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When your scalp is really oily, your hair can get weighed down and styling can become more difficult than it ought to be. If you have greasy hair that's increasingly hard to maintain, you'll be delighted to know that it's actually not all bad. According to experts, that oil serves a purpose that's really good for you.
"We all produce an oily substance called sebum on our skin through our oil glands, otherwise known as our sebaceous glands," says New York City board-certified dermatologist Charlotte Birnbaum. "Sebum improves the barrier of our skin and scalp, and thus, protects our skin and scalp from damage and drying out."
Nevertheless, when it comes to sebum, you can have too much of a good thing, especially if you have fine or straight hair that doesn't require as much moisture as thick or curly hair. There are a few key reasons why someone might have a perpetually oily scalp, one of which is shampooing too often or using a shampoo that's too clarifying (maybe even a combination of the two).
"Harsh shampoos strip the hair and scalp of natural oils, particularly if they have a basic pH," explains board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, who is based in Hamden, Connecticut. "They open what should be a closed hair cuticle, [then] water evaporates out and dryness follows. The oil glands don’t like that this is happening and kick into overdrive."
As she points out, your scalp is a lot like the skin on your face. "Just like I tell my patients who have an oily face, over-washing and over-scrubbing can just stoke the fire," she says.
If it sounds like that might be the case for you, thankfully, you can help your scalp lessen its own oil production. Below, experts break down why your hair and scalp are greasy, how you can maintain it, and when you can expect to see results.
Why is my hair so greasy?
As Gohara already explained, over-shampooing is a big cause of constantly greasy hair, but how can you tell if it's the cause of your greasy hair? According to the experts, that all comes down to how long your hair and scalp have been prone to oil. Gohara says that if your oil-prone scalp is a relatively new development, your hair habits might be the cause. In that case, you can change up your routine to see if it yields any results (more on how you can do that in a minute).
If you've had an oil-prone scalp for as long as you can remember — and have oil-prone skin on your face, too — chances are that's just your genetic code at play. "Some of us naturally produce more oil than others, which can lead to a greasy scalp," says Birnbaum. "If you have both an oily face and scalp, it's likely you are naturally oil-prone." Alongside genetics, Birnbaum says that oil production is also tied to hormones, stress, and (of course) humid weather.
Gohara also says perpetually oily hair can even be the result of something called seborrheic dermatitis. Often linked with eczema, it's a skin condition characterized by "greasy, scaly, dandruff from an overgrowth of a yeast called Malassezia." Additionally, Birnbaum says psoriasis is a potential cause of constantly greasy scalps. To determine if one of those is what you're experiencing, you should consult a dermatologist.
How can I make my hair less greasy?
The cause of your greasy scalp plays a huge role in how you should treat it. If you're certain your oil production is being heightened by your own routine, you can actually "train" your scalp back to normal. "Finding the right shampoo and using the right products will help to control [oil production]," says New York City hairstylist Erickson Arrunategui. "Switch to a regular shampoo that does not have oils built-in."
His personal favorite is Bumble and bumble's Surf Shampoo [he works at the brand's downtown Manhattan salon], but Allure editors are impartial to Briogeo's Best of Beauty-winning Be Gentle, Be Kind Shampoo.
"To help train your scalp, I recommend shampooing every other day," he advises. After shampooing, he advises only applying conditioner to the ends of the hair. "At first you will feel like it's not working, but you have to do this a few times before you notice a difference."
With this technique you can gradually start washing every two days, then every three, and so on. Arrunategui says you should notice a change after doing this for a month, but if your scalp is still producing a lot of oil, you can add in a monthly clarifying treatment.
Los Angeles hairstylist Justine Marjan adds that massaging castor oil into the roots of your hair before going to bed every once in a while can also help balance the scalp's oil production. "It sounds counterintuitive, but castor oil nourishes hair follicles and fights inflammation." Marjan also recommends keeping a sea salt scalp scrub on hand to "rid the hair of excess oil without stripping it."
If all else fails, make regular scalp massages a part of your routine. "Not only is this amazing for your scalp circulation, but it is also a great way to de-stress and feel great," Marjan says.
If your oiliness is likely caused by genetics or another factor that's out of your control, Birnbaum says you might need to shampoo more. "For an oily scalp, I recommend more frequent shampooing, up to once a day," she explains. "We don't want to overdo it, as this can lead to dryness and irritation, so it is important to find your personal sweet spot with the number of times a week you wash your hair." If you have curly or coiled hair, you can shampoo less often, she says, but fine hair types might need a little more work.
But once again, this requires the right products in order to work effectively — like clarifying shampoos, which are basically extra-strong formulas made specifically to wash away all the oil and product buildup in the hair. "Consider clarifying shampoos that aim to deep cleanse, better reducing residue, oil, and build-up on the scalp," Birnbaum says. "In addition, I would also consider using a shampoo with salicylic acid such as Neutrogena T/Sal a few times a week."
If following all this advice doesn't get you anywhere, you should consult with a dermatologist, who can determine if you have a skin condition that requires a prescription.
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Originally Appeared on Allure