Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Hair Spray Bad For You?

Also Known As: hair lacquer, spritz



Short answer

No, hair spray is not bad for you if used as directed. However, the substance is extremely flammable and can be harmful—potentially even lethal—if inhaled.



Long answer

It’s hard to imagine a world without hair spray, but it’s actually a relatively new product. Hair spray was invented after World War II. The aerosol spray component was originally developed by the Department of Agriculture; it was created to make the storage and application of insect repellents more convenient. It worked—and the innovative aerosol spray soon made its way into the cosmetics industry, paving the way for iconic hair spray-heavy up-dos like the beehive and the bouffant.

However, the aerosol applicator that made the product an instant success is also what makes it dangerous: hair spray is extremely flammable. Throughout the “big hair” eras of the 80s and early 90s, there were several hair spray-related fires. There were reports of serious injury and even death. So in 1993, the FDA finally released a warning statement explaining the high flammability of hair spray and cautioning Americans not to use it around open flames. 

After flammability, fumes are another serious danger of hair spray. The product contains Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are known to cause smog and potential damage to the ozone layer. And although Donald Trump doesn’t seem to think there is any cause for concern, VOCs can be harmful to people as well. Short-term exposure to VOCs can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, feeling faint and irritation of the eye and/or lungs. However, these symptoms only appear with very high levels of VOCs (example: stripping paint in a windowless room) and they typically subside when the exposure stops. 

It is also worth noting that laboratory animals who were regularly exposed to high levels of VOCs suffered long-term side effects. The New York Department of Health reports that some of the animals developed cancer which afflicted the kidney, liver, and nervous system. As such, they recommend minimizing repeated, long-term exposure to these chemicals whenever possible. 

In summary, hair spray is relatively safe to use. But for the reasons outlined above, it’s very important to use hair spray in a well-ventilated area AWAY from open flames. Do not smoke cigarettes while using the product, and try to avoid styling your hair by candlelight or close to other sources of fire. And if you’re working on a complicated up-do which requires a lot of time and hair spray, remember the importance of air circulation. Open a window or use an exhaust fan to encourage ventilation. If you start feeling faint, step outside to get some fresh air. Symptoms will usually cease when exposure does—but if you continue to feel sick, seek medical attention immediately.

Possible short-term side effects

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • irritation of eyes, throat, lungs
  • dizziness

Possible long-term side effects

  • cancer (in cases of heavy, prolonged voc exposure)

Ingredients to be aware of

  • copolymer blend (aerosol component)
  • alcohol (when combined with copolymer blend, results in flammable property)
  • formaldehyde
  • phthalates


  • helps create and hold many different hairstyles
  • adds volume without feeling heavy or weighed down
  • easy to use

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 10-19-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 10-19-2016
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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