How To Remove Sebum Buildup Caused by Product Buildup

BY Kiku Chaudhuri

If you think you might have sebum buildup, find out how to combat it here

It is said that hair is our crowning glory, and we couldn’t agree more. Healthy hair represents more than good health, it can help boost our confidence and often times enhances our personality. Many people—in a bid to get shiny, healthy hair—use multiple products to strengthen, protect and style it. Unfortunately, over time, this results in sebum buildup which ends up damaging our scalp and hair. So, what can you do? Understand what sebum buildup is, how it’s caused and try to prevent it. 

What is sebum buildup? 

Our scalp naturally secretes an oily substance, called sebum, through sebaceous glands. Sebum keeps our scalp moist and protects it from dryness and infections—think of it as a natural moisturizer. However, when sebum blends with dead cells, sweat, pollution and the remains of hair care products, a layer of this mixture is created. This mixture is called sebum buildup. It can cause a flaky scalp, painful inflammation and is also linked to hair fall and breakage. 

How does product residue cause sebum buildup? 

Many hair care products are made of sticky substances, such as palm oil, that are hard to rinse off.  Regular use of leave-in conditioners, styling creams, or hair sprays also cause build-up. With time, the residue from these products mixes with the sebum. Ultimately, product buildup solidifies and gets accumulated onto the scalp. This thick layer of product residue clogs your hair follicles and prevents the absorption of any hair care product. This means you could be using the best products, but due to product buildup, it will never reach your hair follicles and the product will go to waste. The sebum buildup disbalances the scalp’s pH. Additionally, research has shown that hair care products that are full of strong ingredients like sulfates harm the healthy microbes that are on our scalp.

The visible effects of sebum buildup caused by product buildup

Here are some signs of sebum buildup: 
  • Folliculitis: A condition in which the hair follicles become inflamed. The scalp becomes bumpy and itchy as tiny pimple-like formations appear on it. A severe case of folliculitis causes scarring on the scalp and takes weeks to heal. 

  • Dullness and lifeless hair: Product buildup prevents hair from receiving any care, like shampooing, which ends up making hair dull and lifeless. It will lose volume and won’t be able to hold curls or respond well to blow-drying. 
  • Hair fall and bad odor: The layer of product buildup will make your scalp greasy. It will also impact the hair growth cycle by causing extreme hair fall. The clogging of pores will cause itchiness and your hair might emit a bad odor from the mixture of dead cells and product residue. 

How to get rid of sebum buildup caused by product buildup 

  • Scalp and hair prewash and wash hair regularly
  • Most importantly, to combat sebum buildup, regularly wash your hair, especially if you use heavier styling products. We know that the trend is to skip washes, but if you're experiencing excess scalp buildup,  it's important to increase your washes, but with the right products.

    A pre-wash is ideal for removing product buildup and setting your hair up for a successful shampoo. Try our Scalp + Hair Prewash, followed by our Unearth Yourself Balancing Clay Hair Cleanser, which won’t strip the hair but leaves it nourished and ready for conditioner.

  • Use mild and natural products
  • Plant-based formulas don’t  leave residue behind and at the same time cleanse the hair efficiently. Multani mitti (known as Fuller's earth) based hair products are great for this purpose. An article published in Open Dermatology Journal says that multani mitti removes the dead cells and cures inflammation. Plant-based products are also nutrient-rich and don’t contain any synthetic dyes or fragrances, which ensures that residue isn’t left on the scalp.