If you consistently deal with oily hair, you're not alone. Oily hair is a common concern among men and women of all ages.
While it may be tempting to reach for the nearest bottle of shampoo, it's essential to first understand why your hair appears greasy; the causes of oily hair can vary greatly depending on your hair biology and hair care routine.
Do you have oily hair or an oily scalp?
Before we dive into how to manage the problem, we need to get to the root cause: do you have oily hair or an oily scalp?
Oily hair (often described as greasy hair) can be caused by a number of factors, but it all starts with the sebaceous glands. These tiny glands are located at the base of each hair follicle, and their primary function is to produce sebum. Sebum is an oily substance that helps to hydrate and protect your scalp and hair.
The amount of sebum produced by your sebaceous glands varies according to your hygiene habits, hair and scalp biology, and other aspects of your lifestyle. While some people produce too much sebum, leading to a more oily scalp, others don't produce enough.
An oily scalp is usually the result of overactive sebaceous glands that produce more sebum than necessary. This can be a side effect of various things, like overwashing your hair or using products overloaded with irritating chemicals. If you use harsh shampoos containing parabens and sulfates or wash your hair too often, you may be stripping away the natural oils produced by your scalp, leading your sebaceous glands to overcompensate and produce even more oil. This excess oil then travels down the hair shaft, leaving your hair feeling or looking oily, which can create a never-ending washing and oil production cycle that's difficult to break.
The bottom line is: oily hair is the result of having an oily scalp. So, to tame oily hair, you must focus on taking care of your oily scalp.
What causes an oily scalp?
Let's take a look at some of the most common causes of an oily scalp:
- Hair Type
- Medical and Lifestyle Causes
- Using the Wrong Products
One of the most common mistakes
people make when trying to get rid of oily hair is washing their hair too often. While it may seem like washing your hair more will help to remove the excess oil, it can actually have the opposite effect.
When you shampoo your hair, you strip away not only the dirt and grime, but also the natural oils that protect your scalp and hair. This can leave your scalp feeling dry and irritated, causing your sebaceous glands to overcompensate and produce even more oil.
If you find yourself washing your hair multiple times a week, if not daily, try cutting back to just once or twice a week. While there’s no universal rule for how often you should wash your hair, a general rule of thumb is to wait two to three days between washes, or wash just once a week in the case of very dry hair.
2. Your Hair Type
People with straight hair tend to have more sebum on their hair than people with curly hair. This is because the sebum can travel down the length of the hair shaft more easily, resulting in an oilier appearance.
3. Medical and Lifestyle Causes
There are a few medical reasons behind an oily scalp. One of the most common is seborrheic dermatitis (also known as dandruff), which causes the skin to become red, itchy, flaky and greasy; the buildup of dead skin appears as greasy patches on your scalp. The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. However, experts suspect flare-ups are related to yeast or fungus in the oil secretion on your scalp.
In addition, hormonal changes, stress, diets high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, and certain medications can all also affect the sebaceous glands and cause them to produce more oil than necessary. If you think you may be experiencing one of these conditions, it's best to consult with a doctor or dermatologist.
4. Using the Wrong Products
Another common cause of an oily scalp is using the wrong hair care products. Products containing harsh, irritating ingredients like sulfates, synthetic fragrances, propylene glycols, parabens or formaldehyde can strip away your scalp's natural oils, leading your sebaceous glands to overcompensate and produce even more oil. “Anti-frizz” styling products containing heavy oils or petrolatum, which can weigh down the hair and create excess grease, should also be avoided.
When choosing hair care products, look for ones that are specifically designed for your hair and scalp type, and unique needs. You may also want to consider using a gentle, paraben- and sulfate-free shampoo to avoid further irritating your scalp.
How Can You Manage Your Oily Scalp?
1. Find the Right Products
The only way to know what products your hair and scalp truly need is to take our free Hair Test. will help you identify your specific hair biology, and recommend the best course of action for achieving a healthy balance of oil production. Your hair is unique, just like you. This means your needs can only be met with a hair care regimen specifically tailored for you.
Some other rules of thumb include:
- Keep it simple: Rather than weighing down hair with styling products containing heavy oils, like anti-frizz products, instead customize your shampoo and conditioner with targeted treatments that work to reduce frizz in the first place. Our Anti-Frizz dose set is formulated with rice protein to add a dose of anti-frizz without the added weight.
- Use non-toxic ingredients. All of The Hair Lab's custom shampoos and conditioners are formulated without parabens, sulfates, silicones, mineral oils or phthalates.
2. Use the Right Products the Right Way
Now that you know your hair type, and have the right hair care products, you can move on to using them in the right way. Here are some tips:
- Focus on cleansing your scalp rather than your hair. Sebum is produced at the root, so that's where you want to focus your efforts. Work on massaging your scalp to improve blood flow and remove that excess oil near your roots.
- If it’s a good fit for your scalp type, use a clarifying shampoo formulated with apple cider vinegar once a week to remove any buildup from styling products or environmental pollutants.
- Decrease your use of dry shampoo to avoid further product buildup.
- Rather than applying conditioner to your scalp, apply it to the "pony tail" section of hair only. Our Lightweight and Well-Balanced Conditioner, custom-recommended for light and medium-textured strands, respectively, adds moisture without weighing hair down.
3. Embrace Your Natural Style
Finally, don't be afraid to embrace your natural hair! When you use heat styling tools or chemically straighten your hair, you're causing damage that can lead to an oily scalp. Because heat treatments strip your hair of moisture, your body works hard to produce sebum to keep your hair and scalp hydrated. Overproduction of sebum is what leads your scalp (and hair) to look greasy. Instead, try heatless options or styles that add volume so that your hair isn’t flat against your head. Remember, oil can travel down a straight hair shaft easier than it can a curly or coily one.
Your natural hair is beautiful! By embracing it, you'll be doing your scalp a favor.
How Can You Learn More About Your Hair?
So many factors play a role in the look (and health) of your hair. These include, but are not limited to:
- Hair texture
- Scalp type
- Chemical treatments
- Styling tools
- Water hardness,
The most accurate way to determine what products will work best for you is to decode your hair's biology. The Strands Test only takes a few minutes, and you'll be on your way to beautiful, healthy-looking hair that looks glossy, not greasy.