You know your hair best. If you typically wash your hair three times per week, and you suddenly wake up with unusually greasy hair, you may be looking for some answers. (You may also be looking for some strategies for how to get rid of oily hair). Luckily, you can find everything you need to know about the causes of oiliness in hair, and how to get rid of greasy hair, here.
Why Does Hair Get Oily?
Hair gets greasy or oily when natural oil (called sebum) builds up on the scalp. Sebum is made by sebaceous glands on the scalp. Sebum is good for your hair and scalp – it lubricates, which keeps them healthy and protected. But too much sebum can be, well, a bit much.
If you go several days without washing your hair, you will start to see this oil build up. This is completely normal. But if you find that your hair starts to get greasy or oily quickly, that may be a sign that your glands are overactive, and it’s time to make some changes.1 Here are some potential culprits for your greasy hair:
- Using the wrong hair products
- Certain hair care habits, like washing infrequently or (surprise) washing too frequently
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Certain medications
- Changes in weather or environment
- Hormone fluctuations
Depending on the cause, your approach of how to get rid of oily hair will be different. Here are some ideas that may work for you.
How To Get Rid Of Oily Hair
Watch How Often You’re Washing Your Hair
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how often you should wash your hair. Factors like your personal oil production, age, hair types, sweat, styling products, and your environment all play a part in the equation.3
If you wash your hair too much, your scalp produces more sebum to compensate. If you underwash your hair, oil sits and builds up on your scalp. Both of these could result in oily hair. If you suffer from greasy hair, consider if you are over washing or underwashing.
These are signs that you’re overwashing:
- Brittle hair
- Hair breakage
- Dry scalp
- Irritated or itchy skin
- Oily hair4
Signs that you’re underwashing (time for a wash):
- Oily hair and oily scalp
- Product buildup you can see or feel
- Tangled hair
- Your texture is different than normal
- Your hair smells5
Make A Hair Washing Schedule
If you think you need to change the frequency of your washes, it may help to create a general hair washing schedule to guide you. To find your personal sweet spot, start with the goal of washing your hair every 2-3 days. Add or subtract wash days according to these factors:
Wash your hair more often if:
- You have straight hair
- Your hair is thin
- If you regularly get sweaty working out
- If you wear hats or helmets for extended periods of time
- If your hair is dirty from gardening or another messy task
- If you use styling products heavily
- In your teenage years through your 30s
Wash your hair less often:
- Your hair is curly, wavy, or kinky
- Your hair is thick
- You are in your 40s and beyond
- Your hair is naturally dry
- You generally don’t do sweaty workouts6
Based on all of these factors, pick a general interval for how often you’ll wash your hair – whether it be every other day or once a week – and try it for a while. See if those changes improve your hair condition.
Shampoo The Right Way
To get rid of greasy hair, you may need to update your shampooing technique. First, grab a gentle shampoo or cleansing conditioner. Rather than working up a lather all over your head, focus on your scalp. Gently work the shampoo in your roots, and let it flow over the ends of your hair as you rinse it out.
Other things to note: Use warm water or lukewarm water. If the water is too hot, it may stimulate the sebaceous glands to create more sebum. Go easy on the finger massage. Massaging your hair for too long can irritate the scalp and stimulate more oil production.7
Try A Cleansing Conditioner
Co-washing or cleansing conditioners are a great way to ensure your hair stays balanced as you cleanse it. Unlike traditional shampoos, which can strip hair of oil and push sebaceous glands to compensate, cleansing conditioners gently cleanse and moisturize at the same time.
To use, simply wash your hair in the same way you normally would. If you use a cleansing conditioner, be sure to avoid hair care products with silicone that can build up in the hair.8
Re-Evaluate The Products You’re Using
Take a look at your cleansing and conditioning products. Are you due for an update? If you’ve been using the same products for a while, it may be time to upgrade to products made for your hair type with ingredients that agree with your hair. Look for sulfate-free products that can gently cleanse and energize the scalp without stripping it of natural oils.
Keep Your Brush Clean
Brushes can carry all sorts of things, from styling product residue to dirt to oil. If you never clean your hairbrush, you’re running all of that gunk through your hair every time you brush it. If it’s been a while since you washed your hair brush or comb, clean up your unwashed hair tools with a little shampoo or gentle soap to remove buildup.9
Try A Scalp Tonic
A scalp tonic can help fight product buildup, balance scalp oils, nourish hair follicles, and infuse moisture to roots. Look for a high quality, sulfate-free remedy that contains an antioxidant, like chamomile flower extract, that can help purify and soothe your greasy scalp.10
Try Not To Touch Your Hair
Hands off: Brushing, touching, and playing with your hair can stimulate oil glands. It can also cause oil to spread from your fingers to your hair, making it look greasy.11
Try A DIY Dry Shampoo
If your hair is feeling extra greasy and you’re looking for a quick solution, you can easily make your own “dry shampoo.” Making your own dry shampoo is easy, affordable, and may be safer than alternatives that contain random chemicals.
To make a dry shampoo at home, you’ll need an oil-absorbing powder. Arrowroot powder, cornstarch, rye flour, and even cocoa powder could do the job. To use it, simply dust it onto your scalp using a finger or a clean makeup brush. After that, you’ll want to massage it in and brush it through.12
Try An Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Looking for an at-home clarifying treatment? Open your kitchen pantry. Apple cider vinegar boasts a ton of potential scalp and hair benefits. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It can help balance scalp pH. It can clear hair follicles from debris. And it makes a great rinse for removing product build up and excess sebum.
To use, dilute one part ACV with five parts water and mix them together in a spray bottle. Spray your scalp, work in the mixture, and allow it to sit for 2-5 minutes before rinsing.13
Change Up Your Hairstyle
Those of us with greasy hair may be tempted to wear it up most of the time. While this may be a good idea occasionally, especially if it prevents you from touching it throughout the day, don’t forget to change it up. Try wearing your hair down on the day after you wash it. This lets it air out and (hopefully) keeps your hands from constantly pulling it back.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
If you’re going through a particularly stressful time and you notice that your hair is suddenly oily, there may be a link there. When we are stressed out, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. When our cortisol levels rise, our sebaceous glands react. Some may go into overdrive, pumping out more sebum and causing that unwelcome sensation of oily hair.14
The solution? Bring down your cortisol levels. Of course this is easier said than done, but if you can, try these stress-busters: get plenty of sleep, go for a walk, practice mindfulness exercises, breathe, do something fun that makes you laugh.
Bonus: Bringing down your cortisol levels will give you so many potential benefits that go beyond your hair health.
Clean Up Your Diet
Your diet plays a big role in the amount of oil your scalp produces. Diets high in processed foods, sugars, simple carbohydrates, and red meat may encourage more sebum production. Some experts think that eating dairy can also push your glands to create more oil.15
To control your scalp’s oil production, plan your meals around whole grains, fish, antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, and foods rich in essential fatty acids, like nuts and seeds.16
The Bottom Line
A certain level of oil in your hair is natural and beautiful. In fact, without natural oils, your hair would look frizzy, dull, and simply “meh.” And don’t even get us started on what curly hair would look like without oil. It couldn’t exist.
When oil builds up on the scalp and things start to look greasy, however, you may feel that you have a problem that needs a solution. To get rid of greasy hair, first make sure you diagnose why you have that oiliness in your hair going on. Then go through and try some strategies on how to get rid of oily hair. Change up your routine, try something new, and you just may find something that can help.