Why Is My Hair Always Greasy?
I had a man in my Facebook group tell me his hair gets greasy 24-36 hours after shampooing, and that he had to wash his hair every day or it would get too greasy. But is daily washing really the solution to greasy hair? Or is there something more going on?
This is an issue many men deal with, and it’s frustrating when it seems like the only answer is to shampoo more often. As you’ll see in a moment, this can actually backfire on you. The truth is there are many variables at play, and the only way to really solve the issue is through trial and error.
For guys who are battling with greasy hair, I’m going to suggest five possible scenarios for why it’s too greasy, along with a solution for each potential issue.
However, you’re almost certainly not dealing with all five issues, so don’t change all five of these things at once! My advice is to change one thing at a time, give it a week or two, and reassess. If your hair is still too greasy, try the next suggestion.
It could take a couple of months to diagnose what’s going on, but once you figure it out, you can manage your greasy hair much better!
1) You’re Overwashing
The first possible reason your hair is too greasy is from overwashing. This sounds counterintuitive because if your hair is greasy, you should wash it…right? Maybe.
When you shampoo, the detergent cleanses and removes the sebum from your scalp. This is a good thing when there’s too much sebum clogging your pores and slowing your hair growth. But naturally, your scalp needs to replenish the sebum that’s been stripped away.
An optimal healthy cycle for this to happen is every three to five days. You shampoo, then the sebum begins to naturally replenish, building up over three to five days and protecting your hair, then you shampoo again.
Here’s the rub. When you strip the oils from your scalp daily, your sebaceous glands start to overproduce. They’re working overtime to keep up the sebum production level. You might not have ever noticed this when you had short hair because it wasn’t as visible. Now that your hair is long you can see and feel the grease buildup.
Gradually cutting back on your washes might help your sebaceous glands get back to a normal production cycle, but don’t cut back too quickly. If you quit cold-turkey your scalp will continue producing like normal because it hasn’t had a chance to adapt.
You should wean off. If you currently shampoo daily, cut back to five times per week, then to four, then three, then shoot for a twice per week schedule.
Be advised, this isn’t always the case for everyone. I know many guys who have said, “I’ve tried to train my scalp to produce less oil, but it didn’t work.” If that’s the case for you, then you might be dealing with our second issue.
2) You’re Born With Overactive Sebaceous Glands
Ok, so you tried shampooing less often, but it didn’t work.
The second possible reason for greasy hair is because an oily scalp is your natural hair type. Your genetics, your hormones, call it whatever you want, but you were born with it. Don’t give up yet though, there are plenty of ways to address this.
First, if you don’t have my hair type PDF you can download it here for free, but there are three hair type factors that can affect your grease buildup.
The first is your curl pattern. If you’re a 1 or 2A like me, and maybe 2B, your hair tends to get oilier quicker. That’s because with straight and slightly wavy hair, oil moves down your hair shaft much easier than with curly hair.
If you have naturally curly hair, your oils don’t travel down the hair shaft as easily. This is why curly hair tends to need more moisture than straight hair.
- Your curl pattern is 1or 2A
- You have thin or medium density hair
- You have a naturally oily scalp
What can you do?
The best answer I can give is to use a clarifying shampoo every other wash. Something that has a much stronger surfactant than a gentle shampoo or a co-wash. Sometimes that could even mean using a sulfate shampoo with something like ammonium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.
I generally advise against using sulfate shampoos, but in this case I’d recommend adding a clarifying sulfate shampoo to your regimen.
If you want to stay sulfate-free, just make sure the main detergent in your shampoo is a stronger anionic surfactant. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch my YouTube video where I break down all the different surfactants in shampoos and conditioners.
If you didn’t see that video, anionic surfactants are the strongest detergents chemists can put in shampoos. And while sulfates are anionic surfactants, there are milder sulfate-free anionic surfactants that still clarify. My personal favorites are sulfonates—something like a sodium c14-16 sulfonate really gets me dialed.
3) Your Diet is S.A.D. (Standard American Diet)
The third reason you might have greasy hair? Your diet is causing oily skin. If it’s not your genetics, try looking at what you’re putting into your body. Remember, you are what you eat!
A study in the Journal of Dermatology and Endocrinology showed that western diets, which are high in greasy fried foods, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates can cause your sebaceous glands to overproduce, leading to oily skin and greasy hair (1).
There’s also a correlation between less sebum production and a low glycemic diet that’s high in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and omega 3 fatty acids (1). In fact, there was a direct link to Omega 3 fats and a decrease in the inflammatory factors that cause skin acne (1). There’s also some evidence for less sebum production on a caloric restriction too (1).
So before you write it off as genetics, look at your diet. Foods that might help balance your sebum production are things like:
- Whole grains > refined carbs
- Grilled fish > fried fish
- Steamed veggies > french fries
As the founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates stated, “let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.”
4) You’re Over-conditioning
The next possibility for greasy hair is too much product or over-conditioning. Yes, there is such a thing as conditioner buildup.
Conditioners contain cationic surfactants like behentrimonium chloride or cetrimonium chloride which contain a positive charge, which binds to the negative charge of your hair.
When used occasionally and with the right surrounding ingredients, this is incredibly softening and conditioning for your hair. On the other hand if you over-condition, you can see cationic buildup, which makes your hair feel heavy, greasy, weighed down, and flat.
There is some evidence to show that sulfonates remove cationic build up better than sulfates. So for guys who don’t want to shampoo every day but still want to condition daily, this could be a reason your hair is feeling greasy.
Likewise, if you’re a guy who washes with conditioner and then adds a leave-in conditioner, or hair oil on top of that, then you’re packing on the oil. Since regular conditioners don’t have detergents to remove scalp oil, your sebum is accumulating on top of all this as well.
If you want to wash your hair with a conditioner in between shampoo days, my suggestion is to wash with a cleansing conditioner. This is called a co-wash, a conditioner with a mild detergent in it. Much milder than the detergents in your shampoo, but still cleansing.
To round out some options for this scenario, some men with naturally dry or curly hair will only co-wash and won’t shampoo their hair at all, called the no-poo or low-poo method. Another option is to do your clarifying wash and then wait for three or four days until your next wash. Finally, you can also try a dry shampoo to use in between wash days.
5) Your Shampoo Is Too WEAK
The last possibility I can suggest for greasy hair is you’re using the wrong shampoo & conditioner for your hair type. I’ve already mentioned that men with greasy hair should use a cleansing or clarifying sulfate shampoo once a month. But how do you know if you’re using the wrong shampoo?
If you have greasy hair, it’s possible your current shampoo is not strong enough. Gentle shampoos use very mild surfactants as their main detergent, like decyl glucoside or sodium lauryl lactylate. You’ll know it’s the main detergent because it will be the first or second ingredient after water.
While these are excellent mild detergents for people with dry hair, they’re not the best for dealing with an oily scalp. In addition to your once-per-month clarifying wash, I’d recommend a sulfate-free shampoo with a stronger anionic surfactant—something like sodium cocoyl isethionate, like in Epic Cleanse shampoo from The Longhairs.
These anionic surfactants are not as strong as sulfates, but still pretty clarifying, and a great option in between your clarifying shampoo days to keep your scalp moisture-balanced.
Bonus Possibility: You’re Touching Your Hair Too Often
I decided to throw in a bonus possibility and it’s a bonus because I doubt it’s the main cause of greasy hair, but it can contribute. You might have greasy hair if you’re running your hands through your hair too often.
Your hands are oily. And as tempting as it is to stroke your epic locks, you’re adding excess oils to your hair. Unless you’re putting your hair up or moving it out of your face for a reason, try and touch it as little as possible.
Greasy Hair Is Toast
There you have it boys, hopefully this sheds some light on why your hair might be too greasy and how you can address it.
Remember, don’t try and change all these things at once! Read through this post a few times and decide which reason is most likely causing greasy hair. Make an adjustment in your hair care regimen, see how it goes for a week or two, and reassess. If you’re still not seeing the results you’re looking for, try something else.
I’ll see you in my next guest post for The Longhairs, until then connect with me at the links below. C’YA!
Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009;1(5):262-267. doi:10.4161/derm.1.5.10192
Founder of Mannered Manes, Travis is a men’s style & grooming expert with a passion for helping guys look & feel their best—inside and out. Life and hair growth is a journey, and you’re most fulfilled when you’re always growing.
See all Trav’s guest posts for The Longhairs.