The buildup of white sebum on the scalp can be a sign of an unhealthy scalp and possible future hair thinning

Sebum Buildup | 3 Causes & 2 Steps To Get Rid Of It

If you want to have thick, healthy hair, you must have a healthy scalp! Scalp sebum build-up is a sign that your scalp is not healthy and this may lead to hair loss if not treated properly.

In this post, I’ll share all I know about sebum buildup and its connection to hair loss. I’ll outline the process and causes, as well as show you the two-step method of ridding your hair of sebum buildup once and for all.

What is Sebum?

Sebum is the medical term for skin oils that are produced from microscopic sebaceous glands found under the surface of the skin (1).

This guide will touch upon sebum found within the scalp, however it’s also produced in great quantity on the face, and is produced elsewhere on the body (except the palms of your hands and soles of your feet).

Sebum buildup on the scalp

The production of sebum is natural and necessary, as it provides the scalp and hair with moisturization and keeps the scalp’s delicate pH in balance. Though, as you’ll see, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing in and of itself.

Can Sebum Buildup Cause Hair Loss?

As with many functions of the human body, sebum production is a process that requires balance.

If too little sebum is produced, the hair becomes brittle and and the scalp becomes dry. If too much sebum is produced, the scalp becomes overwhelmed by oil and the hair follicles become clogged.

And even further, excess sebum can promote growth of the yeast that’s linked to dandruff which is another condition that may contribute to hair fall (2).

So, in short, yes; sebum buildup can cause hair loss. Now, let’s take a closer look.

Sebum Buildup and Hair Loss: Understanding the Process

Before we dig into the specifics, it’s important to understand how hair grows.

The growth of hair is a process that takes part in stages (3).

Stage 1: Anagen – The stage of active growth, wherein hair bulbs form and hair pushes through the scalp.

Stage 2: Catagen – The stage of transition, wherein the hair follicle begins to be pushed from the papilla (4).

Stage 3: Telogen – The stage of rest, wherein hair begins to fall from the scalp to make room for new, anagen phase hair growth.

However, many things can disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to premature thinning and hair loss. One such thing is sebum buildup, and here’s how:

Sebum, as mentioned above, is produced from sebaceous glands. These glands are connected to the hair follicles, and they release sebum from the same pores that produce hair.

The sebaceous gland, as seen in a model of the hair follicle.

When excess oil is produced, the sebum has nowhere to go. This leads to a buildup within the pore, known as a sebum ball or plug. When this happens on the face, this can lead to acne (5).

A diagram showing sebum production
While sebum buildup can commonly lead to acne, it can also cause inflammation of the hair follicles.

When this happens on the scalp, though, this buildup can impact the hair follicle and the hair growth cycle. If buildup is allowed to remain to the point of blockage, inflammation is common. This is because the pore and hair follicle become irritated.

Even if the current hair growth cycle continues to completion (telogen), a new cycle may be hindered from starting. This is because there is simply no room within the pore for new hair to form and grow.

What Causes Sebum Buildup on the Scalp?

While any number of medical conditions and environmental factors can contribute to the buildup of scalp sebum, the three causes listed below are the most common.

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) is the most common form of hair loss.

AGA is believed to be triggered by DHT, a natural hormone found within the body (6). Unfortunately, those with AGA are sensitive to the hormone, and this triggers a process known as hair follicle miniaturization (7).

As miniaturization occurs, the sebaceous gland grows (8). This means that more oil is produced and sebum buildup becomes more likely.

Unfortunately, this only continues the cycle of hair loss. As more sebum is present within the scalp, more DHT is trapped within the follicles. If untreated at the earliest signs, it can be difficult (even impossible) to reverse.

(Do you know the early signs of balding? Learn more here.)

Poor Diet

High-fat, greasy foods are a large part of the modern Western diet. This can contribute significantly to the overproduction of sebum, and can trigger irritation, inflammation, and blockage of the hair follicle.

Of course, the best way to combat this is to reduce (or completely cut out) greasy foods.

You can also add in a number of foods that are known to alkalize the bloodstream and, therefore, alkalize the scalp’s pH.

Improper Hygiene

It’s commonly believed that washing your hair too little can lead to an oily scalp; actually, washing your hair too much is more likely to cause overproduction of sebum.

When you wash your hair with shop-bought products, you strip your hair and scalp of natural oils. These oils must then be replaced, and so the sebaceous gland activates.

Washing your hair too frequently leads to a constant production of sebum. This means you’ll need to wash your hair more often, and the cycle continues.

It makes sense, then, that you should you cut down on the frequency of hair washing. This will vary by individual, though I recommend four times per week at the most.

How to Reduce and Prevent Sebum Buildup: A Nutritional Approach

Let me be absolutely clear about this…

To get rid of scalp sebum (or, more accurately, reduce it to an acceptable level) you must improve your diet.

If your diet isn’t right, your body will continue to produce excessive amounts of oil and excrete them through the scalp causing a lot of scalp and hair issues.

Cleaning up your diet will lead to a drastically better and healthier scalp, and allow you to regrow your hair naturally.

Firstly, reduce unhealthy oil intake and replace them with natural, healthy oils.

This means you should stop eating fried foods and stop cooking with vegetable oils. Also cut down on your intake of processed meats as well as grilled or fried high fat meats.

Coconut oil helps reduce protein loss after washing

Replace those unhealthy fats with fats from coconut, avocado, nuts, seeds, and cold water fish.

You should focus on increasing the variety of the foods you eat, and the more colorful your diet the better. This means more fresh produce, and less processed and packaged foods.

When to See a Doctor

In some cases, you may be dealing with a problem that requires more than just a change in habits and diet.

There are medical conditions that can trigger excess sebum production, such as sebaceous hyperplasia. But there are also medical conditions that can be worsened by the presence of increased sebum, including dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis (9, 10).

So, when should you see a doctor?

If you’re having trouble finding the cause of your excess sebum production, or if it’s causing hair loss at an alarming rate, it’s best to seek out a professional opinion.

There are a few things your doctor can do to help you figure out (and treat) the problem.

A physical examination will occur, and this may include biopsies of the affected areas. You can also except blood tests (especially a thyroid panel), and perhaps even a referral to a dermatologist.

Once the problem has been found, you can then work alongside your doctor to solve it.

This may mean a short course of antibiotics, or the use of an anti-fungal cream or shampoo. Or it can also mean a closely-monitored plan that you’re able to carry out yourself at home.

Conclusion

The buildup of sebum on your scalp can be embarrassing; after all, it will leave your hair oily and lackluster. However, it can also lead to hair thinning and loss if allowed to continue.

Fortunately, the steps outlined above can get you started on treating the issue.

The main point here is that excessive sebum buildup can cause hair loss, but it can be reversed in the vast majority of causes.

19 thoughts on “Sebum Buildup | 3 Causes & 2 Steps To Get Rid Of It”

  1. i lost most of my hair, and my head produce too much sebum.
    i wash my head and after 15minutes sebum is back. thats embarassing because im all day with people because its my job.. i want to stop the sebum 🙁
    my diet is okay, its not perfect but im avoiding already fried foods and sugar..

    what do you suggest ? please i need help !!

    • Hi Nick, I problem can be washing your hair too much. Shampooing can actually trigger sebum production as a protection mechanism. I would recommend trying to just use apple cider vinegar, once per week (only 1 tablespoon per wash). Secondly, diet is important. Have you tried a detox or a liver flush? These should help. Fried foods, sugary foods and drinks, condiments and anything containing processed vegetable oils should all be avoided.

  2. I am 15 and have this thick waxy substance on my scalp which is most likely sebum there are many patches on head where the hair are very thin and in that place there is a large amount of sebum.My hair have become very thin and they grow. Very slow

    • Curious: Having the same issue, have you found a solution? I don’t mean to worry you, but it causes patches if you don’t solve it fast enough. And I’m getting kinda’ worried.

      • Hey I’ve been dealing with an extremely similar thing for the past 7 months and getting worried all hair will be gone soon since the patches are like lines that run throughout my hair. Any response would be appreciated

  3. I have extremely healthy diet – I am kind of freak at this. I wont touch anything thats unhealthy. I eat alot of veggies (mostly green and raw), seeds (2 smoothies a day with 1 tbsp of each seed as a core: sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds), nuts, organic fish, oatmeals on almond milk etc. I am on this diet for more than 3 years and fixed most of my problems… except sebum. I have extremely oily and itchy scalp and nothing seems to help. I even tried to wash my hair only with water for a month – couldnt last longer because of that itching and yet my sebum havent reduced. I am out of ideas. I am 100% sure its not diet related or allergy related as I made allergic tests and avoid foods that I dont tolerate. Doctors say its just how it is… some people have more sebum. What do you say?

  4. Two questions:
    1. As far as I understand, the salicylic acid must be applied 30 minutes after applying coconut oil, but with the coconut oil still in the hair, right? I mean, I have to rinse my hair only once, that is, after applying the salicylic acid for 10 minutes (with the coconut oil present in my hair, is that so?
    2. Must the salicylic acid thing be done only once or every time before washing my hair?

    • Hi Dante,

      1. Yes, you want to apply the salicylic acid with the coconut oil still on the scalp.
      2. We recommend doing this just once every month (or even every two months). Doing it too often can cause excessive dryness.

      Regards,

      Steph

  5. I am an elderly senior but had never encountered sebum buildup and hair loss till about 1 year ago. I shampoo about 4x a week but after the shampoo day, my hair is all clogged with sebum. I am afraid to wash my hair again because there is a lot of hair loss-so much that is has clogged my drain.

    • Hi Ernie,

      We recommend reducing your shampooing frequency. It’s best to wash your hair no more than twice per week. You may also find a once-per-week apple cider vinegar rinse (1:1 ratio of water and ACV) to be helpful in reducing sebum production.

      – Steph

  6. Do not wash your hair, just cleanse your scalp skin. Make magnesium salt paste by adding a little bit of water or aloe gel, apply it only on scalp similar way like if you are trying to paint the hair roots. Instead of rubbing just massage the scalp skin (you want to improve circulation under the skin). Some magnesium will get absorbed into the hair roots and blood vessels which is good for all body and decrease calcification (by improving calcium to magnesium ratio). Rinse it with slightly warm water. Then apply apple cider vinegar with cotton ball only on scalp, then rinse with cool water (don’t worry if the hair gets wet when rinsing, it will get refreshed and cleansed enough just from rinsing). Apply hair conditioner only on brittle ends of the hair if they are too dry.

  7. My hair has been falling out for a year or so. My scalp is itchy and many of the hairs come out with a large thick root (or follicle or something) attached. I also have little bumps on my scalp in various places and sometimes they are sore. My scalp does not have scaly patches on it though and it is not very oily. Any ideas?

    • Hi Danielle,

      The root may be the sebum plug, or it may be the part of the hair strand that’s closest to the root throughout the hair growth process. You can learn more about it here: https://www.hairguard.com/hair-follicle-white-bulb/

      For the bumps, I would recommend you seek a consultation with a dermatologist. It’s best to have them examined physically, and perhaps even biopsied. This way you can treat the problem most effectively.

      Regards,

      Steph

  8. Drink lemonade with atleast half lemon daily, for sebum buildup. I see some change personally. Its been 4 days i started it.

  9. Hi, my hair was so bad it actually stuck together when I washed it & when I gently tried to separate it ~ it just fell out. I tried apple cider vinegar, but it made it worse. Please see what works for you, because everyone is different!
    I use natural shampoos. A clarifying shampoo once a week. I use a good quality of Cold-Pressed 100% argan oil, which has many antioxidants, reduces inflammation & moisturizes my hair & scalp for during the day. I made my own mix of great quality (WILD-CRAFTED) peppermint oil, rosemary oil, tea tree oil, jojoba oil & mixed with a dab of ULTRAX LABS Hair Plush Caffeine hair loss & hair growth serum. It lasts for quite awhile! I shake up the mixture & massage into scalp after every washing! My hair looks normal again. I also use an egg mask once a month to thicken my hair (1 Hr), BUT you need to rinse in sink using COLD WATER, so the egg does not cook into hair & make a mess! I also soak in warm bath with (1 tsp) baking soda to help cleanse the scalp, once a month. Good Luck!

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