Cornstarch for Hair Is the Dry Shampoo Alternative You Never Knew You Needed

Woman with long, dark hair in high ponytail hairstyle

Ohlamour Studio / Stocksy

When you think of cornstarch, chances are your mind goes to the kitchen. But it turns out that this ingredient belongs in your beauty cabinet, too, as cornstarch has benefits that address a wide variety of hair issues. It's an accessible, inexpensive ingredient that—while best known as a DIY alternative to dry shampoo—actually has a number of purposes to boost the look and feel of your strands. We spoke to two certified trichologists to get all the details, from the benefits to how to use it. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about cornstarch for hair.

Meet the Expert

Cornstarch for Hair

Type of ingredient: Absorbent

Main benefits: Adds volume, extends wash time, absorbs sebum, and minimizes frizz

Who should use it: Anyone with oily hair, straight or wavy hair, or loose curls. It's not ideal for tight curls or coils, sensitive scalps, or dry hair types.

How often to use it: Daily to weekly

Works well with: Baking soda, coconut oil

Don't use with: Dry shampoo

What Is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a soft, white powder made from corn, separated from the heart of the kernel. It's commonly used in cooking as a flour alternative or thickener, and for hair, the ingredient can absorb excess oil, boost volume, and more.

Benefits of Cornstarch for Hair

Cornstarch can do a variety of great things for your hair, with the most notable being oil absorption, forming a protective barrier, and boosting volume. More about these and other benefits are as follows:

  • Manages sebum: "Cornstarch is an effective remedy for the overproduction of sebum, particularly for those with oily scalp and hair," explains certified trichologist Meerika Khanna. "The exceptional oil-absorbing properties help control excess oil and sebum." Certified trichologist Megan Brooks adds that "the fine, powdery texture of cornstarch acts as a sponge, clinging to the oils that can make your hair appear greasy and limp."
  • Soothes your scalp: If you have an itchy scalp, cornstarch might help you find relief. "It can help alleviate irritation and itchiness, making it a suitable option for those with sensitive or dandruff-prone scalps," Brooks tells us.
  • Locks in moisture: No matter the weather, cornstarch can help. "When applied to your hair, it forms a protective barrier that seals in hydration," Brooks says. "This helps to prevent excessive moisture loss, making your hair less prone to dryness, frizz, and damage." She adds that it also helps the cuticle to lay flat instead of staying raised and open, while Khanna notes that it's particularly effective for frizz in humid conditions.
  • Adds volume: Limp hair gets a boost with the use of cornstarch. "For those with fine or thin hair seeking to boost fullness and volume, cornstarch is a natural volumizer," Khanna says. "It imparts noticeable volume by lifting the roots and adding fullness to the hair."
  • Extends time between washes: We all have days when we'd rather use dry shampoo than spend extra time in the shower, and cornstarch can act as an alternative. "Cornstarch works great as a natural dry shampoo and helps prolong the intervals between hair washes," Khanna tells us. "It effectively refreshes hair, reducing the need for frequent washing."
  • A chemical-free alternative: Many dry shampoos have a host of ingredients that you can't even pronounce—you might remember if you were following the recent recall. "Dry shampoo has become an instant go-to for many hair care routines, but commercial options can contain chemicals and aerosols that may not be suitable for all hair types or the environment," Brooks explains. She says that cornstarch is less likely to cause irritation than dry shampoo due to its soothing nature.

While cornstarch is a household ingredient and not specifically made for haircare, you don't need to buy any special version of it to use on your scalp or hair, and the regular box or tin you find at the grocery store will do just fine. So if you already have it in your kitchen, feel free to try it any time you're out of dry shampoo or want to check out the benefits.

Hair Type Considerations

While you might wonder if cornstarch is only suitable for very oily scalps, it can actually be beneficial for a wide array of hair types. While it's great for oily hair, it can also help fine and frizzy hair, as well as straight, wavy, and loosely curly textures. It's good for anyone seeking volume: "It adds volume and texture to otherwise lackluster locks," Brooks tells us. "By sprinkling a small amount of cornstarch onto the roots and massaging it in, you can instantly lift the hair and create the illusion of thicker, fuller strands."

For wavy, curly, or frizzy hair, "cornstarch's texturizing properties add grip and structure to your hair, making it easier to style and control," Brooks says. "It can help define curls or waves, giving your hair a smoother and more polished look."

Cornstarch isn't for everyone, though: If your scalp is dry, infected, or prone to dandruff, you should avoid it. "Cornstarch's moisture-absorbing properties can worsen dryness, making it unsuitable for individuals seeking hydration," Khanna warns. She says to avoid it if your scalp is overly sensitive, too: "Sensitive scalps may react negatively to product build-up or improper use, requiring careful application and thorough removal to prevent discomfort."

If you have color-treated hair, cornstarch isn't ideal for you. "Cornstarch is a white powdery substance, which can leave a visible residue on colored hair, making it look dull or ashy," Brooks tells us. "If you have vibrant-colored hair, be cautious when using cornstarch."

Lastly, avoid cornstarch if you have tight curls or coils: "Individuals with very tight or tight curls may find it challenging to distribute cornstarch evenly due to the unique texture of their hair," Brooks explains. "Applying powders like cornstarch may lead to uneven results and make it difficult to achieve the desired outcome."

How to Use Cornstarch for Hair

As an absorbent ingredient, cornstarch is something you'll typically apply to your roots, but you can also use it on the lengths of your hair for volume or frizz control. Minimal prep is necessary, as well, so all you need is to have it on hand before trying the below uses.

  • As a pre-shampoo scalp treatment: Khanna says to "apply a cornstarch-based scalp mask to help control excess sebum production" before shampooing, explaining that "this mask can be especially beneficial for those with oily scalps." To make the mask, "mix cornstarch with water to create a paste, apply to the scalp, and leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly," she tells us.
  • As dry shampoo: Arguably one of the most common uses of cornstarch for hair, the ingredient works well for oil control as a dry shampoo. To use it, Brooks says to first brush or detangle your hair, then "start with a small amount of cornstarch—about a teaspoon or less, depending on the length and thickness of your hair." After that, simply "pour the cornstarch into your hands or use a small container to control the amount," and "using your fingertips, gently massage it into the roots of your hair, focusing on areas that tend to get oily or where you want to add volume." She adds that "if you have fine hair, this is typically at the crown and along the parting." After that, distribute the product with a brush or comb to avoid white spots.
  • To boost volume: Adding cornstarch directly to your conditioner can give you a boost of volume. "Mix a small amount of cornstarch with your regular conditioner," Khanna says. "Apply this mixture to your hair, focusing on the roots and areas where you desire more volume. Rinse it out thoroughly to enjoy a voluminous effect."
  • To reduce frizz: If you're looking to reduce frizz on humid days or otherwise, a cornstarch rinse can be an effective way to do so. "Create a cornstarch rinse by mixing it with water until it forms a liquid solution," Khanna explains. "After shampooing and conditioning, pour the cornstarch rinse over your hair. It acts as a natural frizz control method, helping to maintain smoother and more manageable hair."

The Final Takeaway

Cornstarch's absorbent properties have made it popular as a dry shampoo alternative, but it also has several other benefits, from boosting volume to achieving smoother strands. While it works across a wide range of hair types and is fairly simple to use, those with dry or sensitive scalps, color-treated hair, or curly and coily hair types may want to avoid it or proceed with caution, as the ingredient can cause irritation or work against your hair's appearance in these cases. That being said, for those it works well for, cornstarch is an affordable, multipurpose ingredient that can give your hair a boost whether you're out of certain products or looking for an at-home solution.

FAQ
  • How do you make cornstarch for hair?

    To use cornstarch as a dry shampoo, you don't need to mix it with anything—it's good as is. To use it as a hair mask for volume, add a small amount to your conditioner.

  • Is cornstarch good for low-porosity hair?

    Yes, cornstarch can work well on low-porosity hair.

  • Does cornstarch lose its effectiveness?

    Cornstarch doesn't lose its effectiveness over time, as long as it's not expired. Always check your products for "best by" dates, but cornstarch should last for years in the cupboard.

  • Does cornstarch have healing properties?

    Cornstarch doesn't have any healing properties. That said, it may help soothe an irritated scalp, as long as your scalp isn't dry or infected.

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