Sebum Buildup | 3 Causes & 2 Steps To Get Rid Of It

If you want to have thick, healthy hair, you must have a healthy scalp! Scalp sebum build-up is a sign that your scalp is not healthy and this may lead to hair loss if not treated properly.

In this post, I’ll share all I know about sebum buildup and its connection to hair loss. I’ll outline the process and causes, as well as show you the two-step method of ridding your hair of sebum buildup once and for all.

What is Sebum?

Sebum is the medical term for skin oils that are produced from microscopic sebaceous glands found under the surface of the skin.

This guide will touch upon sebum found within the scalp, however it’s also produced in great quantity on the face, and is produced elsewhere on the body (except the palms of your hands and soles of your feet).

Sebum buildup on the scalp

The production of sebum is natural and necessary, as it provides the scalp and hair with moisturization and keeps the scalp’s delicate pH in balance. Though, as you’ll see, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing in and of itself.

Can Sebum Buildup Cause Hair Loss?

As with many functions of the human body, sebum production is a process that requires balance.

If too little sebum is produced, the hair becomes brittle and and the scalp becomes dry. If too much sebum is produced, the scalp becomes overwhelmed by oil and the hair follicles become clogged.

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So, in short, yes; sebum buildup can cause hair loss. Now, let’s take a closer look.

Sebum Buildup and Hair Loss: Understanding the Process

The growth of hair is a process that takes part in stages.

Stage 1: Anagen – The stage of active growth, wherein hair bulbs form and hair pushes through the scalp.

Stage 2: Catagen – The stage of transition, wherein the hair follicle begins to be pushed from the papilla.

Stage 3: Telogen – The stage of rest, wherein hair begins to fall from the scalp to make room for new, anagen phase hair growths.

However, many things can disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to premature thinning and hair loss. One such thing is sebum buildup, and here’s how:

Sebum, as mentioned above, is produced from sebaceous glands. These glands are connected to the hair follicles, and they release sebum from the same pores that produce hair.

The sebaceous gland, as seen in a model of the hair follicle.

When excess oil is produced, the sebum has nowhere to go. This leads to a buildup within the pore, known as a sebum ball or plug, which then impacts the hair follicle and the hair growth cycle.

A diagram showing sebum production
While sebum buildup can commonly lead to acne, it can also cause inflammation of the hair follicles.

If buildup is allowed to remain to the point of blockage, inflammation is common. This is because the pore and hair follicle become irritated.

Even if the current hair growth cycle continues to completion (telogen), a new cycle may be hindered from starting. This is because there is simply no room within the pore for new hair to form and grow.

What Causes Sebum Buildup on the Scalp?

While any number of medical conditions and environmental factors can contribute to the buildup of scalp sebum, the three causes listed below are the most common.

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) is the most common form of hair loss.

AGA is believed to be triggered by DHT, a natural hormone found within the body. Unfortunately, those with AGA are sensitive to the hormone, and this triggers a process known as hair follicle miniaturization.

As miniaturization occurs, the sebaceous gland grows. This means that more oil is produced and sebum buildup becomes more likely.

Unfortunately, this only continues the cycle of hair loss. As more sebum is present within the scalp, more DHT is trapped within the follicles. If untreated at the earliest signs, it can be difficult (even impossible) to reverse.

(Do you know the early signs of balding? Learn more here.)

Poor Diet

High-fat, greasy foods are a large part of the modern Western diet. This can contribute significantly to the overproduction of sebum, and can trigger irritation, inflammation, and blockage of the hair follicle.

Of course, the best way to combat this is to reduce (or completely cut out) greasy foods.

You can also add in a number of foods that are known to alkalize the bloodstream and, therefore, alkalize the scalp’s pH.

Improper Hygiene

It’s commonly believed that washing your hair too little can lead to an oily scalp; actually, washing your hair too much is more likely to cause overproduction of sebum.

When you wash your hair with shop-bought products, you strip your hair and scalp of natural oils. This means the sebum must be replaced, and the sebaceous gland activates.

Washing your hair too frequently leads to a constant production of sebum. This means you’ll need to wash your hair more often, and the cycle continues.

There are two things you can do to break the cycle.

First, you can cut down on the frequency of hair washing. This will vary by individual, though I recommend four times per week at the most.

Second, you can switch to gentle, homemade shampoos.

The ingredients in such shampoos are not as harsh, so your natural oils won’t be completely stripped away. This cuts down on sebaceous gland activities, and ensures your scalp has the right amount of oil.

The 2-Step Guide to Reducing and Preventing Sebum Buildup

If sebum is causing your hair loss, then you’ll be happy to know that there are a few things you can do to combat it.

Step 1. Remove Excess Sebum from the Scalp

To prevent the continued loss of hair, you’ll first need to remove the sebum that’s present.

I recommend the use of a salicylic acid peel, which is best used after a cleansing shampoo.

Salicylic Acid Peel

Ingredients:

  • Salicylic acid (15% solution or less)
  • Coconut oil

Directions:

A bottle of salicylic acid

Once your hair has been shampooed and rinsed thoroughly, apply coconut oil to the entirety of your scalp. Allow to sit on your scalp for 30 minutes.

With a pipette or eye dropper, apply the salicylic acid to your scalp in sections. Pay particular attention to trouble areas (such as those with dandruff or noticeable thinning).

Allow the acid to sit on your scalp for 10 minutes, and then rinse completely. Peel away any excess salicylic acid that has been left behind.

Hair Benefits:

Salicylic acid is known to thoroughly cleanse pores and remove any buildup or residue. Unfortunately, it also has a drying effect.

With coconut oil applied beforehand, however, you can prevent your scalp from being entirely stripped or moisture.

(Learn more about coconut oil’s many benefits for hair growth.)

This simple combination, then, thoroughly removes sebum plugs while also hydrating the scalp and hair.

Step 2. Prevent Buildup from Returning

With the excess sebum now removed from your scalp, the follicles can heal and the hair growth cycle can restart. But how can you prevent this buildup from returning in the future?

First, I don’t recommend any kind of normal shampoo. Although this may temporarily help your scalp feel clean, the chemicals that are used in this process only end up damaging the scalp in the long term.

My favourite and most simple solution is to just use a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water and massaged into the scalp during a shower.

Doing this a few times a week is a much better option than any kind of fancy shampoo.

Apple cider vinegar shampoos gently cleanse the scalp

It will also help any hair loss problems tremendously.

Second, you must find and treat the underlying cause of your excess sebum production. Only then can you ensure that you’re protected against further buildup and blockage.

But how can you go about finding the cause?

This will take a bit of time and patience on your end, but here are two steps that I suggest:

  1. Do an elimination diet. When eating a varied diet, it can be difficult to know what (if anything) is causing your issues. An elimination diet will enable you to find the exact food groups that may be triggering sebum overproduction so you can purge them.
  2. Remove chemicals from your hair care routine. A number of chemicals found in popular, store-bought products – including shampoos, conditioners, gels, and serums – can mask symptoms. While this is helpful in the short term, this can cause permanent issues (even irreversible hair loss) in the future.

While the above two steps aren’t the only ways to pinpoint the cause, they can help to clear up a lot of uncertainties and provide you with the answer you seek.

Changing Your Diet To Prevent Scalp Sebum Build Up In The First Place

Let me be absolutely clear about this…

To get rid of scalp sebum (reduce it to an acceptable level) you must improve your diet.

If your diet isn’t right, your body will continue to produce excessive amounts of oil (and toxins) and excrete them through the scalp causing a lot of scalp and hair issues.

Cleaning up your diet will lead to a drastically better and healthier scalp, and allow you to regrow your hair naturally.

I can’t go into too much detail in this article, because I’ve written about diet in other articles, however I will give you some of my best tips now.

Firstly, reduce unhealthy oil intake and replace them with natural, healthy oils.

So…

Stoping eating fried foods, stop cooking with vegetable oils. Also cut down on your intake of processed meats as well as grilled or fried high fat meats.

Coconut oil helps reduce protein loss after washing

Replace those unhealthy fats with fats from coconut, avocado, nuts, seeds and cold water fish.

Secondly, start each morning with 1 pint of warm water, containing the fresh juice of 2 lemons.

This will help to sweep through your digestive system, clearing out any gunk and grime left over from the foods before. This also helps your body remove toxins and process foods more efficiently.

Thirdly, try a vegetable juice detox. This is my favourite way to quickly clean out the body and stop the build up of sebum on the scalp from the inside-out.

Learn more about the detox here.

Conclusion

The buildup of sebum on your scalp can be embarrassing; after all, it will leave your hair oily and lackluster. However, it can also lead to hair thinning and loss if allowed to continue.

Fortunately, the steps outlined above can get you started on treating the issue.

The main point here is that excessive sebum buildup can cause hair loss, but using natural methods, such as changes in diet and apple cider vinegar for shampoo, will help the problem.

The results will help you to pinpoint the cause of your hair loss so you can treat the underlying issue.

11 thoughts on “Sebum Buildup | 3 Causes & 2 Steps To Get Rid Of It”

  1. i lost most of my hair, and my head produce too much sebum.
    i wash my head and after 15minutes sebum is back. thats embarassing because im all day with people because its my job.. i want to stop the sebum 🙁
    my diet is okay, its not perfect but im avoiding already fried foods and sugar..

    what do you suggest ? please i need help !!

    • Hi Nick, I problem can be washing your hair too much. Shampooing can actually trigger sebum production as a protection mechanism. I would recommend trying to just use apple cider vinegar, once per week (only 1 tablespoon per wash). Secondly, diet is important. Have you tried a detox or a liver flush? These should help. Fried foods, sugary foods and drinks, condiments and anything containing processed vegetable oils should all be avoided.

  2. I am 15 and have this thick waxy substance on my scalp which is most likely sebum there are many patches on head where the hair are very thin and in that place there is a large amount of sebum.My hair have become very thin and they grow. Very slow

    • Curious: Having the same issue, have you found a solution? I don’t mean to worry you, but it causes patches if you don’t solve it fast enough. And I’m getting kinda’ worried.

  3. I have extremely healthy diet – I am kind of freak at this. I wont touch anything thats unhealthy. I eat alot of veggies (mostly green and raw), seeds (2 smoothies a day with 1 tbsp of each seed as a core: sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds), nuts, organic fish, oatmeals on almond milk etc. I am on this diet for more than 3 years and fixed most of my problems… except sebum. I have extremely oily and itchy scalp and nothing seems to help. I even tried to wash my hair only with water for a month – couldnt last longer because of that itching and yet my sebum havent reduced. I am out of ideas. I am 100% sure its not diet related or allergy related as I made allergic tests and avoid foods that I dont tolerate. Doctors say its just how it is… some people have more sebum. What do you say?

  4. I am an elderly senior but had never encountered sebum buildup and hair loss till about 1 year ago. I shampoo about 4x a week but after the shampoo day, my hair is all clogged with sebum. I am afraid to wash my hair again because there is a lot of hair loss-so much that is has clogged my drain.

    • Hi Ernie,

      We recommend reducing your shampooing frequency. It’s best to wash your hair no more than twice per week. You may also find a once-per-week apple cider vinegar rinse (1:1 ratio of water and ACV) to be helpful in reducing sebum production.

      – Steph

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