Hairspray is a tricky devil: It can be suffocating, it can make you feel itchy and stifled, it can make your hair crunchy and painful to brush. And yet, when you’ve put in serious time with a curling iron and would rather not see all your effort go to waste by lunchtime, hairspray is your savior. Some of that bad stuff is immediate and unavoidable, but the coughing and itching are made worthwhile by the long-lasting glory of your hairstyle.
But there is one negative that occurs a while later, and can make you question using hairspray ever again: Flakiness. It looks like dandruff, but you know it’s not. Unfortunately, you can’t go up to every single person at work and preemptively assure them that actually, the white dust all over your shoulders is hairspray, not dead scalp skin. (That would be a weird thing to do.) Instead, prevent the flakes from occurring. Like so:
Use a clarifying shampoo
You don’t want hairspray buildup. As its name implies, if you don’t get rid of it, hairspray gunk will pile on top of the existing hairspray gunk in your hair. So every few washes, use a clarifying shampoo to really detox your hair.
At-home remedies exist, too—like putting baking soda in your current shampoo. Baking soda is great for cleaning, so use it to its full advantage here. One tablespoon in your usual palmful of shampoo ought to do it. Don’t forget to rinse well and never condition near your roots. That just leads to, yes, more buildup.
Be careful with your product layering, too: While detanglers and leave-in conditioners are great after a shower, and mousse and other styling products can really help right before you blow dry or curl, you can’t just pile everything onto your head and once and think you won’t bog your hair up. Pick and choose the ones that are most relevant to your style that day.
Spray the right way
One of the issues leading to flaking and shedding of hairspray could be how you’re spraying it in the first place.
“The best way to prevent hairspray from flaking would be to hold the can six to eight inches away from the scalp,” said Laurel Rush, a New York-based stylist who’s been doing hair for a decade. “Spraying too close can cause buildup, which may result in flaking.”
Don’t aim your hairspray in one spot for too long either. You want swift, even passes up and down your hair as you spray. Saturating certain sections too much, whether by holding the nozzle too close or moving too slowly, will only turn them crunchy, and eventually cause flaking. Don’t overdo the spray. One or two passes is sufficient.
Los Angeles-based hairstylist Hayley Heckmann told Lifehacker her tip to avoid flaking is to avoid using hairspray directly on hair at all. Instead, she suggests, spray a brush with hairspray, then brush the saturated bristles through your hair.
“I like a boar-bristle brush for all-over hold, or a toothbrush so tame flyaways and baby hairs,” she said. “This way, you still get the hold of a hairspray but without the stiffness or flaking you often get from spraying it directly onto the hair.”
If you find that your hair isn’t holding well, look for a hairspray with a slightly higher strength rating. Pay attention to your nozzle, too. You want one that sprays a fine, wide mist, not one with a direct, narrow spritz. If you find your hairspray is spraying a more concentrated stream than it used to, run the nozzle under hot water to remove residue from the opening.
“There are many different hairsprays on the market,” said Rush, and they come in a variety of “hold” ratings. “Make sure you know what you want your hairspray to do—whether you want volume, shine, or for it to act like dry shampoo.”
Pick quality hair products
On that note, it’s worth paying more for better products. As with anything, you will have to rely on trial and error (and occasionally, other people’s trial and error, thanks to online reviews) to figure out which hairspray works best for you. As Rush noted, there are a bunch of different strengths, finishes, and specialties available. If you don’t pick one that’s appropriate for the look you’re trying to create, you run the risk of getting frustrated, spraying too much, causing that dreaded buildup, and seeing flaking.
While you’re shopping around, Rush advised, try a travel size before committing to a full bottle. And if your hairspray is still flaking all over you while you’re searching for the right replacement, don’t worry. Use the sticky side of a piece of tape to pull the flakes off your shirt, and try to avoid playing with or tossing your hair too much.