8 Causes Of Greasy Hair You Might Not Have Considered

by Lindsey Rose Black and Kara McGrath
Originally Published: 
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Few things are worse than waking up the morning after washing your hair or drying it after a shower and discovering it's still greasy. While this totally sucks, the greasy hair causes you never considered below could help you figure out what to change in your beauty routine to avoid continually annoying greasy roots. First, though, you should know that greasy hair is totally normal. Durham, North Carolina- based dermatologist Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, FAAD, says that “greasy hair is an inevitability” because of our “pilosebaceous unit, [where] our hair follicles co-exist (literally join) with sebaceous glands that secrete an oily lubricant into the hair follicle.” While sweating due to hot weather or a hard workout are obvious things that can make your hair get greasy more quickly, there are plenty of other, less expected situations that can cause hair to produce excess oil. The good thing is that most of them are in your control.

Bustle spoke to dermatologists and hair stylists to get to the bottom of your grease situations, but if you’re really concerned, Meghan Feely MD, FAAD — a board certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City who serves as a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology — recommends “a board certified dermatologist to discuss what products are best for you” and determine whether or not your greasy scalp is a sign of a more serious medical condition. They will likely be able to get to the root (ha) of your problem faster than you otherwise would on your own. Good luck!

1. Your Pillowcase

How often do you wash your sheets? It’s a chore many people avoid, but celebrity hairstylist and T3 brand ambassador Laura Polko stresses the importance of switching out your pillowcases regularly. All the oils from your face and environment end up on the pillow, so “if you sleep with your hair on a pillowcase that hasn’t been washed recently” you might notice your hair looks greasier than usual in the morning, Polko says.

2. Touching Your Hair Too Much

“Brushing or touching [your hair] too much can lead to oil production,” Solomon says. Your hands produce oil that can easily get in your hair if you're constantly playing with it. When you're finished styling your hair each day, try to leave it alone!

3. The Products You’re Using

Laura Polka, celebrity hairstylist and T3 brand ambassador, notes that your beauty products could be the cause of your greasy scalp. “Be careful how much you use of products that are advertised as shine,” Polko explains, “ Shine ultimately can lead to grease.” She also says that your dry shampoo could be to blame. “You want a dry shampoo that’s really powdery. Then you know it’s absorbing the oil,” Polko says. “If it comes out in a liquid form, it’s still liquid getting in your hair” which could lead to the appearance of grease. Solomon recommends Batiste dry shampoo, and applying it before bed.

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And it’s not just your hair products to watch out for: Polko also explains that the stuff you’re putting on your face can affect your hairline. “If you’re on a big face oil kick, that can make your hair look greasy,” especially if you have bangs, she says.

4. Over-Conditioning

How can you tell you're going overboard on conditioner? Celebrity hair stylist Philip B. explained to Beautylish, "You know you've over-conditioned when your hair feels too soft and limp, or if it feels heavy, thick, and oily." Polko agrees, saying, “You really don’t need conditioner on your roots. It’s made for your ends, so focus there.”

5. Your Shampoo Method

Of course, the kind of shampoo you use can really impact the oil levels of your hair: Something that’s advertised as “moisturizing” or “repairing” likely contains heavier ingredients, like oils, that can make some hair textures appear greasy, even after you’ve washed it. “Shampoos may feel like the answer but very harsh shampoos can strip the scalp of oil, which in turn, leads to an over-production in an attempt to balance,” Solomon explains. “On the other end of the spectrum, very mild shampoos or [washing in a way that] only focuses on the strands and not the scalp could also cause grease build up.”

Consulting with your personal stylists and/or dermatologist and doing a little trial and error at home is the best way to find a wash schedule that works for you. Feely notes that how often you have to shampoo could also change as you get older. “Daily washes might be advised [by your dermatologist], but as the scalp produces less oil as one ages, less frequent washes may be recommended,” she explains.

If you’re looking for a place to start, Solomon has some suggestions. “Regular shampooing with a gentle sulfate-free, pH balanced shampoo is best,” she says. “Once a week, use an oil control shampoo containing charcoal, tea tree oil, salicylic acid (like Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo), acetic acid (vinegar), sulphates (yes really sulfates are fine in moderation — I like Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo), or zinc pyrithione (Head & Shoulders).” If you’re more into the DIY route, she recommends rinsing with apple cider vinegar once a week.

6. Your Diet

“Your hair will literally reflect what you’re eating,” Polko says. “If you are eating too many omega 6 fatty acids, then your hair tends to be greasier than if you’re also eating omega 3 fatty acids.” While trials that test how your diet affects your hair have been fairly small and generally focus on hair loss, most experts agree that a healthy, balanced diet (whatever that means to you and your doctors) will help your hair flourish.

7. Hormonal Fluctuations

“Hormonal changes can affect the oil content of the scalp, which explains why puberty, pregnancy, and even birth control can result in an oily scalp and greasy hair,” Solomon explains. Feely agrees, saying “at certain times in the menstrual cycle more oil may be produced.” If you’re someone who has a menstrual cycle, Polko says you’ve probably felt other physical side effects of how your hormones relate to the state of your scalp. “If you get your hair done around your period, your scalp can be more sensitive,” she says, which explains why the usually relaxing experience of having someone else brush your hair can suddenly be sort of painful. If you’re concerned about these sort of side effects after switching to a new form of birth control, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

8. Your Hairstyle

Basically, any way you manipulate or style your hair can lead to excess grease. “Blow drying and hair straightening can lead to excess oil production,” Solomon says. But that doesn’t mean you have to air dry forever, just “use the cooler setting [on your hot tools] because the heat will trigger additional oiliness,” Solomon advises. Additionally, Solomon says, not brushing your hair regularly can lead to oil build up at the scalp.Your cute hair accessories, like headbands and hats, can also be to blame “because it’s trapping the oils on your scalp,” Polko explains. “If you’re wearing a beanie in the winter you often end up with dry ends and a greasy scalp.”

9. Untreated Skin Conditions On The Scalp

“Psoriasis can result in flaky patches,” Solomon says. “You should see a dermatologist if you notice any inflammation or flaking. Scalp oil feeds yeast production and this, of course, results in inflammation and flaking which traps more oil.” Feely notes that these two conditions are often confused, but gave some tips for how to tell them apart. “Seborrheic dermatitis can make the hair appear oily and is accompanied by greasy, yellow-white scale. Scalp psoriasis … is characterized by a silvery sheen,” she explains. Regardless, you should talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing either, so they can set you on the best path for treatment.

This post was originally published on January 11, 2016. It was updated and republished on June 26, 2019.

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