Hair Health

What Is Oily Scalp? 9 Common Causes & How to Treat It

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Has greasy hair been weighing you down? An oily scalp can turn a good hair day into a frustrating one. While some oil is natural, too much can make hair look greasy and feel heavy. If you’ve been wondering, Why is my scalp so oily? Or How can I prevent an oily scalp? You’re not alone.

Understanding the causes behind an oily scalp can help you restore balance and reclaim your hair’s natural brilliance. In this guide, we delve into the science behind oily scalp, common causes, and oily scalp remedies to treat it. Say goodbye to excess grease and hello to a future filled with a healthier, happier, and shinier head of hair.

The science behind sebum + your hair.

Sebum is a blend of lipids (natural oil) secreted by your sebaceous glands that play a crucial role in maintaining the health and appearance of your hair. While too much sebum can leave your hair looking greasy, it serves as a vital protective shield for your scalp and hair. When it comes to the skin, sebum helps clean out follicles of dead skin cells and minimize moisture loss. In hair, it creates a hydrophobic barrier on the surface to lubricate it, adding shine and minimizing mechanical damage.

The underproduction of sebum can lead to clogged follicles, while overproduction can lead to dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, so it’s essential to strike the right balance. Understanding the science behind sebum enables us to incorporate haircare practices that support a healthy scalp and thriving head of hair.

woman holding her hair back

What is an oily scalp?

An oily scalp occurs when there is overproduction and excessive sebum build-up on the scalp. In addition to creating a shiny and greasy appearance, this accumulation of sebum can lead to other problems like dandruff, itching, flakiness, and swelling of the hair follicle.

In more serious cases, excessive oil can also create a favorable environment for bacterial growth and cause infections or scalp-related issues.

What causes oily scalp?

The most effective way to get rid of an oily scalp is to understand what’s causing the overproduction of sebum in the first place. Here are nine common reasons you may be dealing with overly greasy hair.

  1. Genetics: We know our family gene pool plays a role in determining our hair color, thickness, and hair type. So it makes sense that genetics can influence the size and efficiency of the sebaceous glands too. If you think you inherited your oily scalp, you may be right.
  2. Overwashing: Overwashing can strip your hair of natural oils and prompt the sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum to combat dryness and compensate for the loss. Restore your oil production equilibrium by finding the optimal washing frequency for your hair type.
  3. Personal hygiene habits: Your regular grooming practices and personal habits may be contributing to your oily hair. Frequently touching your hair, excessive brushing, or using dirty accessories can transfer oil and impurities to your hair and lead to buildup. Additionally, not washing hair for long periods or sleeping on dirty shirts can also exacerbate oiliness. If you’ve wondered, Why does my scalp get so oily, and can relate to any of these habits — you might have your answer. Maintaining good hygiene is key to managing grease and oil levels on the scalp.
  4. Diet: The foods we consume directly impact our health, and as it turns out, they may affect sebum production too. There is some evidence that diet (specifically increased sugar, carbs, and fats) is linked to changes in sebum composition. There is also evidence that reducing caloric intake reduces sebum production in patients prone to acne. That said, everyone’s body is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition or how your food intake will impact your hair. Always discuss any changes in diet with a doctor.
  5. Stress: It’s no secret that stress plays a huge role in our physical and emotional well-being. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight response, which increases cortisol production. Cortisol has been linked with increased sebum production, which can cause acne flare-ups and oilier roots.
  6. The wrong hair products: Similarly to overwashing, shampoos with sulfates and high levels of surfactants can strip your hair of natural oils and cause your sebaceous glands to overcompensate by producing more oil. An effective way to restore the scalp’s balance is by incorporating the right products into your haircare routine. Certain ingredients like niacinamide, zinc salts, and capryloyl glycine have been shown to help minimize oil production and promote a healthy scalp.
  7. Hormonal Changes: Puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, and other causes of hormonal fluctuation can interrupt the scalp’s natural balance. These natural changes in the body can trigger an increase or decrease in sebum production and potentially result in greasy hair.
  8. Medications: Like stress, certain medications can create hormonal imbalances or impact your metabolism and result in a greasy scalp. Birth control, for example, can sometimes influence hormone levels and potentially cause a change in sebum production, which can lead to dry or oily skin. Monitoring how your body reacts to medications and adjusting your haircare routine accordingly will help you find the oily scalp remedy that works for you.
  9. Environment: If you live in a humid environment, sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly as in a dry environment. When sweat travels down the length of the hair, it can redistribute oils, resulting in hair that looks greasy and dull. Additionally, the build-up of sweat can promote the growth of fungi and bacteria, which can cause scalp irritation. If you’re struggling to adapt to your environment, the right products can be instrumental in helping you overcome the elements. For example, Living Proof’s dry shampoo removes sweat and works wonders on oily hair, making it easy to refresh your appearance when faced with unavoidable bouts of humidity.

woman smiling with blonde hair

How to treat oily scalp.

Once you’ve identified the causes behind the excessive grease or oil weighing down your hair, you can find the right oily scalp treatment for you. Everyone’s hair is different, but these tips serve as a starting point from which you can begin to restore your scalp’s natural balance.

  1. Find the right washing frequency: Overwashing your hair can strip away the scalp’s natural oils and trigger the overproduction of sebum, leading to an undesirably oily scalp. Conversely, under washing your hair can cause sweat, oil, and dirt to accumulate in excessive sebum buildup and can cause dandruff, greasiness, or physical discomfort. Everyone’s hair is different and requires different washing frequencies, so finding a routine that works for you is key. Furthermore, incorporating the right products, such as a dry shampoo that actually cleans hair, can help you extend the time between washes while leaving your hair looking healthy and smelling fresh.
  2. Shampoo and condition properly: In addition to washing frequency, it’s important to ensure you apply shampoo and conditioner properly as well. When it comes to shampoo, it’s best to massage the product gently into the scalp and focus on the roots of the hair. Avoid aggressively scrubbing shampoo in with your nails, as this can irritate the barrier protecting the skin and lead to oil and moisture loss. On the other hand, conditioner should be applied along the length of the hair and to the areas that need it, such as the ends or areas that seem especially dry. Don’t apply conditioner directly on the scalp and roots as it can leave hair looking greasy and weighed down. Lastly, make sure you thoroughly rinse conditioner out before continuing your routine.
  3. Use the right products: Beyond being physically uncomfortable, greasy hair can also induce frustration and insecurity. Luckily, there are many products you can incorporate at different phases in your haircare routine to help regulate sebum production, soothe your scalp, and promote overall hair health. If you’re unsure where to start, one of the best ways to absorb excess oil is with dry shampoo. Dry shampoo usually comes in the form of a spray and can quickly improve the overall appearance of your hair when a rinse isn’t an option. Most dry shampoos don’t actually clean your hair and aren’t a suitable replacement for a traditional shampoo. However, Living Proof’s dry shampoo was designed to remove oil, sweat, and odor — making it a great option if you’re looking to clean your hair and extend the time between washes.
  4. Eat right: Your diet is crucial to your overall health, and your hair is no exception. As mentioned above, there is evidence that foods high in fat, sugar, and carbs are linked to changes in sebum production. While there is no guarantee that your hair will react to changes in diet, swapping out these foods and adjusting caloric intake has been linked with improved hair health. That said, it’s important to discuss dietary changes with a doctor before implementing them.
  5. Avoid excessive use of heat tools: Heat can cause damage to your hair and strip away essential oils over time. We know heat styling tools can be a staple in your routine, so don’t worry — you don’t have to avoid them completely. Just be sure to incorporate a heat protectant in your haircare arsenal to ensure your hair is protected.
  6. Regularly clean your hairbrush: Your hair isn’t the only thing that needs washing. Your brush needs a little love and care too. While you might not notice it, dirt, grease, and residue can accumulate on your hairbrush and add to the oil on your scalp. Proactively cleaning your brushes on a weekly basis can help prevent unwanted build-up and potential bacteria.

woman washing her hair

Important ingredients for fixing oily scalps.

When it comes to treatment for oily scalps, certain ingredients in hair products can play a vital role. Here are a few ingredients to look for when deciding what products to incorporate into your haircare routine.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps reduce inflammation and itchiness.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid unclogs pores and removes dirt, sebum, and dead skin cells that can accumulate and cause oiliness. It’s also been shown to help control the symptoms of dandruff. Think of it as some good old scalp exfoliation.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that promote scalp health and help hydrate hair without leaving oily residue behind.

Does an oily scalp cause hair loss?

An oily scalp can potentially lead to hair loss for some; however, it is typically not the primary cause. Oily scalps attract dirt, increase susceptibility to dandruff, and cause other scalp conditions that can prevent hair follicles from functioning properly. While this can sometimes lead to thinning or hair loss, genetic or hormonal factors are generally more common contributors.

In extreme cases, the scalp produces so much oil that it causes inflammation and can compromise the hair’s growth cycle, resulting in thinning hair. This is known as hyperseborrhea. If you are concerned that you are experiencing this condition, please see a dermatologist.

woman holding a can of dry shampoo and spraying it

Combat oily scalp with Living Proof.

With the knowledge of what causes an oily scalp and the tips and ingredients to manage it, you’re well on your way to getting rid of excess oil and achieving your desired hair goals. Remember, one of the keys to combating oily scalp is implementing the right products into your routine.

Utilizing clarifying shampoo like Living Proof’s Clarifying Detox Shampoo can help remove excess sebum, pollution, product buildup, and heavy metals from your hair. You can also remove excess sebum with Living Proof’s dry shampoo, which includes an algae extract shown to help balance oil production. With the right haircare regimen, you can bid farewell to excess grease and feel confident in your healthier head of hair.

Ready to take on your oily scalp? Discover the products best suited for your specific hair type by taking our Haircare Quiz.

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Living Proof Review Team

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