Having an oily scalp and dry ends is as annoying as having combination skin—and comes with the same set of challenges. How do you tackle this dual issue while not over or underdoing it, so that both your head and hair are in perfect equilibrium? We had no idea, so we tapped Dr. Dominic Burg, a biochemist and systems biologist with expertise in hair and scalp biology, who currently works as the Chief Scientist for évolis.
This Is Why Your Scalp Is Oily
An oily scalp is a super common problem because the scalp is entirely made up of oil glands, ummm okay. “Every hair follicle has a small oil gland attached to it; scientifically these are known as sebaceous glands. As there are around 100 000 hair follicles on your scalp, there are around 100 000 corresponding oil glands as well,” explains Dr. Burg.
“The oil the glands produce is known as sebum, which is made up of a variety of fatty molecules (fatty acids, wax esters, and triglycerides) that function to maintain the quality of the skin and hair. Sebum prevents drying and helps maintain an effective barrier to the outside world,” he continues. Your sebum isn’t the same all the time and will change depending on climate because it helps the skin and hair repel excess moisture or spread sweat more evenly along the skin, to cool you down in the heat.
The body’s production of oil, however, is predominately regulated by hormones, which are impacted by both our environment and genetic makeup. This means that some people are more prone to oily scalps than others – and this can change at different times of the year. And like everything else, our oil production corresponds with our menstrual cycle. Oil production also changes with pregnancy, where there is more oil, and after menopause, where there is less.
And Why Your Ends Are Dry
Hair can become dry for a number of reasons. “From a natural oil perspective, hair can dry out if scalp oil production is too low, like in menopause, or if the individual is on acne medication,” says Dr. Burg. However, our bodies aren’t only to blame for dry hair, thank goodness.
“Dry hair can also occur because of hair shaft damage incurred through styling (heat, color treatments and bleaching) or through environmental damage (excess sun, swimming in chlorine pools or at the beach). Damaged hair has a compromised cuticle (outer layer). The cuticle has a waxy coating that helps maintain the lubrication of each hair strand and helps the sebum travel along the shaft from the scalp. When these are damaged, the natural oils no longer effectively travel along hair, nor can they maintain an effective barrier to the central layers of the hair, leading to drying,” Dr. Burg breaks down.
Another cause of dry hair is excess use of silicone containing products, which leave a coating on the outside of the hair. Over time this builds up, preventing natural oils from penetrating the hair fiber and leading to dry brittle hair.
Dry Ends + Oily Scalp
While it’s definitely common to be dealing with both of these issues at the same time, Dr. Burg points out that people that do a lot of swimming, have treated hair, or wash their ends and mid-lengths frequently may experience oily scalp and dry ends more often. He also notes that any regular activity that strips out the natural oils, without allowing time for the natural oils to travel along the hair and replenish, will lead to drier ends.
Getting your oily scalp and dry hair in harmony is dependent on your unique makeup, but, as a rule, you can help the situation by changing your wash-up routine in a relatively subtle way. “Shampoo should be focused closer to the scalp and in areas more prone to excess oils, for instance, the first ¼ to 1/3 length of the hair,” says Dr. Burg, who notes that you should opt for gentler cleansers and avoid sulfates — as these tend to go too far with stripping out the oils. “The évolis Professional shampoos, particularly those in the Prevent and Promote collections are great at removing excess oil without completely drying the hair,” he says.
Like you have to target your shampoo, you should also be more strategic about how you apply your conditioner. “When conditioning, be sure to only focus on the mid-lengths and ends. Avoid getting any conditioner close to the scalp where the natural oils are doing their job, and instead, focus on the hair towards the ends that may be suffering from damage and need a little extra help. A weekly deep treatment mask can do wonders for dry ends. Look for products that contain natural oils as conditioning agents rather than artificial chemicals such as silicones. The évolis Professional conditioners and deep treatment masks are enriched with the natural oils from baobab, flaxseed, rosemary, and lavender to ensure hair retains and maintains its moisture and shine,” he continues.
What to Avoid
If you have an oily scalp but still somehow have dry hair, make sure you avoid shampooing your ends and avoid conditioner or masks near the scalp. Even though it’s tempting, don’t over wash – Dr. Burg notes that 2-3 times a week is all you need. “Over-washing can lead to excessive dryness and can also upset your scalp microbiome (the healthy/good bacteria on your scalp), which can lead to more problems down the road,” he notes.
When getting into your hair wash equilibrium, find a routine that works for you. “Don’t be afraid to mix it up over the seasons or according to your monthly cycle when oil patterns change,” continues Dr. Burg. While you need to avoid over washing, if you have a lot of oil production, make use of a good quality dry shampoo to absorb excess oil and refresh between washes, like the évolis professional Style + Treat Dry shampoo. “It not only removes excess oil and absorbs odors, but delivers the unique évolis technology and nourishing essential oils to scalp and strands respectively,” he adds.