Oily scalp is a common problem, experienced by everyone at some point in their lives. Individuals with pattern baldness, however, are at a higher risk for developing oily scalp.
In this post, you’ll be introduced to oily scalp, including the four most common causes for the condition. I’ll then answer the question, does an oily scalp cause hair loss? Last, you’ll be introduced to the three-step, all-natural method for treating and preventing oily scalp.
What is Oily Scalp?
Sebum is a natural substance which is secreted from the sebaceous glands. These glands are found throughout the body (except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet) and produce oil on a regular basis.
When an individual’s glands produces too much sebum, however, this leads to an overproduction of oil. This can cause acne on the body and scalp line, and also contributes to oily scalp.
Of course, aside from the cosmetic issues that oily scalp poses, it can also have a number of ill effects on hair and scalp health.
What Causes Oily Scalp?
The direct reason for an oily scalp is overproduction of sebum by the scalp’s sebaceous glands. This, however, can be caused by a number of things.
There are a number of conditions which can lead to an overproduction of sebum. One which is common in individuals with baldness, however, is Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA). While not a hormone imbalance in the usual sense, the hormones which trigger the condition also play a role in sebaceous gland size and production.
DHT is a byproduct of testosterone and 5alpha-reductase, and is also a known issue in individuals with AGA.
While individuals with male-pattern baldness don’t have higher levels of DHT in their bodies, the androgen receptors within their scalps are more sensitive to its presence.
This results in hair miniaturization over time, leading to hair loss (which may be irreversible if not treated quickly).
Alternatively, as the follicles shrink, the glands increase in the size. This means that more of the scalp is covered in oil-producing glands. Additionally, AGA has been shown to have an effect on the secretion of sebaceous glands in the scalp, though the mechanism is not currently known.
As you can imagine, what you put into your body can play a large role in your scalp’s overall health. This is why diet should be a focus for those who are looking to stop hair loss and regrow their hair.
Diets high in greasy foods can certainly contribute to an overproduction of oil. This can cause restriction of the blood flow and clogging of the pores. Additionally, DHT can become trapped, retriggering hair fall and repeating the cycle.
A chronic condition, seborrheic dermatitis can cause an overproduction of sebum. Over time, this leads to the buildup of dead skin and oils, causing the red, itchy, flaky patches of skin characteristic of the condition.
While this condition isn’t all that common (affecting about 4% of the population), a lesser form of seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, is seen in at least 50% of the world’s population.
While the severity and symptoms differ between these two conditions, the cause for both is the same: Malassezia, a yeast which impacts the natural balance of the scalp.
For many sufferers of oily scalp, the solution can be as simple as changing up their hair care routine.
Just as washing too little can lead to a buildup of sebum and oil, so too can washing too much. This is because a dry scalp will overproduce oil, attempting to replace the natural oils which are necessary in order to protect and nourish your scalp and hair strands.
Using chemical-free shampoos will cut down on this issue dramatically, but it’s also important that you experiment with hair washing frequency to strike a healthy balance.
Does An Oily Scalp Cause Hair Loss?
As mentioned above, there are a number of reasons an individual may find themselves dealing with an oily scalp.
With this in mind, then, oily scalp itself does not directly lead to hair loss. However, the underlying condition certainly can, and oily scalp may just be a symptom of the bigger issue.
How to Treat and Prevent Oily Scalp
While the treatment will vary from person to person, the three-step method outlined below will get you started treating your oily scalp and preventing it from returning.
Don’t Over Wash
It may seem counterintuitive to not wash your hair on a daily basis. But that’s the recommended approach when it comes to treating an oily scalp.
The sebaceous glands are found just below the skin’s surface. They’re connected to the hair follicles in most cases, and they naturally produce sebum to protect the scalp and hair strands.
In some individuals, the sebaceous glands will naturally produce more sebum than their scalp needs. In others, it can be a sign that the scalp is dry, which is often because it’s being over washed and/or over styled.
The solution, then, is to decrease the number of times you wash your hair in a week.
When you wash your hair, the shampoo will often strip the scalp of its natural, protective oils. The sebaceous glands will then go into overdrive so as to ensure the scalp is properly lubricated and protected.
This is the most likely culprit of an oily scalp.
The only way to end the cycle? To wash your hair less often.
I personally recommend washing your hair just twice per week, though that’s not necessarily the right number of times for everyone. There are some people who can wash it just once per week, while others need to do it thrice.
While your scalp will be oily and uncomfortable for the first few weeks of this change, it will slowly produce less sebum and adapt to the new schedule.
Utilize a Cleansing Shampoo
While you should aim to wash your hair just one to three times per week, when you do wash it you should use a cleansing shampoo.
Alongside sebum, your scalp will collect dead skin cells, dirt, sweat, and pollution. It’s important to gently remove these without completely stripping the scalp of its natural, protective layer.
You can make your own cleansing shampoo at home using easy-to-find ingredients like apple cider vinegar and grapeseed oil.
What You’ll Need:
- Warm Water (1 cup)
- Baking Soda (1 tablespoon)
- Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon)
- Citrus Essential Oil (5 drops)
- Grapefruit Juice (1/3 cup)
- Grapeseed Oil (2-3 teaspoons)
Using the container of your choice, combine the above ingredients.
Do not use an airtight container, as the baking soda and vinegar will react. An airtight container will result in dangerous pressure building up, and may break the container.
Applying to a wet scalp, pour the mixture into your hair and massage for 3 minutes.
Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
As a gentle cleanser, the combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar dissolve and wash away excess oils, while simultaneously ensuring that essential scalp oils are left behind.
Citrus contains antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, and folate; this makes it an effective treatment for oily scalp, whether from hormone imbalance or poor diet.
The grapefruit juice acts as a revitalizer, providing its high vitamin content and gentle acidity.
Last, grapeseed oil protects the scalp and follicles from damage and provides a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
If you prefer to purchase your shampoo from the store, then here’s a few ingredients to avoid:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
- Parabens (e.g. methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben)
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Polyethelyne Glycol
The above ingredients will certainly cleanse the scalp, but in the process they’ll completely strip it of its natural oils. In those with sensitive skin, it can even cause itching, flaking, and cracking.
For most people, it’s impossible to avoid styling your hair at all. You can, however, reduce oil production by limiting how often, and how much, you style your hair.
The heat and the tension that’s often used in hair styling, such as with curling wands and straightening irons, can cause drying and damage to the scalp. The very act of styling your hair can even cause your sebaceous glands to immediately produce oil.
But perhaps the main reason to avoid overstyling is the products themselves.
Hair styling products, like gels, pomades, hair sprays, and serums, can contribute to an oily scalp environment. And depending on their ingredients, they can even cause over drying of the scalp.
Alcohols are a common ingredient in many hair care products. That’s not to say that all alcohols are bad, as some can help to tame frizz or even soften the skin. But many of them can leave your skin dry which lends itself to excessive oil production.
Improve Your Diet
It’s true that diet isn’t the sole cause of scalp oil overproduction. However, there is evidence to suggest that certain dietary patterns (especially those high on the glycemic index) may trigger excessive sebum production and related issues.
One study published in 2019 compared the dietary patterns of healthy Korean men and women. The goal was to determine whether certain dietary patterns would have an effect on sebum content, skin hydration, and pH.
The four dietary patterns were as follows:
- DP1: Characterized by a high intake of beans, vegetables, mushrooms, meats, seaweeds, fat and oils and condiments.
- DP2: Characterized by a high intake of cereals, potatoes and starch, saccharides and fish and shellfish.
- DP3: Characterized by a high intake of potatoes and starch, seeds and nuts, fruits and eggs.
- DP4: Characterized by a low intake of beans and a high intake of meats, dairy products and beverages and alcohol.
As previous data on the subject has suggested, the dietary patterns high in carbohydrates (including alcohol) had a higher sebum content score. And dietary patterns, such as DP2, also showed a lower skin hydration level than the other patterns studied.
The dietary pattern with the least impact on skin health parameters was DP1. This may be surprising to many, as the diet specifically includes fats and oils. However, healthy fats and oils don’t seem to have a positive correlation with sebum production contrary to popular belief.
What does all of this mean?
A healthy, balanced diet that includes a mix of beans, vegetables, meats, fats, and oils, may be beneficial in slowing down scalp oil production.
A change in diet won’t likely heal all of your skin and scalp woes, but it offers a great start.
While an oily scalp is not a direct cause of hair loss, the underlying conditions which contribute, as well as the effects caused by excess scalp oils, can certainly trigger thinning and alopecia and make hair regrowth difficult (if not impossible).
For individuals looking to grow their hair, this makes the treatment of oily scalp an absolute must.
Of course, once the oil is under control, you’ll then need to focus on the root cause of your issues.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson.