Oily hair is the arch nemesis of hair goals. Greasy hair can throw off your whole appearance, turning your freshly washed hair into a sad and droopy mess, before you even walk out the door! Aside from being an eyesore, greasy hair feels yucky and if left untreated, will only make matters worse. Luckily, with this guide, you’ll learn what causes oily hair, and how to take to your hair from mess to impress.

What Causes Oily Hair?

Excess oil in your hair usually occurs for two reasons: issues in the scalp or poor beauty habits. To get to the root of the problem, you’ll need to understand the science behind hair growth. Every pore on your skin has a sebaceous gland, including your scalp. The sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance called sebum, which gives your hair its natural shine. Sebum keeps your hair healthy and smooth, and it keeps the hair from becoming dry and breaking. However, some sebaceous glands produce an excess of oil, which results in oily skin and greasy hair.

Excessive oil production can occur for several reasons. It can be hereditary or due to hormonal changes (puberty or pregnancy), or even changes in seasons, lifestyle, or climate. Poor diet, improper hair care, and some medicines can also impact how oily your hair is.

How to Prevent Oily Hair

Controlling oily hair is within your own hands… literally. You can help prevent oily hair simply by keeping your hands off of it! This goes for brushing your hair as well, as both further distribute grease throughout your strands.

Greasy hair is also a cyclical problem. Over washing or excess scrubbing during shampooing can irritate the scalp, causing more oil. Once you strip your hair of its natural oils, your scalp goes into oil production overload. For this reason alone, do NOT wash your hair more than once a day. It’s important to rinse your hair in cold water for a minimum of 30 seconds to ensure that all shampoo and conditioner is out of your hair. Hot water stimulates the sebaceous glands, while cold water helps shut them down. Cool water also helps close your cuticle, reducing damage to your hair.

Let your hair air dry naturally, or keep the heat at a minimum, as often as possible. Similar to hot water, hot air can stimulate oil production faster.

Too much product can also cause buildup on the scalp, leading to excess grease. While you don’t need to stop using styling products altogether if your hair is naturally oily, you just need to know how to choose the right styling products.

How to Manage Oily Hair

Did you know you can actually train your hair to be less greasy? A well-designed care regimen for oily hair begins with a mild shampoo and a careful cleansing routine. A lightweight conditioner can help replenish and balance the moisture on your scalp without sending it into overproduction mode. Many times, a perceived accumulation of oils in hair is actually due to a poor rinse job. If conditioner still seems too much for your hair, try conditioning first and shampooing second to remove extra residue. Another option is to nix your traditional conditioner and opt for leave-in conditioning spray (on your ends only).

Next, space out your washes. An oily scalp is a vicious cycle made worse by attempts at reversing the problem. Ideally, you should be able to go 2-3 days between shampoos to get oil production under control. Be patient, as you won’t get there overnight. In the meantime, you can experiment with dry shampoos and hair powders that are designed to help soak up that oil without stripping your scalp of its natural oils.

You can also try using a clarifying shampoo or treatment twice per month. Despite your best rinsing attempts, your oily hair may be the result of buildup or heavy conditioners. Regardless of the amount of product you use, your hair may be good at holding on to traces of oil.

Finally, remember that you are what you eat, and your intake of B vitamins directly correlates with your level of sebum production. Make sure you’re getting a sufficient amount of the B vitamins (B2 and B6 in particular) to help combat greasy hair.

If these suggestions don’t improve your oily locks, it may be time to contact a doctor to consider other causes. This is especially the case if excess oil is accompanied by dandruff flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis may appear as dandruff at first but will persist despite shampooing.

Common Oily-Hair Concerns

Oily hair can be lifeless and therefore challenging to style. But the worst-case scenario is for the sebum glands to clog the hair roots, resulting in excessive hair loss and dandruff. Here are some tips and tricks to address these oily-hair concerns and get you back on the road to healthy hair, with the good kind of shine.


An excess build-up of oil on the scalp can lead to dandruff. Many dandruff sufferers produce an excess amount of skin oil that combines with Malassezia (a yeast commonly found on the scalp), which can irritate the skin.

  • Wash hair regularly
  • Use an anti-dandruff shampoo with salicylic acid twice a week. This serves two purposes. It ensures the hair is clean, which cuts down on scalp oil, and attacks Malassezia with yeast-fighting ingredients.
  • Try at-home remedies. Products like apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and coconut oil have vitamins and natural antifungal and antibacterial properties that can help with dry skin on the scalp and Malassezia build-up.
  • Avoid greasy or sticky products like styling gels, mousse, and hairspray.

Hair Loss

An oily scalp is often associated with hair loss. The excess oil production is a sign of inflammation, and when hair follicles are inflamed, hair growth is slowed because the hair produced is weaker in structure. Severe cases that are left untreated block the hair follicles, inhibiting the natural growth cycle.

  • Restore the normal biome of your scalp. As the scalp’s antimicrobial peptides, proteins, and waterproofing lipids are replenished, inflammation will gradually subside and sebum production will diminish along with excessive hair loss.
  • Examine your diet: a lack of B vitamins, zinc, and good fats can lead to hair loss.

Limp and Lifeless Hair

Too much oil will weigh your hair down, leaving it limp and lifeless. Those with fine and straight hair are most susceptible.

Use a dry shampoo (or powder). Spray the crown of your hair in short bursts and work in with your fingertips to soak up the excess oils that weigh your hair down.

Curl your hair. Sebum can travel down straight strands with ease; adding curls will slow that process down.

Best Haircuts and Styles for Oily Hair

While straight, short and/or thin hair tends to have a higher likelihood of looking greasy, no one is exempt from getting there. So, what can you do to still look your best?

If you are in hurry, using dry shampoo is a great way to hide oily hair. Distribute the dry shampoo on your scalp and allow it to work for about two minutes, then tousle or brush your hair to remove the rest. From there, here are a few ideas for styling your hair:

Slick back into a ponytail

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Brush hair back and upward into a high ponytail and then secure it with a hair elastic to complete this sleek look. For extra oomph, braid sections of your pony.

Cover it up

Invest in a pretty silk scarf or a headband to cover greasy roots while looking trendy at the same time.

 Wave grease goodbye

Textured, wavy hair is the best way to hide unwashed roots. Oil travels easily down straight hair, but a little wave can prevent that. Embrace your texture by spritzing your hair with a wave spray to achieve sexy bedhead with zero effort. If your hair needs it, use a curling iron to add a few additional loose waves.

Go halfway up

The half-up bun was created for days with no time for a wash. Prep strands with a dry shampoo for volume and thickness, then section off the top section and pull it back into a messy topknot. Secure with a few pins, then loosen a few strands for an undone finish.

Sleep with twists

Prevent greasy-looking bedhead while achieving a soft wave and volume by sleeping with your strands in loose twists. In the morning, tousle hair and add a bit more dry shampoo to finish the look.