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How to Prevent and Manage Greasy Oily Hair

Tips for Getting Rid of Your Greasy Hair for Good

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Woman washing her hair in a basin
George Doyle / George Doyle / Getty Images

If you've found yourself on this page, you're likely fed up with an embarrassing greasy hair problem. Oily hair, or an oily scalp, feels gross, looks gross, and can even smell gross. It can cause increased acne at your hair line, and tank your self esteem. It's time to put an end to your greasy oily scalp.

Why So Greasy?

The first step to understanding how to deal with your oily scalp concerns is to understand why you have a greasy scalp to begin with. Sometimes the problem is a temporary hormonal problem that can come with puberty and after puberty, thyroid complications, pregnancy, and sometimes menopause (although the opposite is typically true as we age). Basically your body is producing sebum (that's the natural grease that your scalp produces) in excess in response to hormones that may also be flowing though your body. Other times the excess sebum production is permanent part of who you are, and a lot of times it's an issue that you're causing yourself by simply using the wrong products or from hair management habits that could use a little tweaking.

If the problem is seems temporary or comes on suddenly, a chat with your doctor may be in order to see if you have any underlying hormone concerns that can be treated medically.

If not, read on to find out how you can stop that oily scalp in it's nasty greasy tracks.

The Oily Hair Cycle

An oily scalp is a vicious cycle that is actually often made worse by attempts at reversing the problem. You've likely already been told by someone that washing your hair more often makes your oily scalp worse. That's completely true. What happens is this: you wake up with greasy scalp, so you wash your hair to remove the grease. In the process you strip your hair of it's natural sebum. Your body's response is to replace the natural oil that it's lost. Some people's body's natural response to replace the stripped away sebum is excessive, and you can find yourself feeling oily again by lunch time. So the next time you wash your hair you use a product to dry out your scalp further, like a clarifying shampoo. Your body responds in a panic to re-hydrate that lost moisture and the oil is unleashed. You can't win chasing this greasy cycle.

The more you wash your hair, the more oil your scalp produces, and the bigger your problem becomes. The cycle is simply completely unfair, but you can break it.

Breaking the Sebum Production Cycle

The best way to break the cycle of the over production of sebum is to skip washing your hair. Before you give up and say, "No way!" (because let's face it, you're not trying to walk around with gross greasy hair), hear me out. I'm not suggesting that you go days between hair washing this week. Read on.

Start slow. Take a day once a week and skip the shampoo. Pick a day that you can wear a hat or when you'll be home all day and it doesn't really matter. Then make it two days a week. Ideally, you should be able to go 2-3 days between shampoos to really get the oil production under control. Just don't expect to get there overnight. Give it months, and if you don't get there, so what. Experiment with dry shampoos and hair powders (see below for products that I recommend to help right now) that are designed to help soak up that oil without stripping your scalp of sebum, and thereby without sending your scalp into sebum over production mode.

Whether you can stomach the idea of not washing your hair or not, this other tip for breaking the cycle of oil production might surprise you. You've likely been choosing shampoos and conditioners with little moisturizer to help with your greasy scalp. You may be skipping the conditioner all together. Makes sense. You don't want to add oil and moisture to an already over moisturized situation, right? You should actually choose a shampoo and conditioner that will help balance the moisture on your head. A heavy duty super hydrating shampoo and conditioner would probably be too much, but a light weight moisturizing shampoo and conditioner can help replenish and balance the stripped moisture on your scalp and not send your body into panic mode to over produce it's own. 

Don't skip the conditioner, just make sure you keep it off your scalp (conditioner is meant to keep the ends of your hair healthy) and that it's rinsed very well. Choose something light weight like this one, or use a leave in spray (on your ends only) like this one instead of a typical conditioner. If conditioner still seems too much for your hair, try conditioning first and shampooing second to remove extra residue.

Quick Fixes for a Greasy Scalp

Whether your greasy scalp is a temporary or permanent problem in your life, you'll be happy to know that there are a lot of products and tips that can make life with extra oil much easier. Here are some tips to help combat your oily hair battle:

  1. Make sure you are shampooing your hair properly, which means rinse, rinse, rinse. You should be rinsing your hair for a minimum of 30 seconds. Sometimes greasy hair is actually shampoo or conditioner that hasn't been rinsed completely.
  2. Rinse your hair with cool water after shampooing. Hot water can stimulate the glands that produce sebum, while cold water helps shut them down. Plus cool water helps close your cuticle and reduce damage to your hair. Same thing goes for hair dryers. Whenever possible, let your hair air dry naturally, or keep the heat at a minimum. The hot hair can stimulate oil production faster.
  3. Hands off. Touch your hair as little as possible if you have greasy hair tendencies. The more you touch, brush, and even style your hair, the more oil you produce and the more noticeable that grease gets throughout the day. 
  4. Use a clarifying shampoo or treatment twice per month. Your greasy hair may be the result of product buildup or heavy conditioners. Even if you don't use a lot of hair products, your hair may be really good at holding on to traces of oil and gunk. Use a clarifying shampoo a couple of times every month to remove all traces of oil. These come highly recommended:
  5. Dry shampoo should be your best friend. Use a dry shampoo for quick oil absorbing during the day if you find yourself greasy before the day is even over, or on days that you don't shampoo. Not only does dry shampoo instantly suck up the grease, but it aids in volume, and absorbs odors in your hair from the over-production of oil. Here are a few that I highly recommend:
  6. Try an oil absorbing hair powder that can be sprinkled into your hair at the root and provides long lasting grease absorption. Did you know that light colored hair can get excellent results from baby powder and corn starch, and dark hair can benefit from coco powder? It's true. There are also some great hair powder products on the market that can seriously put the ca-bosh on grease, plus they help your hair keep lasting volume. Here are a few to try:
  7. When styling hair that tends to get oily, look for hair products with volumizing properties. They tend to contain less oil and moisturizers that may make your hair appear greasier. Stay away from products with extra shine enhancing features. Shine usually means it's enhanced with oil.
  8. Embrace your curls and waves. If you're flat ironing your hair or wearing it straight every day, you'll notice your hair will appear greasier. Straight hair gives grease and oil a direct path down your hair shaft, making it much more noticeable. Curling your hair, or allowing your natural waves to shine through will help keep the oil down.

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