Oily or greasy hair is a condition most of us have faced at least once in our lives. Whether it’s because we let too many days go by between washes or because of a sudden change in the weather, it’s a common issue. Stress, pollution, and harsh chemicals used in many of our hair care products only exacerbate the condition.
While we all want completely clean hair, free of oil, having some oil on the scalp is necessary for healthy hair. This natural oil produced on the scalp is called sebum and is produced by the sebaceous glands that can be found all over the body. Sebum helps maintain healthy hair by nourishing and hydrating it.
However, if your hair feels greasy or unclean all of the time, an unusually oily scalp might be a concern. An oily scalp, at times, may occur in conjunction with some other concerns that could indicate a skin problem.
In this article, let’s take a deep dive into what is oily/greasy hair, its causes, and its symptoms. Then, we’ll also look at possible treatment options and an expert tip that can help you deal with oily or greasy hair effectively!
Oily hair is grimy to the touch and feels heavy or weighed down on the scalp. Most people’s hair becomes oily two to four days after they’ve washed it when they have a normal scalp.
Some people’s hair doesn’t become oily for up to a week after they’ve washed it if they have a dry scalp.
However, for people with oily scalps, hair may look and feel oily as soon as a few hours after they’ve washed it.
Considering this, it’s important to note that oily or greasy hair is a condition of the scalp rather than the hair itself.
Does an oily scalp indicate underlying health conditions?
While it’s normal to have an oily scalp for some people, too much oil production in the scalp can lead to many problems. It includes fungal conditions that cause severe dandruff, known as seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis can cause red patches on the scalp that are dry, rough, scaly, and may also spread to the face and upper body of an individual. While it’s not contagious, it is chronic which means you can manage it with home remedies and medical treatments but can’t cure it. Ironically, these patches of dry skin are caused due to excess secretion of sebum.
To understand how to treat oily hair and avoid dandruff and other conditions, it’s important to first understand what causes oily hair.
Common causes of oily hair
There can be several factors that cause oily hair. Some of the most common factors include the following.
Too much stress can cause your hormones to fluctuate and send your sebum production into overdrive. While it’s an unavoidable part of everyday life, you can and should manage your stress levels to help with oily hair and stress-induced diseases.
It may sound counterintuitive, but washing your hair more often than necessary can make your scalp dry. This, in turn, leads your sebaceous glands to start producing more and more oil. If you wash your hair every day, you may benefit from reducing the frequency.
You may also experience oily hair if you don’t wash it often enough as the natural oil from your scalp builds up and also spreads down to your hair shaft. If you only wash your hair once a week, you may benefit from doing it two to three times a week.
Some medications, especially hormonal medication, can cause your sebum production to fluctuate. If you never had oily hair before that suddenly became oily after you started a new medicine, you may want to talk to your doctor about it.
Your hair may appear oily even if it’s not when the products you use cause a buildup. It could be the shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, leave-in treatment, or anything else you use for your hair.
If it’s not cleared from your scalp when you wash your hair and builds up there, your hair will look abnormally oily. However, this may not be a major concern if it clears away after using a clarifying shampoo. It’s serious if it doesn’t clear and leads to fungal conditions.
It may be tempting to brush your hair more often when it appears oily and dull but it may be best to avoid it. Brushing your hair more frequently leads your glands to activate more often and produce more sebum. It also spreads the oil from your scalp into your strands making the full length of your hair appear greasy. The same goes for touching your hair too often.
A drastic change in weather such as the changing of seasons or moving to a location with a different climate affects your hair. Your scalp may become excessively dry if you move to a very dry climate from a humid one and produce more oil to keep your hair hydrated. Alternatively, your scalp may become greasy due to humidity and the buildup of sweat if you move to a humid climate from a dry one.
If your hair products have harsh chemicals in them, they will strip your scalp of its natural oils and lead to a change in the scalp’s pH level. This can trigger an upsurge in sebum production. It’s best to switch to natural hair care products that will cleanse your scalp and hair without damaging them.
Using too much conditioner in your hair can weigh it down and make it appear greasy. It’s not a problem of the scalp in this case. You may benefit from simply using a smaller amount of conditioner or leaving it in for a shorter period.
Styling and accessories
Using styling tools such as straighteners or blow-drying your hair every day can dry it and lead to excess oil production. This doesn’t mean that you can never use heat for styling again, but you may want to use the lowest heat setting possible on your tools.
However, it is best if you let your hair air-dry and embrace its natural texture.
Along with the tools, your hair accessories such as headbands or hats can also lead to a greasy scalp. They trap the oil on your scalp instead of letting it flow down into your strands. This will lead to dry hair which will cause your scalp to produce even more oil to nourish it.
Symptoms of oily/greasy hair
Apart from your hair being visibly greasy, grimy, or looking like it’s wet and slick, noticing any of the following symptoms means you have oily hair:
Severe itching of the scalp or excessive irritation
Areas that shine on the scalp
Scalp acne and/or ingrown hairs
Oily dandruff or noticeable flakes
You may also notice that your hair has a scent that’s close to your body odor
If your symptoms have started showing up only recently, you may benefit from simply switching your hair care routine or engaging in some home remedies for an oily scalp.
However, if you’ve been experiencing symptoms for a long time or if you experience pain or mild bleeding when you scratch, you should see your healthcare provider.
These symptoms may point to an underlying health condition or a severe case of psoriasis which needs medical attention. If it’s severe psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis, it may never be cured but it can be managed using medication and some easy home remedies.
Do note, however, that medical treatments for such conditions can be chemical-heavy and very harsh on the skin. Using them along with simple home remedies can help reduce inflammation and give you faster and better results without damaging your skin too much.
Let’s now take a look at some expert-recommended treatment options that you can do at home.
You can also use hydrating all-natural hair masks before washing your hair to provide sufficient moisture to your hair and scalp so your sebum production doesn’t go into overdrive.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar will facilitate the removal of product build-up. A small coating of product covers your hair shaft each time you condition it. It’s what makes your hair easy to style and gives it a silky, smooth texture.
An apple cider vinegar wash, when appropriately diluted, can help to balance your pH, minimize sebum secretion, and prevent flare-ups of skin disorders.
Joshua Zeichner, MD, head of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York says, "apple cider vinegar contains astringent characteristics that help eliminate excess oil from the skin."
Stress is one of the foremost causes of hormonal imbalance and sebaceous glands going into overdrive and producing more oil than necessary on the scalp. Reducing stress levels in your life can help prevent or repair oily/greasy hair along with providing other health benefits. You can try using soothing essential oils in your bath or directly on your skin such as Lavender Essential Oil.
Keep your brushes clean
Each time you brush your hair, some of the products such as conditioners, leave-in treatments, and natural oils from your scalp are transferred to your hairbrush. This grime is transferred back to your hair the next time you brush it. So, it’s important to regularly clean your hairbrushes and combs to avoid oily/greasy hair.
Ditch the hairstyles
Always keeping your hair tied up in a pony or bun stops the natural oils from moving down your hair shaft. This causes an oil buildup on your scalp, giving your hair an oily and greasy look. It may also cause fungal reactions if the buildup stays there day after day.
Along with following the tips given above, experts say that it’s important to not touch your hair too often as that makes it more oily/greasy.
"Over-touching your hair might trigger more sebum production," explains Nazanin Saedi, MD, Thomas Jefferson University's director of laser surgery and cosmetic dermatology. "You're also transferring extra oil from your fingertips, akin to touching your face too much," she adds.
Recommended Products for Oily Greasy Hair
Green Tea and Tea Tree Shampoo and Conditioner
Moroccan Argan Oil Hair Mask For Dry, Damaged Hair