What Causes Oily Hair & Skin?

What most people refer to as oil on skin is actually sebum, a naturally-produced oil from the sebaceous glands that helps keep your hair and skin properly hydrated. Located beneath the hair shaft, these glands are all over your body, including the scalp. Numerous factors can cause the skin and hair to accumulate too much oil from overactive sebaceous glands. While some of the factors are out of your control, there are ways you can minimize excess oil for cleaner hair and skin.

Washing your hair once a day is enough to prevent excess oil. (Image: puhhha/iStock/Getty Images)

Overactive Oil Glands

Overactive sebum production may manifest as oily hair or a shiny face and can be caused by myriad factors including genetics. Oily hair tends to be more prevalent in straight locks. If your hair is wavy or curly, the oil doesn't distribute through the rest of your strands as quickly. Brush an oily scalp with care, as doing so too often will increase the amount of sebum throughout the rest of your hair. Daily cleansing is essential for both oily hair and skin.

Hormonal Changes and Excess Oil Production

Hormonal changes are a common cause of excess oiliness in usually normal skin types. Sebum production is in part controlled by hormones called androgens, which may spike during puberty. These hormones can also increase during pregnancy and menstrual cycles in women, and as a side effect from certain birth control pills. Stress is a factor in hormonal balance and oil production in both men and women; this is why you may break out before a big event.


Where you live is another contributing factor to oily hair and skin. High levels of humidity can lead to a greasy scalp and shiny skin. This is especially problematic if you are predisposed to oily skin and live in a region with high humidity levels year-round. In other regions, those with oilier skin may only experience it in the warmer months.


Excess oil causes the misconception that you need to wash your hair and face multiple times a day. Doing so actually increases the activity of your sebaceous glands, which then produce even more oil. Washing your hair just once a day is enough to keep excess scalp oil at bay. Wash your face with a mild cleanser morning and night.

What You Can Do

Washing your hair and skin will do you no good if you use the wrong types of products. Oil-based shampoos and cleansers only exacerbate the problem, so opt for water-based products for your skin and hair. If dry flakes on the scalp accompany your oily hair, consider trying a dandruff shampoo twice a week to balance moisture levels. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and managing stress will also help to regulate oil production.

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