Having greasy hair is a cyclical problem: You wash your hair often to keep it looking fresh and clean, but overwashing might end up producing more oil. Is Mother Nature playing some kind of joke? Sigh.
As frustrating as this might be, we come bearing relief. You can actually train your hair to be less greasy. How? It's all about spacing out your washes. Armed with helpful advice from hair pros, we've put together a general guide for how to stretch the time between hair washes and, as a result, train your hair to be less greasy. Each hair type and texture has different needs and requires different treatment, but these tips will get you started and on the right track. Sure, the first few weeks of your new hair-training regimen might be difficult—especially since the oiliness won't halt right away—but we promise you'll agree it was all worth it once you start seeing results.
To find out how to train your hair to be less greasy, read on for helpful advice from expert hairstylists.
Meet the Expert
- Laura Polko is a Los Angeles-based celebrity hairstylist who attended the Aveda Institute. Her impressive list of clients includes Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Chrissy Teigen, Charli D'Amelio, Candice Swanepoel, and Adriana Lima.
- Allison Friedman is the senior stylist at the Warren-Tricomi Salon at the Grove in Shrewsbury, New Jersey.
- Lauren Thompson studied at Paul Mitchell the School and then went on to study precision haircutting with the Sassoon Academy. She is now a stylist at Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City.
- Sophia Emmanuel is an IAT-Certified Trichologist and licensed cosmetologist based in New York.
Wash Your Hair With a Sulfate-Free Shampoo
News flash: Most shampoos contain sudsy detergents called sulfates that can overcleanse and dry out your scalp. For the first few uses of a sulfate shampoo, your hair might feel squeaky-clean, but over time, your scalp could overproduce oil to make up for the dryness. So to keep the greasiness to a minimum, opt for gentle, sulfate-free shampoo formulas to cleanse your strands without stripping your scalp or hair of the oils necessary for strong, healthy hair. "Anything clarifying will help control oil and extend your wash," says Polko.
It is important to note that if you are trying to prevent stripping your hair while using shampoo (with or without sulfates), you should pay attention to the product's pH. "Make sure the shampoo has a pH of 5.5 or less," Emmanuel says. "This way, the hair is not as dry once the shampoo is rinsed out and the scalp will not overproduce oil to make up for what was lost. "
This Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo nourishes and restores the hair with ingredients like argan and avocado oils and keratin while it removes buildup on the hair strands without the use of sulfates.
Use Dry Shampoo Between Washes
If you're someone who can't fathom going a single day without washing your hair because your strands accumulate way too much oil, fight the urge and skip your daily hair wash. It might sound counterintuitive, but the less you wash your hair, the better off it'll be. If you need to stretch your wash, spritz some Batiste Dry Shampoo onto your roots to keep hair looking clean (even if it isn't). If your usual technique involves an aimless spray of dry shampoo, try this technique instead: Part your hair in small sections from ear to ear, and spray the product at the roots to ensure your entire head is covered. If your roots get extra greasy, however, Friedman says the trick is to apply dry shampoo immediately after you've washed your hair: "I apply some dry shampoo directly to my roots after a fresh blowout so that, as the hours go on and your scalp starts to produce oil, the dry shampoo will start working immediately to combat that oil. And you can reapply as much as needed throughout the next days to keep the oil at bay and your blowout as fresh as possible."
But what if you work out? Of course, having a sweat sesh at the gym means your hair will get oily faster (and will need some freshening up). In this instance, Thompson suggests using a sweatband to absorb sweat at the hairline. Then, at night, spray the hair with dry shampoo to help absorb any oil throughout the night, and clip your hair up in a bun on the top of your head. Says Thompson, "I just recently started doing this, and it definitely helps extend the life of a blowout!" If your hair is in desperate need of a rinse, soak it in the shower with just water, and use the dry shampoo once dry.
Try a Texture Spray
As awesome as dry shampoo may be, it can do more harm than good for certain hair types. "If your hair is constantly oily, steer clear of over-dry-shampooing," says Polko. Instead, she recommends applying a texture mist like NatureLab.Tokyo Perfect Volume Texture Mist. "They're great at reviving day-two or -three hair without adding too much oil," says Polko.
Wear Your Hair Up
Depending on your hair type, your roots might start looking a bit dirty around day three, but that's OK. The beauty is that you can capitalize on the grease for don't-care 'dos. These styles are chic but purposefully messy, meaning a little grease and texture from the dry shampoo will only make them better. We love a low, loose chignon that you can either tie up with a hair tie or clip in place with a Kitsch mini claw clip ($8). Or, work with the grease instead of against it, and try out a slicked-back wet look on the last day before a wash. To do so, combine equal parts gel and cream to create a styling balm that allows for soft, touchable hold, and use your fingers to rake the product through the length of your hair. No one will know it wasn't clean to begin with.
Finger-to-hair contact conjures up oils, so pulling your hair back is especially important because it cancels the possibility of being able to run your fingers through it.
Rinse With Apple Cider Vinegar
On day four or so, we'll let you cheat a bit and do an apple cider vinegar rinse in warm (not hot) water—hot water may be too drying. Many people believe that raw, organic apple cider vinegar, like Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, is acidic enough to restore the pH balance of your hair and rid the scalp of buildup, yet mild enough that it doesn't strip your strands of essential nutrients. And, according to Thompson, it's also gentle enough to use on color-treated hair. While in the shower, pour a bit of an apple cider vinegar mixture into your hair, work it through your roots, and rinse it out. Not only will it remove the oily buildup, but it will also leave your hair unbelievably soft and shiny. Win-win. For the ACV mixture, you'll want to mix about 2 to 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a bottle of water to help balance the acidity.
Limit Your Product Use
How long you can go between washes depends on your hair type and texture, but try to prolong the time between washes as long as you can (anywhere from every other day to once a week). And remember two key things afterward: Touch it as sparingly as possible, and don't overuse styling products or dry shampoo. "By doing so, you overwork your scalp, increasing oil production," says Polko. Loads of hairspray and creams may cause buildup on the scalp, which then leads to excess grease, so it's best to skip these if you can.
Friedman suggests only applying one styling product to the scalp and only if you have flat hair that needs a boost of volume. "The only product you ever want to put on your roots when your hair is damp is a mousse or a root lifter before blow-drying." We like Living Proof Full Thickening Mousse ($29) because it gives the hair great hold without coating the strands with a sticky residue or weighing them down over time.
Use Clarifying Shampoo
Though it's best to limit your product use when "training" your hair, if you feel like you're experiencing buildup over time, use a clarifying shampoo every so often to reset your scalp and style when necessary. Gentle shampoos are better for regular use, but a clarifying shampoo works to deep clean your scalp, roots, and strands when your hair starts feeling heavy or bogged down.
We recommend the Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo, which is formulated without harsh sulfates but with menthol and ginger meant to soothe scalp itchiness you might experience after a few days without washing.
Exfoliate Your Scalp
Scrubs not only feel amazing on a greasy, irritated scalp, but they're also great for keeping the hair and skin on your head looking healthy and clean: "I like using scalp scrubs to remove any product buildup and oil. My favorite is the clarifying scrub from NatureLab Tokyo. It's gentle yet effective and leaves your scalp feeling clean and healthy," says Polko. The formula uses sugar crystals to physically exfoliate; sake water, grape stem cells, and pearl extract to balance with probiotics and antioxidants; and hyaluronic acid to add moisture.
Let Your Hair Air-Dry
Believe it or not, "blow-drying too much can also cause your hair to produce excess grease, so try letting your hair air-dry instead," says Polko. Sure, air-drying can be time-consuming, but there are ways to speed up the process. "After washing, I recommend using a leave-in-conditioner on your ends rather than an oil because it keeps your hair looking fresh while reducing your dry time." Touching your hair too much before it's dry may create frizz, especially on wavy or curly textures, so try applying your products and letting your hair sit until it's dry. We love Kristin Ess Weightless Shine Air Dry Creme ($10) for adding shine and definition, plus reducing frizz, on air-dried strands.
Take a Supplement
"Your hair, skin, and nails are a direct reflection of what you put into your body. Supplements are a great way to achieve shinier, healthier hair," says Polko. We should add that hair supplements are not regulated by the FDA, which means you should take their claims with a grain of salt. Still, some people experience good results from taking hair supplements, so if you're interested in giving them a go, try one designed to manage a greasy scalp. Polko is a fan of Nutrafol, which is "rich in omega-3s and B vitamins." Always consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your diet.
Try these tips and a stretched hair-wash cycle for a few weeks or until you notice your hair is feeling less and less greasy. Fewer washes mean healthier hair and an eco-friendly routine—the best of both worlds.
When to See a Doctor
The good news is that most people find that, as they get older, their hair will become less oily because the body produces less of the androgen hormone as people age. However, if you feel like your hair is getting more oily or not improving with any of the tips above, you may want to see a doctor to help determine the cause.
Seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff could be the culprit if you are also experiencing an itchy scalp and flakes. A doctor can prescribe a medicated shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole to help get your scalp healthy.
A hormonal imbalance can also cause excess oil in your hair. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that can result in greasy hair, as well as acne and hair loss.
What causes greasy hair?
Your hair follicles contain oil glands that produce an oily substance called sebum that helps keep your hair and scalp healthy and moisturized. Hormones called androgens, which start to increase during puberty, can cause too much sebum to be produced, which results in an oily scalp and hair. Some people just naturally produce more sebum than others.
Is it OK to wash your hair every day if it is oily?
Experts say it is fine to wash your hair daily if you have greasy hair—especially if you exercise every day or just feel more fresh with a daily wash. Use a gentle shampoo, focusing on the scalp, and use conditioner only at the ends. See how your hair responds—if washing it every day seems to make it greasier, then try skipping a few days in between.
Are there any benefits of greasy hair?
The oil on your hair, aka sebum, actually has a good purpose. It helps to moisturize your scalp and hair, keeping your hair shiny and healthy and preventing it from drying out. Following the tips above will help you find the right balance of sebum production so your hair is shiny, not greasy.
What is the best brush for greasy hair?
A boar-bristle brush will best help to evenly distribute the oil so it's not just settled at your roots. Make sure you don't overbrush, however, as this can make your hair more greasy.
Gavazzoni Dias MFR. Pro and contra of cleansing conditioners. Skin Appendage Disord. 2019;5(3):131-134. doi:10.1159/000493588
- Cleveland Clinic. The Dirty Truth About Washing Your Hair. August, 2018.
Cleveland Clinic. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. November 2014.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Tips for Healthy Hair. 2021.
Derm Net NZ. Sebum. 2014.