Our scalps produce natural oils, which have many benefits, including help with hair hydration and shine. But if you skipped a couple of days washing your tresses or had to keep your hairdo looking put together for a certain amount of time using things like holding hair sprays and gels, chances are you've seen some buildup.
You're not alone — most of us experience buildup at times. Thankfully, there are a myriad of ways to help remove buildup from your hair and get your mane back to its optimal state in no time.
Product buildup occurs due to the hair care products we use, which causes a sticky feeling of buildup on the scalp. This buildup can also cause flakes in the hair. Natural buildup is a result of dirt, dead skin, sweat, and sebum that permeate the scalp, often when you wait too long between washes.
6 Methods for Getting Rid of Buildup in Your Hair
While there are many reasons buildup can occur, there are natural solutions and store-bought items that can return your hair to its former glory.
1. Clarifying Shampoo
Styling products such as hairspray, gel, mousse, texturizer, and wax can build up on the hair and scalp. One of the most effective ways to deal with this overload of products is to use a clarifying shampoo. It combats the issue by stripping away unwanted residue.
This deep cleaning item should be used once a week if buildup is already a problem. After that, use it once a month. Adding a clarifying shampoo to your hair routine can make your shampoo work better, combat oily tresses, and prevent blonde hair from becoming brassy.
- Start by choosing a clarifying shampoo. There are many on the market, both at the drugstore and salons. If you feel overwhelmed, this list of the best clarifying shampoos can help you find a product that works for your hair type.
- Apply a quarter-sized amount of clarifying shampoo to wet hair.
- Massage onto the scalp and through the length for a full minute. (The shampoo may or may not lather, depending on how much build-up there is.)
- Rinse thoroughly to remove all product and finish with conditioner or a moisturizing hair mask.
- Results are often immediate but could also take several washes.
The price per bottle can vary, with drug store products such as Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Purifying Shampoo retailing at around $5 and luxury products like ORIBE Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo retailing at about $49. Choose a product that works best with your budget.
A common concern for people with colored hair is removing buildup without stripping away the dye. A clarifying shampoo can still be incorporated into your routine. Simply choose something designed to protect color, like the Ion Clarifying Shampoo (about $10).
If you have hair that gets oily fast, wash it every two to three days at the latest. For curly, coiled, or hair that doesn't get oily right away, then once a week should suffice.
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2. Detangle Hair
Surprisingly, detangling hair can help reduce scalp buildup. When you brush your hair daily, it helps break up some of the scalp buildup that happens.
A great option for brushes is a bristle brush. Bristle brushes — which are made from synthetic or natural (boar) bristles — are amazing for any hair type. These brushes help distribute the oils evenly throughout the hair, which can help with scalp buildup.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
For a natural approach, reach for apple cider vinegar. This is a versatile product used for cleaning, food preparation, and removing buildup from hair. Vinegar has been found to remove residue, balance pH, and smooth the texture of the hair.
While it works well for all types of buildup, it is an especially good choice for tresses that are lifeless, dull, or difficult to style. However, be careful if you have color-treated hair. This natural solution may cause the dye to fade or run.
- To use, combine two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with one cup of warm water. (Optional: add in essential oils such as lemongrass and rosemary for healthy hair. They can soothe, strengthen, and make your mixture smell amazing.)
- Wash with shampoo as usual to remove dirt and oil.
- Pour the vinegar solution onto your hair, making sure everything from the roots to the ends has been completely coated.
- Massage into your scalp for a minute or two.
- Rinse off thoroughly using cold water.
This process naturally breaks down buildup, leaving hair shiny and healthy. Since apple cider vinegar is both easy to get a hold of and affordable (Bragg unfiltered, undiluted, non-GMO organic apple cider vinegar retails for about $13, for example), it's simple to try.
@drwhitneybowe #duet with @lillyvanbrooklyn Apple cider vinegar for greasy buildup #thatboweglow #doctorsoftiktok #dermatologist #scalp #hairTok #tipsandtricks ♬ Nothing On You - adjustEd shop
4. Baking Soda
There are countless uses for baking soda, like freshening your breath and cleaning, but it can remove product buildup. It can revive dull and lifeless hair by naturally getting rid of grease and residue. This product works well if you swim often or your hair has come into contact with chlorine.
- To make your own baking soda clarifying rinse, start by combining one tablespoon of baking soda with one to two cups of warm water. Make sure it is well mixed.
- Shampoo as normal and rinse out the product.
- Pour the baking soda mixture onto your hair, ensuring your locks are completely coated.
- Rinse thoroughly before conditioning. This last step is essential as baking soda can be drying.
You can also create a baking soda scalp rinse by combining two tablespoons of baking soda and half a cup of water. You'll be left with a thick paste. Massage it directly onto the scalp, leave for a few minutes, and rinse.
This is another affordable remedy (Arm & Hammer Baking Soda retails for about $7) that can help you combat symptoms like oily scalp, buildup, and flakes.
5. Lemon Juice
When it comes to natural hair remedies, lemon juice is another option to consider. It has been found to boost shine and fight against limp and oily hair, all while improving the health of the follicles. It can also be used to reverse common signs of buildup (like dull appearance, grease, and clumpy hair), thanks to its acidic properties.
- Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice (lime juice can also be substituted) with three cups of water.
- Wash your hair as usual and rinse thoroughly.
- Apply the lemon juice mixture to your hair, being careful to avoid getting any in the eyes.
- Let it sit for a couple of minutes and rinse well.
- Use a leave-in conditioner to keep your hair silky, smooth, and hydrated. This step will combat any dryness the acidity of the juice may cause.
While lemon juice can be extremely effective when it comes to buildup, it can also lighten the color of your hair. Keep this in mind if your hair is dyed or if you spend a lot of time in the sun. To find this natural (and affordable) product, head to the grocery store or pick up a bottle of the ReaLemon Juice Squeeze Bottles (approximately $4 for 48 fluid ounces).
Sometimes, the scalp can show the most severe signs of buildup. Symptoms often include dryness and itching, which can lead to embarrassing flakes and irritation. Thankfully, scalp scrubs can help. They provide relief and treat problematic buildup.
- You can choose a store-bought option, like the Ginger Scalp Care Shampoo from The Body Shop (about $10; it's specifically designed to soothe the scalp) or you can make your own DIY deep cleansing scalp scrubs.
- Once you have your scrub, massage the product onto the scalp. This should be done in circular motions.
- Leave on for two minutes and rinse thoroughly.
There are many types of scrubs (for example, ones that target flakes, focus on excess oil, and improve overall scalp health) so it's important to choose one that targets your specific needs. Consider your symptoms and go from there. Once you find the right scrub, the buildup on your scalp should begin to improve.
Look at the Symptoms and Causes
Besides making the hair more difficult to style, the buildup can also contribute to unsightly flakes and dandruff. Evaluating your symptoms more specifically and determining the underlying causes are helpful when it comes to treating this issue.
If you have buildup, the following symptoms may be present:
- Dry or itchy scalp
- Difficulty styling hair
- Greasy, clumpy, or heavy tresses
- Unwanted casts on the hair (orange or green)
There are many reasons buildup can occur. It may have to do with lifestyle choices, ingredients, or using many different products. Buildup on the scalp can be caused by several issues, including:
- Chlorine. This is a chemical found in swimming pools. While it is effective at keeping dangerous bacteria at bay, it can also damage the hair, especially if it's colored. A clarifying shampoo should be used every time hair gets wet in a chlorinated pool.
- Hard water. It has a high mineral count that can lead to deposits and minerals gradually building up on the hair shaft. That causes blonde hair to have an orange hue. While shampoos may help, most blondes need to maintain their color by treating the water system.
- Infrequent washing. This is one habit that can cause buildup to occur. Since several styling products are used regularly (from hairspray to pomade and heat protectants), failing to wash regularly can result in layers upon layers of product. This weighs down hair and impacts the health of your scalp.
- Dirt and oil. These can become embedded in the hair shaft and on the scalp as a result of ineffective cleansing. Make sure you are washing hair properly (working shampoo into the scalp twice and rinsing thoroughly) to decrease the risk of buildup.
- Shampoos with silicone. Some shampoos contain silicone, which can be both good and bad. Silicone-based products make damaged hair look healthier but can also weigh it down and make it appear lifeless. Switching shampoos or clarifying once a week will reverse the damage.
If you find the issue is not getting better with at-home methods, book an appointment with your stylist or dermatologist. They can help determine the best way to deal with your specific needs.
Your Hair Can Look and Feel Healthy Again
Many people experience buildup at one time or another. While it can be frustrating to deal with, the right treatment method can make hair healthy, beautiful, and easy to style. Whether you prefer natural options or something from the drugstore, your hair can look amazing again when you find what works for you.