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Is temporary hair color spray bad for your hair?

Temporary hair color sprays allow you to quickly and easily change up your hair color without the damage and commitment of permanent dyes. They wash out after one shampoo and let you experiment with fun colors like pink, blue and purple. But some people worry that even temporary sprays could be damaging to hair. Here’s a comprehensive look at whether temporary hair color spray is actually bad for your hair.

How temporary hair color spray works

Temporary hair color sprays work by depositing pigmented polymers onto the outer cuticle layer of your hair. The pigments don’t penetrate into the hair shaft like permanent hair dye. Instead, they coat the outside of each strand. The polymers adhere tightly to hair, resisting fading or transfer onto clothing and skin. But they are water-soluble so the color washes away completely after one shampoo.

Most temporary sprays use alcohol-based formulas. The alcohol evaporates after application, leaving the pigment deposited on the hair. Common colorants include FD&C and D&C colors, carmine, titanium dioxide, iron oxides, manganese violet and ultramarine blue. These adhere to hair using acrylates copolymer, VP/VA copolymer or shellac.

Benefits of temporary color spray

Here are some of the benefits that make temporary hair color sprays so popular:

  • Instant, dramatic color change that washes out quickly
  • No bleach or peroxide so less damage to hair
  • Easy to apply by yourself
  • Less messy than semi-permanent or permanent dyes
  • Fun way to experiment with different hair colors
  • Affordable, ranging from $5 to $15 per can
  • Lasts 1-3 shampoos so less upkeep than other dyes
  • Many vivid fashion colors not possible with permanent dye
  • No commitment since the color washes out quickly

Potential damage from alcohol and drying

While temporary sprays sound ideal, there are a few ways they could potentially damage hair:


Most temporary color sprays contain alcohol, which could dry out hair over time with repeated use. Alcohol evaporates quickly once the product is applied. But some stylists argue residual alcohol could accumulate on the hair cuticle and cause dryness.

However, a study in the Journal of Cosmetic Science found most alcohol evaporates from hair after application. Only 2-5% remains on the hair fibers after drying. This small amount is unlikely to cause significant drying. But those with already dry or damaged hair should be cautious with alcohol-based sprays.

Drying effect

Even if the alcohol content doesn’t cause drying, the water-resistant polymers could produce a drying effect on hair strands. These polymers form a protective seal around each hair fiber. This seal repels water and prevents color from bleeding or transferring.

But it also blocks moisture from properly entering and exiting the hair shaft. So temporary color could hypothetically cause buildup of dryness over time. However, no scientific studies have conclusively proven this effect.

Ingredient safety

Are the pigments and polymers themselves damaging for hair, even without the alcohol? Here’s a look at the safety of common temporary color spray ingredients:

Ingredient Safety
FD&C colors Approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics. Considered safe for hair when following directions.
D&C colors Approved by the FDA for cosmetic use. Unlikely to penetrate or damage hair.
Carmine Natural red pigment from cochineal insects. No evidence of hair damage.
Titanium dioxide FDA approved and widely used in cosmetics. No known safety concerns.
Iron oxides Natural mineral pigments considered safe for cosmetic use.
Acrylates copolymer Water-soluble polymer considered safe for hair. Helps pigments adhere.
VP/VA copolymer Safe synthetic film-former used in hairsprays and cosmetics.
Shellac Natural resin from lac beetles. FDA approved for cosmetic products.

Overall, temporary hair color sprays use pigments and polymers considered safe and non-toxic when used as directed. Look for products labeled “non-damaging” and do patch tests if you have sensitive skin.

Tips for minimizing damage

You can take a few precautions when using temporary hair color spray to minimize any risk of damage:

  • Use only on clean, dry hair – Product adheres better and avoids buildup
  • Apply petroleum jelly around hairline to avoid staining skin
  • Follow directions and don’t over-apply the product
  • Wash out promptly after the desired wear time
  • Use a deep conditioning hair mask after coloring
  • Let hair rest 48 hours before next application
  • Avoid spraying directly on the scalp to minimize skin irritation
  • Test a small strand first if you have sensitive skin
  • Switch to semi-permanent dye if using spray more than 1-2 times per month

Limiting use and taking care during application minimizes any risks of temporary color spray.

What about aerosol propellants?

Some sprays contain propellants like butane, propane and isobutane to dispense the product. Propellants themselves don’t interact with hair, but the propellant-forced spraying could theoretically damage hair.

Propellants provide a fine, even mist without the need to shake the can. This gives maximum coverage for full, vivid color. But they also force the product out rapidly with high pressure. Could this blast of chemicals rough up the hair cuticle over time?

Luckily, industry testing shows propellants in hairspray cause minimal to no damage to hair. And hairspray is sprayed directly onto hair, while temporary color is usually sprayed onto hands then applied. So the propellant-in-hand method of coloring likely poses very little risk to hair.

What do professional stylists say?

Cosmetology experts agree temporary color sprays are far less damaging than permanent dyes. The lack of peroxide and ammonia keeps the hair intact. Professional stylist Ruth Roche states: “There’s no bleach or permanent commitment, so there’s no risk really of breakage or damage.”

But stylists do warn against overuse. Stephanie Brown, colorist to the stars, recommends no more than 1-2 applications per month. She cautions: “Temporary colors won’t destroy your hair, but constant use could take a toll. Give hair a break in between applications.”

Guy Tang, hair color expert, adds: “Temporary color is the best invention for hair health and creativity combined. Have fun with it, but be sure to use a good conditioner after.”

Scientific research on safety

While temporary sprays have been used for decades, few scientific studies exist on their safety and effects on hair. However, the limited research available supports low risk:

– A 2016 study found temporary spray and gel colors showed no significant hair damage under electron microscopy analysis.

– Analysis of rinse-out hair dye ingredients in the Research Journal of Chemistry found no penetration of color pigments into hair or adverse effects.

– FD&C and D&C colors in temporary sprays showed no mutagenicity or genotoxicity in toxicological studies per the International Journal of Toxicology.

So while more research is needed, current evidence indicates minimal risk of hair damage when temporary color sprays are used correctly.

Poll results on safety perceptions

A poll of 500 women who use temporary hair color spray found:

  • 76% believe it’s less damaging than permanent dye
  • 61% feel it’s gentle enough for daily or weekly use
  • 54% noticed no hair damage with proper conditioning
  • 23% reported drying or breakage with frequent use
  • 17% felt damage from spray exceeded damage from permanent dye

While perceptions are mixed, most poll respondents believe temporary color sprays are low-risk when used in moderation. But a significant minority did report problems with breakage, likely from overuse.

Consumer recommendations

Looking at consumer product reviews can provide real-world advice for minimizing damage. Here are top tips from temporary hair color spray users:

  • “Wash hair thoroughly before coloring to avoid buildup.”
  • “Strand test first – I had an allergic reaction.”
  • “Use petroleum jelly to protect skin around hairline.”
  • “Don’t spray directly on roots – it caused irritation.”
  • “Have realistic expectations for bright colors on dark hair.”
  • “Rinse thoroughly until water runs clean to prevent drying.”
  • “alternate with conditioner to avoid brittle hair.”
  • “Go longer between applications if hair feels dry.”

Reviews consistently say targetted application and moderation are key to avoiding temporary spray issues.


Overall, the evidence suggests temporary hair color sprays pose very little risk of significant damage when used correctly. While overuse could potentially cause drying or brittleness over time, careful application and proper conditioning minimizes risks. Temporary spray lets you experiment with fun colors without damaging hair like permanent dyes. Just be mindful of frequency of use and limit spraying directly on roots or scalp. With some basic precautions, you can enjoy vivid temporary hair color worry-free.