By Jenn Sinrich
If you’re wondering the difference between a greasy scalp and an oily scalp, rest assured there isn’t one — both are a function of too much oil being produced on the scalp or too little oil being eliminated, explains Marisa Garshick, MD, an N.Y.C.-based dermatologist. What causes this imbalance in oil on and around your scalp? One of the main culprits, of course, is not washing your hair often enough, which leads to a buildup of oil and dead skin cells. It could also be the polar opposite scenario: washing your hair too often. Another potential cause is an inflammatory condition, such as seborrheic dermatitis, which can lead to redness and scaling on the scalp that has a greasy finish, Dr. Garshick notes. Whether you consider your scalp oily, greasy, or somewhere in between, the good news is that these tried-and-true solutions can help.
You might know this ingredient from your skincare routine. Beta-hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid, are some of the best over-the-counter acne fighters on the market, as they exfoliate the surface of the skin and penetrate into pores to remove oil to keep pores from becoming clogged, explains Dr. Garshick. Luckily, they can do the same with your scalp, which is why it can be beneficial to use a shampoo that contains this all-star ingredient. “Beta-hydroxy acids are oil-soluble so they can penetrate the pores and help to reduce the oil that contributes to greasiness,” she says.
If you think your greasy scalp could be the result of seborrheic dermatitis, which may be characterized by an overgrowth of yeast, Dr. Garshick recommends an anti-fungal hair care product that contains ingredients like ketoconazole or selenium sulfide to address both the greasiness and the pesky symptoms associated with seborrheic dermatitis.
“Many oily scalp sufferers experience greasy-looking hair around the roots to the mid-lengths, then the ends are super dry and brittle,” says Yates. Instead of over-washing and then over-conditioning to tackle the hair challenge, she recommends using an industry staple, a Mason Pearson brush, to massage your scalp as well as distribute your hair’s natural oil/sebum from mid-lengths to the ends.
Conditioners are wonderful for keeping your hair smooth and hydrated, but they really only belong on your mid-length and ends — not your scalp. Your scalp provides its own moisture to the hair close to it, so adding any more will only leave you feeling greasy. “Conditioners will contain emollients plus conditioning agents, which could exacerbate oily scalp challenges when applied to the scalp,” adds Yates.