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Healthy hair produces a certain amount of sebum, or oil, as a way to hydrate your scalp and protect your hair. The amount of oil you produce varies depending on your hair type, your hygiene habits, and other lifestyle factors.
Sometimes this natural oil can collect on your hair, especially at the root. This gives your hair a slick appearance that some people feel looks dirty.
If you feel your hair may be oilier than it should be, keep reading. This article will cover the causes of oily hair, products that can control oil production, and some home remedies for when your hair looks too oily for your liking.
The oil in your hair is part of your body’s defense system for the sensitive hair of your scalp.
This oil mixes with sweat and dirt, coating your scalp and sometimes the top of your head. This is normal and, for the most part, unavoidable.
Practicing good hair hygiene by washing your scalp often and well with a shampoo cleanses the oil and gives your hair a fresh start.
But some hair types are prone to oil buildup. Oil can build up to a visible level in less than a 24-hour time span. Sometimes intense exercise, overuse of hair products, or even going outside in excessive humidity or heat can trigger an oily hair day.
One somewhat unexpected cause of oily hair is overwashing. That’s right, it’s possible to wash your hair too often.
Every time you wash your hair with shampoo, it sends the scalp the signal to produce more sebum. If you’re washing your hair too often, your scalp gets the message that it needs to be in oil production overdrive.
This can result in oily buildup on your scalp.
Straight hair is especially prone to collecting oil.
That’s because the hair shaft doesn’t have any texture or wave to it, so oil slides straight down the hair shaft and collects all over your head. It also makes oil in your hair more visible when hair hangs straight down.
Another cause of oily hair is the type of products you use.
Sebum is a type of oil, which means that simply washing it with water doesn’t break it up. Rinsing your hair with just water or skipping the shampoo step and using only conditioner can allow oil to build up.
While it might not be easy to spot the oil when your hair is drying, it quickly appears oily again only a few hours or so later.
That’s because only certain ingredients, found in most shampoos, can break down the oil that builds up on your hair.
There are special shampoos that do an especially good job of cleansing your hair of oil.
When excess sebum has been dissolved, you’ll notice that your hair stays fresh, clean, and oil-free for a longer span. Some expert-recommended shampoos for oily hair include:
- Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo. This shampoo is well-loved by experts because it contains salicylic acid as an active ingredient. Salicylic acid breaks down the oil on your head and scalp better than regular shampoos.
- Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Shampoo. Aveda’s shampoo aims to cleanse your scalp with ingredients like echinacea and sage. These ingredients aim to refresh your scalp, clear away dead skin cells, and leave the pores and sweat glands underneath your hair free from obstruction.
- Chi Tea Tree Oil Shampoo. The Chi brand is known for products that protect and strengthen your hair cuticle, even when your hair has been damaged by heat. This oil-treatment shampoo is no different. Tea tree oil breaks down and washes away oil and debris on your scalp.
- Redken Scalp Relief Oil Detox Shampoo. Redken’s take on a shampoo for oily hair aims to do a deep clean of your scalp. Eucalyptus oil and citrus peel are part of what makes this shampoo work to solve dandruff issues and treat an oily scalp.
You can also work on treating oily hair using simple home remedies. There are several ingredients that can work to cut through hair that feels greasy or looks oily.
Keeping some hair-healthy oils on hand can work wonders to minimize oil buildup on your scalp.
Though it might feel counterintuitive to apply oils in an attempt to make hair less oily, certain essential oils work to break down sebum and clarify the pores on your scalp.
Run a drop or two through your hair between washes, being careful not to apply undiluted essential oils directly to your skin. You can also combine essential oils with other ingredients for a soothing hair mask.
Apple cider vinegar
Using apple cider vinegar (ACV) as an occasional rinse for oily hair has been anecdotally successful.
People who swear by it believe that the ACV breaks down the oil while changing the pH of your hair and scalp, making it less prone to oil buildup in the first place.
If you’d like to try this remedy:
- Combine up to 10 teaspoons of ACV with about a gallon of warm water.
- Soak your hair in the mixture for a few minutes after washing with shampoo and conditioner.
- Rinse all of the ACV out of your hair when you’re finished.
Using aloe vera strips off excess sebum and may also promote circulation around your scalp.
You can use a few drops of pure aloe vera as a leave-in conditioning treatment, or cleanse your hair with aloe as part of your routine.
You might be caught between washes with hair that feels oily. Especially after a workout or on a hot day, it’s good to have a few quick fixes on hand to minimize the look of oil in your hair.
Dry shampoo can mattify and dry your roots by absorbing oil. Keep in mind that using dry shampoo too often between washes can lead to irritation of your scalp.
Cornstarch or baby powder
Cornstarch and baby powder are the same concept as dry shampoo, just with one natural ingredient.
It can be a little tricky to apply just the right amount of cornstarch or baby powder to your hair. Both of these ingredients can dry out your scalp quickly, so just use a tiny bit at the crown of your head as a way to make oily roots less obvious.
Oil-absorbing sheets are typically used to absorb excess oil from the skin on your face. If you’re in a pinch, you can use them to absorb oil from your hair quickly. Focus on the root of your hair and your scalp to get rid of some of the oil.
Sometimes simply changing your grooming habits can reduce the amount of oil in your hair. Here are some lifestyle tips that may help oil levels in your hair.
Use baby shampoo
If you’re not ready to invest in a specialized shampoo meant to reduce oil, try using a gentle shampoo made for the sensitive scalps of babies and toddlers.
The ingredients in these products should dissolve oil on your head without triggering your scalp to produce extra sebum.
Wash your hair more (or less) often
This one will take a little trial and error to figure out, but if you find your mane is often weighed down by excess oil, chances are you need to switch up your beauty regimen.
Try going a day or two between washes if you’re used to washing every day, and see if that makes a difference.
If you only wash your hair two or three times a week, or wait until after a sweaty workout or humid day to wash your hair, try washing it more often.
Skip brushing between washes
Every time you brush your hair, you’re dragging sebum and sweat from your scalp down into your hair cuticle. When you distribute the oil throughout your hair, your scalp produces more. Brush less to keep the oil situation to a minimum.
Lay off the straightener
Similar to brushing your hair, straightening your hair moves oil throughout your hair cuticle. Hair straighteners and other hot tools for hair also apply heat close to the root of your hair, which can trigger your sweat glands.
Change out your pillowcases
Remember to wash your pillowcases often. Once a week is a good rule of thumb. Otherwise, every time you go to bed you’re lying in the oil and sweat buildup of your hair from day’s past.
You can wake up with a clean slate by making sure your pillowcases are as clean as they can be.
Some hair types are more prone to oily buildup than others. But there are plenty of home remedies, hair care products, and beauty routine swaps you can do to cut down on how oily your hair appears.
Chances are, even if you feel like you’ve tried everything, there’s a trick or two that you don’t know about.
Remember, oil is just part of the way your body protects your scalp, and there’s nothing dirty or wrong about a little oil buildup in your hair.
If you’re concerned by how much you sweat or if your scalp is often irritated, speak to a dermatologist for some expert advice.