Is Hairspray Bad for Your Hair?

Hairspray is a staple in many people’s beauty routines. A quick spritz adds the perfect finishing touch to an elaborate updo or helps tame flyaways on a breezy day. But some may wonder, is hairspray bad for your hair?

The short answer is, it can be if not used properly. Hairspray contains chemicals that can potentially damage hair with repeated improper use. However, when used correctly and in moderation, hairspray can be an effective styling tool without inflicting harm.

Understanding hairspray’s composition, how to apply it, and which products are best for your hair type is key to avoiding problems. With some care and consideration, you can keep your hair healthy while still enjoying the many styling benefits of hairspray.

What Is Hairspray?

Before determining whether hairspray is bad for hair, it helps to understand what exactly is in it. Hairspray contains polymers, fragrances, and propellants.

The polymers act as a flexible coating over each strand, allowing hair to stay in place without becoming too stiff or crunchy. Fragrances give hairspray its signature scent, which can range from floral to musky.

Propellants are responsible for pushing the product out of the can. Older hairsprays used environmentally-harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as propellants, but today, most formulas rely on less damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) or compressed air propellants.

Hairspray became popular in the 1960s for its ability to hold beehives, bouffants, and other elaborate hairstyles in place. Today, it remains a staple for adding lasting hold and controlling flyaways. The right hairspray can keep curls springy, updos neat, and styles locked in place for hours.

Is Hairspray Bad for Your Hair?

Hairspray does not damage hair simply by nature of being hairspray. However, certain ingredients and improper use can lead to adverse effects. Alcohol is one concerning ingredient found in some budget hairsprays.

Alcohol can dry out the hair shaft, causing brittleness and breakage over time. It strips the hair of its natural oils and moisture. For those with dry or damaged hair, an alcohol-based hairspray can exacerbate these issues.

Additionally, some hairsprays rely on harsh chemicals like formaldehyde to create a stronger hold. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can also trigger allergic reactions and other health issues.

However, not all hairsprays are created equal. Higher-end formulas often exclude alcohol and other damaging ingredients. They may also incorporate beneficial natural oils and nutrients that nourish hair as they style.

When used excessively, even natural hairsprays can create problems. Overusing any hairspray can lead to buildup, crispy texture, and breakage. Those with oily hair may be tempted to reapply throughout the day, but this causes a sticky residue.

So in summary, hairspray itself is not inherently bad for hair. But certain ingredients, overuse, and improper application can damage hair over time.

Washing and Conditioning

To avoid potential damage, it is important to wash hairspray out of hair thoroughly. Most experts recommend shampooing at least every other day when regularly using hairspray. Allowing it to sit can cause drying and breakage.

Using a moisturizing conditioner is also advised to replenish any lost moisture and smooth the hair cuticle. Look for options containing natural oils and butters that cater to your hair type.

If sleeping with hairspray in your hair, use a silk pillowcase or wrap hair in a silk scarf. This prevents tangles and knots that can occur as a result of hairspray and lead to breakage. The smooth fabric allows you to wake up with hair intact.

Heat Styling and Brushing

Two other hairspray pitfalls involve heat styling and brushing. It is not advised to use hairspray before heat styling. The combination of hot tools and hairspray can essentially “cook” hair, causing significant damage.

Instead, apply hairspray after heat styling to lock in the look. The heat helps set the hairspray so it adheres better to hair.

Brushing hair with lots of hairspray can also be problematic. The stiff hold makes it difficult to brush through knots, leading to breakage. Use a wide-tooth comb or brush gently when hairspray is present.

Harsh Chemicals

Some hairsprays include chemicals that can irritate the scalp and hair over time. We touched on alcohol, but some also include parabens and phthalates.

Alcohol dries out hair, causing brittleness, split ends, and thinning. This effect worsens with repeated use, as hair becomes more dehydrated. Those with dry or damaged hair should avoid alcohol-based sprays.

Parabens may disrupt hormone function, potentially interfering with fertility and reproductive health according to some studies. They also strip hair of moisture, much like alcohol.

Phthalates are added to help fragrances stick to hair. However, they may be hormone disruptors and have been linked to developmental issues. They are toxic chemicals that can build up in the body over time.

For those concerned about these ingredients, seek out more natural hairsprays. Many brands now offer options made with naturally-derived polymers, essential oils, and non-toxic fragrances.

Benefits of Hairspray

While hairspray can damage hair when misused, it offers many styling benefits when used correctly:

  • It tames flyaways by coating the outer hair cuticle to smooth strands. Focus spray at the crown where flyaways originate.
  • Hairspray can add major volume by spraying at the roots to create lift. Style the top layer up, then spray underneath at the base.
  • It helps curls hold their spring and last longer. Mist hairspray all over finished curls to set them in place.
  • Hairspray can hide greasy roots or add texture to disguise dirty hair. Use it to add volume at the crown and absorb oil.

Do not be afraid to experiment with different brands and formulas to see which works best for your hair type and styling needs.

How to Apply Hairspray

Applying hairspray properly is key to avoiding potential damage:

  • Always shake the can vigorously first to thoroughly mix the formula before spraying.
  • Mist hairspray from about 6 inches away for even distribution. Avoid concentrating it in one spot.
  • Use a light hand and avoid over-saturating hair, which can leave it stiff or flaky looking.
  • Gently smooth down sprayed sections with your hand to avoid crunchy texture and help set the hold.
  • Make sure the nozzle is working properly and free of buildup. Clean with warm water if needed.

Be mindful not to spray hairspray directly at the roots in one spot. Distribute it along the lengths and ends for flexible hold that still allows movement.

Different Types of Hairsprays

Hairsprays are not one-size-fits-all. The different formulas, scents, and holds allow you to choose what works best for your hair:

  • Light hold hairsprays add flexible hold with movement. These are ideal for fine or thin hair.
  • Medium hold formulas provide reliable hold that lasts hours but still has some flexibility. This is the most popular option suitable for most hair types.
  • Maximum and mega hold hairsprays deliver an ultra-strong, locked-in hold ideal for updos and intricate styling. They often use alcohol to achieve the powerful hold.
  • Volumizing hairsprays contain ingredients that add major lift at the roots without stickiness. Great for boosting flat, limp hair.
  • Shine spray hairsprays include oils that add luminous shine while taming flyaways and frizz.

Consider your hair’s needs, thickness, and the longevity desired when choosing a hairspray. Thicker, curlier hair often benefits from stronger holds.

Can Hairspray Damage Your Lungs?

Some people worry that using hairspray can be bad for your lungs as you inhale it. However, there is no evidence that occasional hairspray use damages lung health.

The greater concern involves salon workers and hairdressers who use hairspray all day long for years. Studies do show prolonged, heavy exposure may impact lung function over time.

For the average user, there is minimal risk to lungs when hairspray is used in a ventilated space. But it is smart to avoid spraying right next to your face.

Those with asthma or sensitivities should exercise additional caution and opt for natural hairspray formulas.


While hairspray can damage hair when used improperly or in excess, it is generally safe when applied correctly. Pay attention to ingredients, opt for natural formulas, wash it out sufficiently, and use heat and brushes cautiously.

With some care taken to support your hair’s health, hairspray can be an effective styling tool without posing major risks. Focus on regularly conditioning hair and avoid over-using sprays with alcohol or other harsh chemicals.

So is hairspray bad for your hair? Not necessarily, when used properly. But prioritizing your hair’s overall wellbeing is always advised for locks that look and feel their best.

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