objective truths; that if you work hard enough, you’ll succeed; that we, as a society, are more or less moving forward to a better future. Free yourself from another one: Give up on dry shampoo. Make amends with wet shampoo. Take a shower.