A few years back I fell in love with the gym. As soon as I started taking care of myself, everything started to change. I was leaner, stronger, happier, and more confident. There is only one area of my new self-care journey that suffered, and that was my hair.
The more I worked out, the more I would sweat. The more I would sweat (and it was a lot) the more I showered. I wanted to prevent oily hair so I washed my hair excessively completely oblivious to the fact I was not only creating oily hair but making it worse.
I may have been fit but my hair and my poor scalp were completely out of shape. It wasn’t just the over-washing; I was creating oily hair with everyday habits I simply wasn’t aware could cause oily hair and scalp.
After some professional insight from my hairdresser, research, and trial and error I found a way to repair the damage and how to get rid of oily hair – and no, I didn’t have to cut my workout routine. Here’s how I got rid of my oily hair.
1. First, ask: Why is my hair so oily?
It should be noted that some of us are more susceptible to oily hair and scalp than others, simply due to our body makeup or genetics. The helpful little sebaceous glands are pretty much all over the body, these glands release sebum, a natural lubricating oil. The sebaceous glands are also connected to hair follicles naturally releasing sebum or oil to the scalp. It’s possible to have overactive sebaceous glands which create more sebum or oil for some than others.
Oily hair cannot be prevented for good, and it shouldn’t. The natural oils help nourish the hair and scalp and help create strong hair and growth.
2. Limit hair washing to prevent oily hair
How I dealt with my oily hair first was having a hair wash intervention. I went in for a regular trim and complained to my hairdresser about my oily scalp, embarrassed that she soon would be bringing me to the sink for a wash. “When’s the last time you washed your hair?” She asked. I proudly told her I washed it the night before, a diligent student of hygiene I thought to myself.
“How many times do you wash your hair a week?” she continued.
“Five, six times?”
She nearly dropped the shampoo.
In my hopes of reversing oily hair, I was perpetuating it. The biggest mistake with oily hair is over-washing and it’s understandable why (I can’t be the only one right?) You think you are cleaning your scalp and hair, but with over-washing, you are actually drying it out. To compensate for the lack of moisture, those sebaceous glands work overtime releasing more oil. Depending on the products you use, over-washing can also cause irritation, leading to other issues such as itchiness and dandruff.
The first thing I fixed was my washing habit, cutting it down to three times a week. Some hair pros will recommend even less, to two times a week, if you can.
3. Change up your shampoo and conditioner for oily hair
I also immediately changed my shampoo and conditioner. Reading the ingredients are essential, despite what it says on the front of the bottle. The best shampoo for oily hair includes products without sulfates and alcohol. Look for shampoos with mint if you prefer natural products or try our a clarifying shampoo. This makes a huge difference in terms of drying out the scalp causing those glands to become overactive to compensate. A few of the best shampoos for oily hair that I like include Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo and Aveda Rosemary Mint Purifying Shampoo. Both brands have complimentary conditioners too (Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s invisible oil heat and UV Protective Primer and Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Conditioner).
The way I washed my hair also changed. I used to slather conditioner all over my head, just like shampoo. Another big no-no. I concentrate conditioner on the ends and midshaft of the hair, which are the parts that need the conditioner most. The best conditioners for oily hair are ones that have moisturizing benefits. A couple of the best conditioners for oily hair that I like include The Body Shop Rainforest Radiance Conditioner and Tresemme Clean and Replenish Conditioner.
Another big tip: turn down the water temperature. Sure, a nice hot steaming shower feels great after a long day or workout, but it’s not a friendly hair move. Wash your hair with warm water and turn it cooler as you rinse all the product out – and be thorough. Thoroughly rinsing products out – especially conditioners as they are thicker – is also important. Product build-up is real, and this can cause oily hair. Product build-up can also result in small clumps in your hair, which many mistake for dandruff.
These little changes to my washing routine helped in reversing oily hair.
4. Stop touching your hair
If you want to get rid of oily hair – treat your scalp like the rest of your skin – stop touching it. A flirty run of your fingertips through your hair, twirling your strands or constantly tucking it behind your ears can be cute or maybe even habits you don’t notice. But this constant touching of your hair transfers dirt and oil which you have enough of. Just as you shouldn’t touch your face to help prevent breakouts, the same rules apply to help prevent oily hair.
I found that using clip-in hair extensions right after a wash day also helped with managing oily hair. After a wash day, there is less oil and grease, making hair extensions easier to apply. With hair extensions in I would be more conscious about not touching my hair too often, despite how strong they hold, I’m used to leaving them alone. I get the most out my hair extensions the first couple days after a wash, but they can also be great for adding a little oomph to my ponytail looks towards the end of a cycle right before a wash too.
5. Best products for oily hair (other than dry shampoo)
While dry shampoo is a godsend, especially for oily hair it should be used in moderation, just like serums and hair oils. Reducing the number of products I used weekly also helped in getting rid of oily hair. I will only use dry shampoo on the third day of no-washing, concentrating on my roots. There are other methods, such as a light sprinkling of baby powder that can help absorb excess oil. If you’re looking for product you don’t have to leave in the hair, look for hair blotting papers. Just like the little sheets you use for your face; hair blotting papers are a little larger and work the same way. A few pats at the roots can help, these are especially useful throughout the day and they’re easy to carry in your purse.
If you’ve ever used sea salt sprays for texture, consider using them to help get rid of oily roots too. I like to keep some in my gym bag. I find a little spritz of sea salt spray at the roots after a good sweat no only helps to absorb oil and grease but also helps me style my hair better after a workout. The sea salt soaks up enough excess and with a quick blow dry, gives my hair some texture.
This little trick gives me more options to style my hair after a workout instead of limp locks or having to always tie it up in a bun or ponytail. Using sea salt spray at the roots also help when I want to wear my hair extensions. They provide a little extra hold for days between washes where I want to wear my hair long and flowing.
6. How to style oily hair
When constantly looking for ways to get rid of oily hair, I also had to re-think my styling methods. While I shared my sea salt secret above, I also had to put space between myself and my hair straightener. The straighter your hair, the closer it lies to your scalp, causing oil to come into easier contact with your locks. Plus, taking more breaks from extremely hot tools (which require more products like hair protectant) was good for my hair overall. Instead of using a straightener every day or every other day, I learned how to do simple waves or curls. Using a curling wand and styling mousse, I found that the curly/wavy style would last me a couple days, meaning fewer contacts with hot tools, less product and not touching my hair as often. I’ll admit, achieving signature waves isn’t always doable, so when in doubt there’s always the top bun, or a ponytail.
While gym life may have caused more sweat, it helped spark a better diet, which in turn also helped my oily hair. Refined carbohydrates processed and fried foods along with excessive sugar not only packs on the pounds but can also increase the amount of oil our sebaceous glands create. As my new routine called for healthier eating, this part was at least a little easier to help achieve healthier hair.
You can’t get rid of oily hair permanently and it is healthy to have natural oil in your hair. Managing the oil does take a bit of work, and it comes down to a healthy hair routine that works with your lifestyle. I was able to manage the sweat life and get my hair back to health by making a few informed changes. I’d love to hear your tips on dealing with oily hair, share your comments with us.
Written by: Rosalyn Solomon