What causes greasy hair and how to stop it

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Hanna Ibraheem
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Is your hair more prone to grease at the moment? Here, a trichologist explains the causes of greasy hair and the best way to treat it.

You may have experienced it before. You wash your hair, enjoy the feeling of a fresh, clean scalp but come evening, your roots feel heavy and you start to notice grease peeking through.

Greasy hair is very common and we might actually be more prone to it during lockdown. “Your scalp is your hair’s support system – and so a healthy scalp is key to the production of healthy hair,” explains Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “During lockdown, your scalp’s condition is just as important as ever – if not more so – as stress, which we are all feeling, can negatively impact the health of your scalp. This is especially true if you already suffer from dandruff or other scalp conditions.”

Stress has an impact on our hormone levels, which can also have an affect on the skin’s barrier function, and this in turn may disrupt the microbiome of your scalp, she adds: “Due the nature of the hair growth cycle, the effects of stress will not be noticeable on your hair until six to 12 weeks later, so people do not always connect the two events. However, stress can impact the scalp much faster.”

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What are the most common causes of greasy hair?

The grease that appears on our hair and scalp is a combination things. “It’s mainly sebum – an oily substance produced by sebaceous glands,” says Kingsley. “The main components of this are fat and cellular debris. However, this ‘grease’ will also consist of sweat, dead skin cells and environmental pollution.”

Whenever hormone levels change, scalp secretions can change too. “The scalp usually becomes oilier during puberty, in times of intense stress and also during ovulation,” she explains. “Medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can also cause an overly oily scalp. After menopause, sebaceous glands on the scalp tend to produce less sebum.”

People with naturally fine hair may find that their hair gets greasy faster than those with other hair textures. “This is because individuals with fine hair have more hairs per square centimetre – and each hair has a sebaceous (oil) gland attached to it,” says Kingsley. “As a result, the scalp produces more oils.”

Our environment can have a big impact too, even if we’re just sitting at home. “Pollution affects the hair and scalp in a similar way to the skin on our face,” says Kingsley. “It makes our hair and scalp dirty and can also increase the likelihood of scalp problems, such as flaking and itching, as well as the formation of pimples.”

“In terms of your hair, pollution can make it look dull and lacklustre, and feel coated and heavy,” she adds. “The hair at the back of the head has a tendency to get oilier as this is the area that we tend to sleep on and rest our head on. It therefore becomes warmer than other parts of the scalp and sweats more. An increase in temperature and sweating stimulates the sebaceous glands.”

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How do you treat greasy hair?

One effective way to avoiding greasy hair is addressing the way that you wash it. “The best way to treat greasy hair is to shampoo as often as you can – preferably daily, if you have fine or medium textured hair,” advises Kingsley.

Though it’s important to note that daily hair washing won’t be right for all hair types “If you have curly or coily hair, shampooing daily is not going to be realistic,” says Kingsley. “When you do wash your hair, insufficient rinsing out of shampoo can make your hair look dull and feel heavy,” she says. “Rinse until the water runs clear.” If you’re not sure on the frequency of hair washes, pay attention to how your hair and scalp feels before jumping in the shower.

When it comes to conditioner, Kingsley recommends only applying it to your mid-lengths and ends. “This is where the hair is older and needs it the most. Applying conditioner too close to the scalp can weigh down the root area.”

“After shampooing/conditioning your hair, use a scalp toner containing astringent ingredients (such as witch hazel), like Philip Kingsley’s Stimulating Daily Scalp Toner, £22, to help absorb excess oil.”

“However, to help soak up excess oils and to calm itching between shampoos, use a dry shampoo with scalp benefits. You can also use a daily anti-microbial scalp toner.”

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