There's a reason why "oily hair" and "bad hair day" feel so closely related. Excessive oil production often results in lank locks and hairline acne, both of which can have negative effects on self-esteem. Fortunately, it's possible to control and curb oily hair, as long as you understand the causes.
Sometimes, a greasy scalp is the result of a temporary hormonal change that comes with puberty or other conditions. In these cases, the hormones coursing through your body are telling your scalp to produce more oil than is necessary. If the problem comes on very suddenly, a chat with your doctor might be in order to check for underlying hormone concerns that can be treated medically. Other times, the excess oil production is just an inherent function of your body.
Once you've pinpointed the underlying cause of your oily hair, you can figure out a game plan for reducing the greasiness and restoring your hair's healthy structure and luster. Read on for six oil-fighting hair tips, plus advice and guidance from a dermatologist and a trichologist.
Meet the Expert
- Iris Rubin, MD is a Harvard trained board-certified dermatologist and the co-founder and chief medical officer of SEEN Haircare who specializes in the relationship between hair health and skin health.
- Kari Williams, PhD is a licensed cosmetologist, board-certified trichologist, and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.
Cut Back on Shampooing
It's easy to assume that frequent hair washing is the best way to zap oil. As logical as that approach might seem, you're probably making your hair greasier. "When you wash your scalp, you remove sebum, the skin’s natural oil, and that can actually stimulate the scalp to produce more sebum in response," explains Dr. Rubin.
To avoid the overproduction of sebum, Dr. Rubin advises that you consider not washing daily. If the idea of reducing your shampoo routine stresses you out, start slowly. Skip the shampoo one or two days a week, when you can wear a hat or when you'll be home all day. After a few weeks, increase the number of days sans shampoo.
The eventual goal is to be able to go two to three days between shampoos to get the oil production under control. Just don't expect to get there overnight—you may have to give it a few months. Experiment with dry shampoos and hair powders, which are designed to help soak up that oil without stripping your scalp of its necessary sebum.
Choose Your Shampoo Wisely
Our second tip for breaking the cycle of oil production might surprise you as much as the first: Change your shampoo and conditioner. You've likely been choosing products that have little in the way of moisturizing ingredients, or maybe you've been skipping the conditioner altogether. After all, you don't want to add more moisture to an already oily situation, right? Nope. You should use products meant to balance the moisture on your head. Any heavy-duty product would be too much, but a lightweight moisturizing shampoo and conditioner can help maintain the balance of moisture on your scalp.
When examining the ingredients list on your shampoo, keep these pointers from Dr. Rubin in mind: "Sulfate-free shampoos are a good choice for those with oily scalps."
"It’s also advisable to use oil-free products," she continues, "as you don’t want to be adding oil to your skin. Consider also going silicone-free, since silicones can potentially trap other ingredients on the skin, including oils."
Add Clarifying Shampoo to Your Haircare Regimen
"You can manage greasy hair by incorporating a clarifying shampoo into your hair care regimen," explains Dr. Williams. She supports the use of clarifying shampoos because they "thoroughly cleanse the hair and scalp, gently removing any excessive oils and build-up."
But it's important to note that the value provided by clarifying shampoos relies on correct usage—don't even think about washing your hair with this product on a regular basis. Instead, limit your clarifying washes to once or twice a month. "When using a clarifying shampoo, apply the shampoo to the pads of your fingertips and gently massage the shampoo into the scalp. Follow up with a moisturizing shampoo on the ends of the hair to prevent dryness," suggests Dr. Williams.
Save Conditioner for Your Ends Only
Instead of slathering your locks with conditioner from roots to ends, "use conditioner only on the tips of your hair," says Dr. Rubin. Dr. Williams agrees that it's best to avoid applying conditioner close to the scalp, telling us that because "the scalp produces sebum, you don't want to apply products that will potentially create build-up."
Don't Rely on Shine-Enhancing Hair Products
Stay away from products with extra shine-enhancing ingredients, as they usually feature some type of oil ingredient. Instead, look for hair products with volumizing properties like Living Proof's Full Dry Volume Blast. Also, "avoid the use of heavy pomades," recommends Dr. Williams.
Consult Your Doctor
While adjusting your haircare regimen goes a long way toward reducing hair greasiness, some people still find themselves struggling with oily strands without clear explanation. If this sounds like you, then consider these words from Dr. Williams: "The most unexpected cause of oily hair may be the use of certain medications, like birth control. If you feel like birth control [or other medications] are contributing to your oily hair problem and you are finding it difficult to manage with medicated shampoos or by adjusting your products, discuss alternative options with your doctor."
Gao J, Liu C, Zhang S, et al. Revisiting, in vivo, the hair regreasing process by the Sebuprint method. Skin Res Technol. 2019;25(1):79-87. doi:10.1111/srt.12613