There are many things that we can consider common human experiences: choosing to occasionally sleep in, skip a shower, or miss a hair washing day are definitely among them. But for those of us that have scalps that tend to run on the oiler side, these little time-saving experiences can mean facing a hair day that’s less than acceptable. Or even worse, there are cases where even constantly washing your hair does nothing to decrease the amount of oiliness on your scalp. What do you do when your oily hair keeps those good hair days away?
To understand how you end up with an overly-oily scalp, you need to understand what’s going on in the pores of your skin. Sebaceous glands in your skin produce an oily substance called sebum — when everything is working harmoniously, sebum helps to keep your hair smooth, shiny and healthy. Having appropriate amounts of sebum can mean the difference between dry, brittle hair and locks that are silky and smooth. But increased oil production leads to a “greasy” looking scalp, which can then be the difference between those aforementioned beautiful tresses and hair that’s shapeless, lifeless and weighed-down. Beyond that, overly-oily hair can also lead to other issues like dandruff or hair loss. Whether it’s the result of hormonal changes, changes in your diet, or just the medicine you take, overly oily hair is definitely annoying to deal with. But it doesn’t have to be.
Luckily, there’s a way to break free from the slick chains of excess oil: learning about the causes of oily hair (and how to treat and control it) will let you enjoy hair that’s healthy and balanced, without having to aggressively over-shampoo your scalp every day.
Photo by @karlibobarley
What Causes Oily Hair? And What Do I Do About It?
You don’t have to accept eternally greasy hair days; most of these underlying causes can be reversed or managed with a few lifestyle adjustments. See which of these issues you’ve been dealing with, and you’re well on your way to getting that hair oil under control:
1. Greasy skin. The easiest way to tell that you’re dealing with an overproduction of sebum is if you notice breakouts and visible skin issues. Chronically greasy skin clogs up your pores, which can then lead to excessive sebum build-up in your hair. There are different ways you can help manage it on the surface, like using blotting papers or a cleanser with salicylic acid, but the good news is that this underlying issue can be managed by following the suggestions listed below. Helping to deal with excessively greasy skin is the first (and arguably one of the most important) steps toward controlling an oily scalp.
2. Hormonal fluctuations. Hormonal fluctuations are another key cause of overactive sebaceous glands. Most people are aware of the cliches of puberty, and the “acne-ridden, moody teen” is probably one of the most common examples of hormones and oiliness butting heads. However these hormonal changes don’t just happen during pregnancy, puberty or menopause — prolonged periods of stress, specifically the high levels of cortisol that come with them, can send your oil production into overdrive. If you notice that your hair tends to get greasier when you’re stressed out, focus on dealing with the causes of your stress to reverse the effect. You might not be able to avoid hormonal changes that come with things like puberty, but stress management is an easy way for you to help curb the effects of extra oily hair in a way you can actively control.
3. Diet. You are what you eat! While you probably know the importance of a healthy diet in regards to looking and feeling your best, there are specific vitamins that have an effect on the greasiness of your hair and scalp. B vitamins, in particular, are directly correlated to sebum production: make sure you’re including vitamins B2 and B6 in your diet if you’re looking a little too greasy. Foods like beef, spinach, almonds, and whole grains are great places to start.
Photo by Cassell Ferere
4. Wearing hats and helmets. You wash your sheets and towels for a reason, and the same care should be taken to clean off dead skin cells and oil from your hats and helmets (and of course, pillowcases). Ensuring your headgear is clean is once more step towards overall scalp health — if you start to notice breakouts concentrated along your hairline or forehead, that’s a good indicator that your hats, helmets and other assorted headgear are in need of a good wash.
5. Dirty brushes. The same logic applies here: nothing reverses the effort of cleaning your hair like using a dirty brush! Every time you brush your hair, you’re accumulating more and more dead skin cells, bacteria, and old remnants from product buildup being pulled from your hair. And the act of brushing itself helps to spread the scalp oil throughout your hair, making everything look greasier. To combat oily hair, try implementing a weekly brush cleaning routine. After removing any hair, wash the brush with a mild shampoo, and leave it out to dry overnight. Clean tools are an important part of maintaining your hair and scalp health.
6. Excessive hair touching. For those of us who can’t stop playing with our hair, you could unintentionally be contributing to the overproduction of sebum. And as a double-whammy of an issue, you’re also helping to spread the oiliness across your scalp. We’d suggest practicing self-control and investing in a fidget spinner instead.
Photo by @karlibobarley
Learning Proper Hair Care
There are also two more potential reasons why your hair is feeling a little too oily, and they both have to do with your hair care routine.
7. Using the wrong hair products. When choosing your hair care products, make sure you’re turning to things that will provide targeted care. For days you don’t turn to dry shampoo, your shampoo for oily hair should be cleansing and clarifying to get rid of build-up, but without being too harsh that your scalp is forced into over-production of oils to compensate. Those who have oily hair are also more likely to have dandruff (as a result of a buildup of oil on the scalp and hair follicles) which is why you should consider trying a dandruff shampoo. You might also want to occasionally swap in an apple cider vinegar rinse: mix 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into 1 cup of warm water, and apply to your head after shampooing. This helps to balance the pH of your scalp, as another way to keep oil in check. When it’s time to condition, try to stick to only the lengths and ends, avoiding the scalp if possible. The more product you add the more buildup you get, which will more than likely end up making your hair even oilier than before. To save yourself a wash day (another great move to fight oily scalps is to avoid washing your hair every day), try a dry shampoo spray that absorbs oil without adding water. Washing your hair too often strips your hair of its natural oils, which has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging oil production. By choosing oily hair products, you’re making sure you’re giving your scalp specialized attention, and fighting the grease head-on.
8. Issues with styling. Rule number one, steer clear of anything that promises to add “shine” to your hair when you’re dealing with an overly-oily scalp. It’s best to not add even more oil onto an already greasy scalp, and any product that touts shine as a top benefit will more than likely add extra unwanted slickness onto your scalp. For styling products, try using a texturizing spray for fine hair that will help build light volume without weighing your hair down. And the way that you style your hair can also affect the amount of oil your scalp produces. Blasting your scalp with hot air from a blow dryer has been known to increase oil production, so try to let your hair air dry naturally when you can.
9. Wearing your hair up at night. If your hair is feeling particularly greasy, your instinct might be to pull it up and away from your face at night as you sleep. But this is actually counterproductive since wearing your hair up traps its natural oils, instead of letting them distribute down the hair shaft to your ends. This will most likely leave you with an oily scalp, dry ends, and a not-so-great hair day ahead. Remember to let your hair down and let it rest!
Dealing with oily hair doesn’t have to be an uphill battle; you just need to make some small adjustments to your lifestyle and beauty routine. Make sure you’re using the right hair care (and wash) routine, eating a well-balanced diet, cleaning your brushes and taking care of your skin. If for some reason you try these remedies and still aren’t satisfied with the results, try visiting a dermatologist. They can do more clinical tests to determine what’s causing the oily scalp, and potentially prescribe other treatments or medications that can help. While oil is a necessary part of maintaining overall hair and scalp health, these tips should help ensure that everything is working harmoniously.
by Lauren Hannel, staff contributor
cover photo by @karlibobarley