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.
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. Along 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.
Wash Your Hair With a Sulfate-Free Shampoo
News flash: Most shampoos contain sudsy detergents that can over-cleanse and dry out your scalp called sulfates. For the first few uses of a sulfate shampoo, your hair might feel squeaky-clean, but over time your body 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 LA-based celebrity stylist Laura Polko. 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 couldn'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, Allison Friedman, senior stylist at Warren-Tricomi Salon, 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, Lauren Thompson, a stylist at Nunzio Saviano Salon in NYC, 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 the 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
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 ($12). "They’re great at reviving day 2 or 3 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 okay. The beauty is that you can really 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 it better. We love a low, loose chignon that you can either tie up with a hair tie or clip in place with a Riviera 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 (ACV) 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 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 2-3 tbsp 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 (fine, thick, wavy, coily, or damaged hair, for instance), 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 hair spray 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 feels amazing on a greasy, irritated scalp, they are actually amazing for keeping the 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 meant to physically exfoliate; sake water, grape stem cells, and pearl extract meant to balance with probiotics and antioxidants; and hyaluronic acid meant 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 the 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 into 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.
Gavazzoni Dias MFR. Pro and contra of cleansing conditioners. Skin Appendage Disord. 2019;5(3):131-134. doi:10.1159/000493588