Oily and greasy hair can be annoying to deal with—and not too cute to look at. Interestingly enough, though, that oiliness comes from the scalp. "Some common misconceptions about oiliness is where it actually comes from," explains Amy Stollmeyer, DesignMe co-founder and lead hairstylist. "Hair itself is not 'oily' and cannot produce oils—the scalp produces oils that then saturate the roots of the hair and when in excess can cause buildup on the hair closest to the scalp area (the first 1 to 3 inches on average). Saturated roots result in hair that can feel heavy, flat, weighed down, and look separated, stringy, or (the dreaded) 'greasy.'"
And actually, it's fine and normal for the scalp to produce natural oils. Stollmeyer says that the scalp naturally does this to replenish moisture loss and keep itself balanced and protected, plus it also helps to naturally condition our hair. But for some people, their scalp might over-produce oils. "Resulting in the hair becoming saturated quicker (within one to two days of washing), and heavier looking buildup and oily film coating the hair," she explains. "This is not to be confused with not washing your hair for five-plus days and feeling annoyed that your scalp or hair is looking or feeling oily. It should be by then, this means your scalp is doing its job!"
Causes of Oily Hair and Scalp
"An oily scalp is caused either by infrequent shampooing, gentle cleansing shampoos, or sometimes it may be diet-related and caused by excessively fatty diets or even diabetic or blood circulation issues," says Shab Reslan, trichologist and hair expert, "If someone is experiencing an imbalance in their scalp and they haven't changed their environment, products, diet, or frequency of shampoos, they should have their medical professional take a look at their overall health to make sure their scalp imbalance is not a sign of something internal. Even stress is known to cause overproduction of sebum and make your scalp act out."
You can also cause your scalp to be oily just by excessively washing or clarifying your scalp and hair and not balancing it out with any hydrators, Stollmeyer adds. This results in the scalp trying to overproduce its own oils to hydrate and balance itself.
How to Avoid Oily Hair and Scalp
There are a couple of things you can do to avoid an oily scalp or hair. Some of them are lifestyle changes, while others involve product swaps and recommendations. Here are some of the things you can do below.
1. Shampoo the scalp area gently and evenly: Stollmeyer suggests not being too aggressive and limiting very hot water on the scalp.
2. Do a weekly deep clean: "For those with oily scalp, I recommend a weekly or bi-weekly deep cleansing shampoo/exfoliant to provide extra cleaning while using a gentle shampoo daily," Reslan says. "This will balance the oiliness without stripping or drying out the hair since the deep cleansing shampoos clean a little harsher. It's the same idea as a weekly exfoliation for your skin, where you want to cleanse your pores out deeply. Your scalp may need the same occasional attention in order to keep it free of follicle-clogging buildup. If you go longer than two days between washes, I absolutely recommend a supplemental shampoo/scalp exfoliant that will give you that extra bit of cleansing that your scalp will require at that point."
3. Do not apply large amounts of conditioner: Stollmeyer advises against adding large amounts of conditioner or topical hydrators (creams, serums, and treatments) to the root and scalp areas. Instead, you'll want to apply a very thin layer of a lightweight formula to the mid-lengths and ends of your hair and comb through or use a fingertip to rake through.
4. Choose sulfate-free products: Gretchen Friese, a certified BosleyMD trichologist, recommends opting for a sulfate-free shampoo.
5. Avoid excessive shampooing: We already went over this earlier, but it's worth repeating. Stollmeyer advises against shampooing your hair every day.
6. Eat a healthy diet: Friese says eating foods that are good for you can also help on the greasy hair front.
7. Extend wash day with a dry shampoo: You can postpone your wash days by one to two days when you use dry shampoo, Stollmeyer says.
8. Wash your hair after getting really sweaty: Friese recommends cleaning your hair after sweaty workouts and other situations where you'll experience excessive sweat.
9. Don't touch your hair: "Try not to touch your hair throughout the day—like running your hands through the roots, flipping hair a lot, or changing the style throughout the day," Stollmeyer says.
10. Avoid oil products: Friese warns against applying products that contain oils onto the scalp.
11. Change your pillowcase: Stollmeyer recommends changing your pillowcase each wash day.
How to Shop for Products for Oily Hair
When it comes to looking for the right haircare products, Stollmeyer says lightweight is key, not just in the type of ingredient but in the way the ingredients are formulated. "Light hydrators like sunflower seed oil are great for giving just a touch of hydration to balance the scalp when formulated lightly," she explains. "Rice starch is incredible for wicking away moisture—think of the old 'life hack' when you accidentally drop a non-waterproof phone or device in water its recommended to then submerge it in a bag of rice—rice has the ability to draw out and absorb water and moisture!"
Friese also recommends other ingredients like tea tree, activated charcoal, lavender, rosemary, and peppermint—all of which can help with excess sebum production.
And for more product recs, take a look at some of the best shampoos and conditioners for oily hair below.
Best Shampoos and Conditioners for Oily Hair
"The shampoo is lightweight and also doubles as a gentle clarifier and the conditioner then lightly replenishes any moisture loss," Stollmeyer says. "It balances the scalp and encourages fullness and volume throughout the hair."
Friese says this anti-dandruff shampoo can also control an oily scalp. it contains pyrithione zinc to eliminate dandruff, control the appearance of flakes, and calm the scalp.
"L'anza has a Healing Remedy Scalp Balancing Cleanser that focuses on balancing out the PH of the hair and scalp," Friese says.
This shampoo balances by removing excess oil and odor from the scalp and nourishing the lengths and ends of the hair. It's also a lightweight formula that adds volume.
Good for all hair types, this shampoo is designed for weekly use and addresses oiliness. It contains panax ginseng root extract, rosemary leaf extract, and sage leaf extract to support and clean the scalp.
This clarifying shampoo removes product buildup and purifies the hair and scalp thanks to rosemary leaf extract, witch hazel, and tea tree oil. Coconut oil defines the hair and improves hydration.
L'Oréal's shampoo works to target oily roots and dry ends. It contains three refined clays to rebalance greasy roots and leave hair clean and grease-free for up to 48 hours.
And the conditioner counterpart of the above shampoo is lightweight, so it won't weigh the hair down but leave it feeling silky smooth.
Klorane's plant-based shampoo is formulated with organic nettle, which reduces excess oil so that you have more time in between washes.
The shampoo's name says it all—it works hard to degrease and purify your hair and scalp by reducing buildup. The sulfate-free formula contains jojoba, rosemary, and lemon essential oils.
Inspired by juices, this shampoo has all the nutrients. It contains papaya enzymes, which balance oil production, plus mango extract and juice to protect against free-radical damage and minimize hair dullness, and cherry extract to hydrate the hair.
And the complement to the juice-inspired shampoo above is this smoothie-inspired conditioner. It has all the same ingredients to balance oil, plus it's designed to leave your hair softer and smoother.
This lemony fresh shampoo will leave your hair extra clean, but not dried out. It minimizes buildup and reduces oil production so your hair will become less oily over time. It's also color-safe.
Josh Rosebrook's shampoo is formulated with aloe vera, gentle natural cleansers, and advanced herbal infusions to cleanse and balance. It removes any excess oiliness while also creating volume.
The Balance Conditioner is a lightweight formula that improves softness and increases volume. It contains aloe vera and rich fatty acids to lock in moisture, add shine, and protect the hair shaft, scalp, and follicle.