If you struggle with overly oily hair and skin, you've probably wondered what it is that you're doing to cause this slippery situation. Whether you face these issues some or all of the time, it can get annoying fast. Though the oil production in your body is hormonal, there are a few easy ways to treat oily hair and skin, so your days are a little more comfortable.
Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Cosmetics, has the low-down on what causes excessive oil production, how to treat it, and what ingredients to look for in products. But — Hayag notes that if you do have naturally oily hair and skin, there's a bright side. “Research has shown that wrinkles are shorter and shallower in areas of sebaceous glands that produce oil," says Hayag. “Also, skin is usually smoother, thicker, and requires smaller amounts of skincare products as well as less moisturizer and makeup."
Now, with that silver lining in tow, let's get to the solutions.
What Causes Oily Hair & Skin?
Sebum is the culprit behind your skin's oiliness and is produced by the sebaceous glands, Hayag says. “For people with oily hair and/or skin, sebaceous glands are working overtime and/or are in greater numbers, producing an excess of sebum."
If you're wondering what's causing your glands to work overtime, there are a few answers:
1. It could be hormonal.
"Male hormones called androgens, which are present in men and women, manage the production of sebum," says Hayag. “The higher the amount of androgens present, such as when people hit puberty, the more sebum is produced and secreted through our pores."
2. It could be outside factors
If you're well past puberty and wondering when your sebaceous glands are going to let up, you're not alone. Hayag explains that overactive sebaceous glands can also be a result of genetics. But outside factors like heat, humidity, unhealthy eating habits, using the wrong skincare products or taking certain medications can also be contributing to the excess oil. And stress too.
“Stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, which signal the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum on the scalp and skin," says Hayag. “Also, stress tends to make people touch their hair more, which can contribute to greasiness."
Treatment Is Just as Important as Prevention
While there are a lot of solutions out there to treat oil production, Hayag encourages her patients to focus on prevention as well. “While it is important to consider the ingredients used to combat oily skin and hair, it is equally important to take measures to control oil production as well as reduce it," she says.
Hayag explains that some of those measures are simple and expected, like refraining from constantly touching your hair and face, and avoiding sugary and fatty foods. Hayag says you should go for foods that instead contain omega fatty acids and vitamin B6, like fish and nuts. And if you're prone to oily skin, make sure you're washing your face in the morning when you wake up, at night before bed, and immediately after exercising.
How to Treat Oily Hair:
1. When You Wash Your Hair
It's necessary, but don't overdo it. “If someone who has oily hair washes their hair every day and is still experiencing oily hair, it may be that they're over-washing. Over-washing can strip the scalp of its natural oil and cause an overproduction of oil in order to rehydrate the scalp." Instead, aim to wash every other day.
2. How You Wash Your Hair
From there, Hayag recommends focusing the shampoo on the scalp, and the conditioner at the ends of the hair shaft. “It may also be helpful to condition first and then follow with shampoo in order to ensure there are no product residuals following a shower," says Hayag.
3. Clean Your Hair Brush
One thing that most people don't think about is cleaning the hair brush, which Hayag says can harbor lots of product residue and dead skin.
4. Blow Dry
You can also try blow-drying your hair. “The heat plumps up the hair cuticle, allowing it better absorb scalp oil," says Hayag.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar & Aloe
If you're looking for a natural solution at home, Hayag recommends applying apple cider vinegar to the scalp and letting it sit for a few minutes before washing in order to get rid of any product buildup and balance out the scalp's pH. She also loves aloe vera, and suggests mixing one tablespoon of it, along with three tablespoons of lemon juice into a cup of shampoo. Use the solution for your next few washes.
6. Choose Shampoo Carefully
If you'd rather just buy shampoo at the store, Hayag suggests looking for shampoos that contain detergents, like ammonium or sulfates, because these can dry out the scalp. You can also find products that already contain apple cider vinegar.
And if you're concerned about finding a shampoo that won't clog your pores, Hayag suggests peppermint oils, mint oils, and tea tree oils. "They are all-natural ingredients that are calming for the scalp and help strip and dissolve oil," says Hayag.
Just because your hair is oily, that doesn't mean you can forgo all moisture. “Although it may seem counterintuitive to add more moisture to oily hair, it is actually important. This is because oily hair is likely caused by stripping away too many natural oils from the scalp, which then causes the body to overproduce oil," says Hayag. To combat dryness, Hayag suggests jojoba oil, which she says is super gentle.
How to Treat Oily Skin:
For oily skin, Hayag breaks down skincare into three steps:
1. Use Products With Acids
“It is important to incorporate acids that can combat oily skin and control the production of oils," says Hayag. “Some acids to look for include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, beta-hydroxy acids and benzoyl peroxide."
2. Cleanse With the Right Ingredients
For cleansers, Hayag recommends looking for cleansers with sodium laureth carboxylate and alkyl carboxylates. She notes that these are great for oil control and tackling moderate acne. For a natural solution, witch hazel, which is an astringent that Hayag loves due to its high tannin levels, is good for removing excess oil without drying out the skin.
“Managing oily skin and hydrating the skin are not mutually exclusive," says Hayag. “It is important to incorporate ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which helps balance the oil and water production in skin. In addition, look for products that claim to be 'oil-free' and 'non-comedogenic.'"