Why Is My Hair So Oily: 5 Causes, Remedies, Quick Fixes & More
Does your hair fall flat at the roots? Do you wake up with slick-feeling strands? Are constantly reaching for your shampoo (or dry shampoo) to save the day? Sounds like you have oily hair—but I'm sure you already knew that. So let's skip the pleasantries and get to the solution, shall we? Here, our complete guide to oily hair and what to do about it, naturally, of course!
5 reasons your hair gets oily so fast.
As with your skin, there are several factors that contribute to increased oil production on the scalp. Ultimately, too, there's a good chance it's a combination of the below factors that are triggering your oil abundance. Take a peek below, and see if any resonate with you:
Being overzealous with your wash strips the scalp and tricks it into thinking it's dry and devoid of natural oils. This, in turn, spurs the sebaceous glands into overdrive, which then makes your hair produce more oil faster. As you may guess, the vicious cycle continues from there.
And over-washing can come in two forms: First, you're washing too frequently and, second, with a shampoo that's too harsh.
Washing too frequently often is the result of the aforementioned oily roots—but it can also be because you work out every day, live in a warm environment where you sweat more, or just personal preference. If you need more insight into how much you should be shampooing, take a look at our full guide to washing your hair.
Using a too-harsh shampoo usually comes down to the fact that you are using sulfates. Sulfates are potent surfactants that provide that sensorially appealing lather and squeaky clean feeling—but make no mistake about it: There's a good chance they are throwing off the natural balance of your scalp and potentially your scalp's microbiome. Both of these can trigger your scalp to produce more oil. Don't worry, though; there are plenty of sulfate-free shampoos that are formulated for oily hair, so you don't have to sacrifice efficacy, either: Try our favorites.
Product buildup can do a number on your hair. "When you have product, dirt, and oil building up around your follicle opening—which is where your hair grows out of—buildup around that starts to slowly suffocate your hair root, and it causes inflammation," trained trichologist and hairstylist Shab Reslan once told us about the condition.
As for triggering more oil, it does so in several ways. First, the products themselves could be silicone- or oil-based, which would naturally cause the hair and scalp to look more oily. This is especially true if you apply too much or you layer these products without adequately removing the prior day's.
These products—especially if they are silicone-based—can also create a hard-to-remove coating around the strand. "Their main function is to create a physical barrier coating on the skin and hair that is resistant to water and air," says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD. In addition to water and air, they can block your own sebum. This means your scalp's oils sit atop the film and aren't able to penetrate the hair, causing your hair to feel extra greasy.
The way we feel internally affects our skin in a myriad of ways. And stress is one of the biggest triggers of skin concerns: It can cause breakouts, flare-ups, dullness, and signs of premature aging. Guess what? It can also cause an oily scalp. Yes, you read that right.
"The oil follicles on the scalp are controlled in similar ways to the oil follicles on our face and other areas like the neck, chest, and upper back," says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. "So, factors like stress that may increase oil production on our face may also increase oil production on our scalp."
Hair types play a big role in this discussion, as some are far more prone to oil than others. Most notably? Straight or loose waves. Here's why: How dry or oily a hair type is is really determined by how fast the sebum from your scalp is able to travel down the shaft to the tip. Curly hair, with its twists and turns, takes longer. But with straight and loose waves, it's a pretty clear path—and therefore doesn't take as much time.
Yes, just like your face, your scalp can simply produce more oil than the average person. Some of us just do!
How to prevent oily hair.
So many people ask how they can "fix" their oily hair—the better frame of mind is to think about managing it. Tending to an oily scalp will only work if you are consistent over time. Here's how:
Wash less often.
Sounds counterproductive, yes, but if you go back to our causes of oily scalp—you know that over-washing is a large contributing factor. So often you'll hear people discuss how they're "retraining their scalp" or "balancing their hair," and usually this is what they're doing.
See, when you let your scalp live with its natural oils for a while, it will stop signaling to your pores that they need to put in extra work. Sure, this may make for an awkward and greasy transitory phase, but most experts agree this takes about a month, according to anecdotal evidence.
So, how often should you wash, you ask? Well, that just may take some guesswork on your part. So the most important thing is to be diligent about checking in on your scalp. "Literally go in there, part your hair at various points throughout your head, and look at your scalp: Is it red? Are there flakes? Do you see oily buildup? Make this a habit," says Reslan. "The bottom line is you just have to pay attention to it. People don't do this enough." A good rule is that if your hair is red and painful, that's a sign that it's time to rinse.
Use silk pillowcases.
Silk sleep accessories like pillowcases, head wraps, and scarves are practically magic. (A dramatic statement, but for those who know—you know.) "Sleep with a silk or satin pillowcase, headscarf, or cap, which allows hair to slide as you toss and turn. Silk and satin prevent friction (which leads to hair pulling, tugging, stretching, breaking, and tangling), and these smooth fabrics help retain the hair's natural oils," says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie's Original.
So, yes, silk's most famous benefits usually have to do with frizz and styling, but the last part of Branch's sage advice is key: These help your hair retain natural oils. More porous materials, like cotton, absorb oil from your face and hair as you sleep. Not only is this less hygienic, but it means you wake up with drier hair! Here are a few of our favorite silk and satin options.
Change your products.
Your greasy appearance may just be traced back to your styling and care products. First, we recommend cutting out silicones as best you can. Silicones are a large class of ingredient—some more concerning, some less—and they show up in a lot of products. Read: It's a tall order to cut them out entirely. However, limiting the use of silicones will likely help your scalp and hair over time. Here are some silicone-free hair care and styling products to give a try.
5 natural remedies to try.
Of course, there are plenty of natural ingredients that have been known to help oily hair and scalps. Here, the best of the best:
Witch hazel is oh-so-popular for those who are acne- and oil-prone. (It's a very popular DIY toner, in fact!) And for the hair and scalp, it does wonders, too. Witch hazel's astringent nature is great for decreasing oil, as the liquid has anti-inflammatory and sebum-control properties1. Additionally, it can help deal with any buildup you may have. "It's a mild scalp refresher," says texture specialist and artistic director at Matrix Michelle O'Connor, which can also ease itchiness and flakes!
"Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that helps remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. "It is a great ingredient to use if you suffer from an oily scalp or dandruff. Salicylic acid helps dissolve connections holding dead cells to the surface of the skin. In this way, it can help improve scalp flaking. However, avoid salicylic acid if you have a dry or sensitive scalp. In these cases, it may cause more irritation than good."
Apple cider vinegar
We love an apple cider vinegar rinse around here. Thanks to its acidic properties, the natural to-it-all tonic can help balance the scale, bringing the pH back to its baseline levels. This, in turn, helps manage oil production!
Aloe vera can help hydrate, soothe, and balance the scalp. Another bonus, if your oily scalp comes with dandruff, it helps there, too: In one study, participants who applied aloe vera onto the scalp saw a significant reduction in symptoms2, namely scaling and itching. According to another body of research, the antibacterial and antifungal properties3 of the plant help prevent and treat dandruff altogether.
The best products for oily hair.
If you have oily hair, you'll want to think about a complete routine, the components of which are complementary to one another: Start with your shampoo, and work your way to styling products. Click through to find the best natural, clean products every step of the way.
3 quick fixes for oily hair.
I know we said that consistency and long-term management were the best courses of action with oily hair, but sometimes? You just need a solution right now. In those cases, there are a few tricks to try. Just be mindful of how often you lean on them.
- Natural dry shampoo. Dry shampoos work by absorbing the oil at the scalp—and natural versions use powders like arrowroot and cornstarch to get the job done. These are less irritating than traditional options, however—never go more than two days without washing out the dry shampoo. If it sits around too long, it can clog your pores and cause damage.
- Embrace it with a sleek hairdo. Slicked-back updos are, by all accounts, in. Take that as your cue to roll with it.
- Hair accessories. And when all else fails, toss your hair back and slide in a headband, scarf, or other accessory. Nothing wrong with covering up greasy roots with a fun accessory, no?
Oily scalp and hair can be annoying in the moment, but they're usually signs that you need to take a step back and look at your hair care and styling routine as a whole. You'll want to start by managing the oil with the right wash schedule, styling products, and natural ingredients. Give it some time, but we're sure you'll be able to get those roots in check.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.