When it comes to hair care, there's nothing more frustrating than actually taking the time to wash your hair, only to emerge from the shower looking like the girl from The Ring. For most of us, wash days are a huge time suck and require a ton of patience, what with all the detangling, rinsing, soaking, drying, and styling. Because it's such a long process and nobody has time (or at least we don't) for the whole shampoo-condition-style every day, we try to limit the number of wash days (not to mention the fact that over-cleansing leads to dryness and damage). So when we finally get around to washing our hair, and our shampoo sessions leave our strands feeling as greasy as before, we're understandably cranky and more than a little bit confused.
While not everyone has the same hair care routine, having greasy hair after washing it defies all logic, yet it seems to happen more often than not. To demystify this curious phenomenon, we went to the experts to uncover the most common reasons you have greasy hair even after you wash it.
Meet the Expert
- Nicholas Langley is a colorist at Benjamin Salon in West Hollywood. He developed and strengthened his craft while assisting celebrity colorist Negin Zand.
- Olivia Austin is the co-founder of Playa, a clean hair care line from Venice, California.
- Kristen Shaw is celebrity hairstylist who has worked with Chloe Sevigny and Olivia Munn, to name a few. She attended the Aveda Institute in Chicago and studied under the legendary Parisian hairstylist, Yannick D’ls.
Keep reading to find out what products could be causing your oily residue and what you can be doing differently to stop your hair from always feeling greasy.
Check the Oils in Your Shampoo
If you've recently become more conscious of the ingredients in your beauty products and have made the switch to more natural formulas, your strands might not be getting the same squeaky clean feel as before. "I love natural shampoos," Shaw says. "However, they have to have the right chemistry to work." A lot of shampoos that rely on natural ingredients are loaded with oils that might leave residue behind (for example, coconut oil-based shampoos) and a buildup that is difficult to rinse out. But don't feel like you have to switch back to your old products just to get a thorough wash. Shampoos with clean ingredients that also provide a deep clean do exist—you just have to know what you're looking for. Try Reverie Shampoo ($38), which is an all-natural botanical cleanser meant to gently but effectively wash away impurities.
Use a Gentle Shampoo Formula
While we're on the topic of harsh sulfates… if your go-to shampoo relies on these surfactants, that could also be the cause of your greasy strands. Commonly found in shampoo formulas, sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), are chemical detergents that create the bubbly, sudsy feel when you work up a lather. But as it turns out, that squeaky clean feel can work against your goal of grease-free hair in the end. "A lot of shampoos on the market contain harsh chemicals that create a vicious cycle of aggressively stripping hair that then leads your scalp to overproduce oil in an attempt to maintain balance," says Austin.
Swap your sulfate shampoo for a formula with capryl glucoside meant to wash away dirt and debris without removing all the natural oils necessary for a healthy scalp and hair.
The Playa Every Day Shampoo ($28) also relies on a coconut-based cleanser to detoxify as well as aloe vera to moisturize.
Shampoo Twice When You Wash Your Hair
If you find that your hair still feels oily or full of greasy product residue even after you wash it, Langley recommends doubling up on shampooing. In other words, wash, lather, and rinse—then do it all again. "The first shampoo will remove dirt and buildup while the second shampoo will actually cleanse your scalp," he explains. "Remember: Not all shampoos are created equally, so you will need to find one that suits your scalp, hair texture, and styling needs." We recommend R+Co's Television Perfect Hair Shampoo ($32), which is sulfate-free and uses juniper berry extract meant to maintain the ideal balance of oil on the hair and scalp.
Find the Perfect Shampoo and Conditioner Combo
Finding hair products that strike the perfect balance of being moisturizing but not too rich is no doubt challenging but still necessary for healthy, hydrated strands and a balanced scalp. The fix? Shaw suggests breaking the habit of buying matching shampoos and conditioners that offer the same benefits. "Moisturizing shampoos are amazing, but sometimes you need to pair a lighter conditioner with it to balance it out," Shaw says. For example, she likes to pair Davines Love Smoothing Shampoo ($30) with a light conditioner like Davines Dede Conditioner ($34). With this product pairing, you get the ideal amount of moisturizing benefits without overloading your hair with heavy product.
Moisturize With a Mask
While the combination of a moisturizing shampoo and a light conditioner might be the fix for those with a drier scalp and oily ends, if your parched strands need more hydration and nourishment than a lighter conditioner can provide, Shaw recommends trying a different approach. "If you think your hair needs more moisture but are afraid of the oil, you can also try a light shampoo and pair it with a hair mask, so you get that extra push of moisture without the grease," Shaw explains. We recommend the Verb Hydrating Mask ($18) for it's ability to deeply hydrate dry, damaged strands with the help of babassu oil and glycerin. Did we mention it's sulfate-free, too?
Add a Clarifying Shampoo to Your Weekly Routine
If your daily hair routine involves lots of sprays, serums, pomades, or other styling products, your gentle shampoo might not be able to remove all the product buildup, which in turn leaves your hair feeling heavy and greasy. Or maybe you rely on the power of dry shampoo on the days between washes (we don't blame you), and you need a good deep cleanse to remove all the gritty texture from your roots. Whatever the case, a clarifying shampoo might be necessary to remove all the gunk and get your hair back to its normal condition. Langley suggests incorporating a clarifying formula (we like Sachajuan's Scalp Shampoo, $29) into your regular routine once a week.
If you have an extra oily scalp, try using a clarifying shampoo. Its heavy surfactants promise to make it much stronger than traditional cleansers so it will give you a deep, thorough cleanse.
Treat Your Scalp
When addressing greasy hair, it's important not to neglect your scalp and overlook how the condition of your skin and pores at the root may affect your hair overall. Avoid products with silicones, which might clog the pores, and reach for products intended to balance the scalp and remove buildup. Just like on the skin on the rest of your body, Shaw recommends doing a mud mask on your scalp quarterly, "to keep your scalp replenished with good minerals and free of all the gunk that weighs down your hair and results in oil buildup," she says. She offers a treatment that she whips up herself with clay and essential oils to her clients, but you can also achieve similar results at home with the help of a hair mask. We love the Christophe Robin Cleansing Volumizing Paste With Pure Rassoul Clay and Rose Extracts ($53), which transforms from a paste into foam as it cleanses. Somewhere between a mask and a shampoo, this hair treatment promises to balance the scalp as it deeply cleanses with the help of rassoul clay.
Take a Look at Your Diet
If you've tried all of the above treatments and still can't seem to find the root cause of your greasy strands, the culprit might not be any particular product or technique, but rather what you're consuming on a day to day basis. "Oftentimes what comes out is coming from within," Shaw says. Consult your doctor or a nutritionist to evaluate if anything in your diet could be having an effect on the condition of your scalp and hair. "Take a look at your diet and see where you can take some things out that may be overpowering your pores," she says. For instance, Shaw recommends cutting out potentially irritating foods, such as dairy, for a couple of weeks to see how your scalp fares. "Oftentimes things like dairy, if you are sensitive, can cause clogged pores."
When to See a Professional
If the tips above aren’t helping or you feel like your hair is getting more greasy, you may want to speak to your doctor to rule out other conditions. Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as dandruff, is a condition that can cause oily hair and flakes. Your doctor can help determine a treatment plan, including medicated shampoos, that can help.
Hormones also can affect your oil production. Polycystic Ovary System (PCOS) can affect your hormonal balance and can result in oily hair. Your doctor can examine you for this, as well as talk to you about birth control pills and other factors that can affect your hormones.
As mentioned above, it may also be helpful to speak to a nutritionist about your diet and what kind of foods will help keep your hair and scalp healthy.
How often should you wash your hair if it is oily?
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) says those with oily hair should wash once a day to keep the grease at bay. However, if your hair is still oily at the end of the day after daily washing, try shampooing less frequently as overwashing can actually cause an increase in oil for some.
Is greasy hair healthy?
Your body’s sebaceous glands naturally create the oily substance called sebum to help keep your hair shiny and your scalp moisturized and healthy. If too little sebum is produced, your hair can get dry and brittle—and if too much sebum is produced, your hair can get greasy.
What home remedy is good for greasy hair?
An apple cider vinegar rinse can help remove oily and scalp buildup, as well as restore the pH balance for shinier hair. In a spray bottle, combine five parts water to one part vinegar and spray it over your scalp, working it through the roots. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes before rinsing out.
How do you quickly get rid of greasy hair?
If you don’t have time to wash your hair, dry shampoo is your best bet for quickly getting rid of the excess oil. Simply spray the dry shampoo at the roots and scalp, letting it sit for a minute or two to absorb the oil, before brushing it through and then staying as normal.
Gavazzoni Dias MFR. Pro and contra of cleansing conditioners. Skin Appendage Disord. 2019;5(3):131-134. doi:10.1159/000493588
Mayo Clinic. Seborrheic Dermatitis. April, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). November, 2014.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Tips for Healthy Hair. 2021.