If your hair is looking dull, getting greasy at the roots really fast, or you’re experiencing signs of scalp irritation like itchiness or flaking, it could be time to consider the role that product buildup in your hair might be playing in the overall health of your curls.
You already know that the health of your scalp directly affects the health and appearance of your hair—because your curls can’t properly thrive if they’re not in an ideal environment to do so. But what exactly are the ingredients that cause product buildup, anyway? Continue reading to learn more about what causes product buildup in hair and what to do about it.
What’s the difference between product buildup and natural buildup?
Product buildup is the accumulation of, well, product. Over time and with the use of certain hair products, those added substances can have a tendency to collect on your hair shaft or scalp. Natural buildup, on the other hand, is the accumulation of loose skin flakes, debris, dirt, environmental particulates or pollution. (🤢) Worst case scenario? You have both types of buildup, which then combine and sit on your scalp and hair shaft, potentially causing conditions like dandruff and flaking, and preventing your curls and scalp from looking and feeling their best.
The signs and symptoms of product buildup can be varied and depend on the type of buildup, as well as the severity. Here are a few:
🧫 Greasy roots: One of the first signs of product buildup in hair? Roots that get greasy quickly. If your hair is making you look post-workout without the workout, product buildup could be to blame. This is especially true if you’re using products that contain ingredients such as mineral oil, which essentially just sit on top of your hair, not penetrating it or providing internal hydration to the hair cuticle.
🙇♀️ Dull hair: Noticing your curls looking duller and duller over time? When enough product has built up in your hair, it can coat your strands and prevent your hair’s natural shine from coming through.
🌵 Dryness: Similarly, if your hair shaft is coated in product buildup, nourishing, hydrating ingredients from your curl products will be unable to penetrate into your hair, causing increased dryness over time.
💆♀️ Scalp irritation: Another telltale sign of product buildup is scalp irritation, redness and flaking. These are caused by an accumulation of product residue on your scalp and hair and can cause serious discomfort.
💇♀️ Hair loss: If left untreated and in extreme cases, excessive product buildup can even lead to hair loss because it can actually clog your hair follicles, which are the source of all new hair growth.
Do all products cause product buildup in your hair?
The good news is: no, not all products cause buildup! Generally speaking, product buildup is caused by waxy ingredients that form a film-like finish on your strands. This includes ingredients like mineral oil and certain silicones. This is because these ingredients are not water-soluble, meaning they don’t dissolve easily in water and therefore cling onto your strands in the shower, rather than fully washing off when you shampoo. So if you were to use a hair product that was rich in mineral oil just one single time, it wouldn’t be an issue because eventually, any lingering remnants of the product would rinse off in the shower. The problem is when you repeatedly use products that contain these heavy, film-forming ingredients. Their inability to rinse off completely in the shower is what causes product buildup in your hair over time.
Nope! Our products are free of mineral oil, silicones, and lots of other potentially harsh ingredients—like sulfates, parabens and synthetic dyes. Better yet, our products are formulated with just the right balance of cleansing ingredients that lift unwanted oil and buildup from your hair, and nourishing ingredients that add moisture and hydration back in. After all, taking care of your curls is all about striking that perfect balance of making sure you’re really cleansing your hair, while not over-cleansing it and stripping your curls of their natural, much-needed oils and moisture.
Take, for example, the LUS Sulfate-Free Shampoo, arguably the most important step in preventing product buildup in hair. We know that many curlies are wary of shampoos and opt for the ‘no poo’ or ‘co-washing’ method, but we’re firmly pro-shampoo here at LUS. Our shampoo has been expertly formulated with curls in mind. Its light-lather formula has the cleansing power needed to get your hair and scalp nice and clean after each wash, but it’s also full of nourishing ingredients like shea butter and moringa oil, which moisturize and hydrate your curls and scalp from the inside out, without ever feeling too heavy or greasy. In fact, if you’re skipping the shampoo step, you could be making buildup a more likely concern.
What about leave-in products? The third step of our 3-Step System, our All-In-One styler, is not only free of buildup-causing ingredients like mineral oil and silicone, but it’s also customized for different hair types, so you get the amount of nourishing ingredients that your hair needs—no more, no less. Simply ensure you’re using the right formula for your curl type by taking our curl quiz. Your hair—and its lack of product buildup—will thank you.
Even our add-on styling products, like our Irish Sea Moss Gel, are formulated without the use of film-forming silicones that can cause product buildup in hair. Instead, we use a proprietary blend of passionfruit, açai and rice bran oil, which acts as a natural silicone replacement to help keep frizz at bay and provide definition, without any of the downsides of the silicones that are found in many other gels, such as buildup. It’s one of the many reasons our Irish Sea Moss Gel is so innovative.
“Leave-in products like our gel will actually perform better on properly washed hair,” explains our Director of R&D. “It’s able to function more effectively on hair that doesn’t have pollution and impurities interfering with the way it’s supposed to work.”
What about polyquats? Aren’t they known for contributing to product build-up in hair?
It depends! Polyquats, which are groups of positively charged polymers, are a controversial topic in the curly community, but they don’t need to be. “There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding polyquats,” says our Director of R&D. This is because there’s a massive degree in variation between them, so a blanket statement like “all polyquats cause product build-up” just doesn’t make sense. Not only are they vastly different from one another, but the way that polyquats are used in a formula can greatly vary, too.
“I can take a polyquat that’s notorious for build-up and combine it with one that is easily rinsed off,” explains our Director of R&D. “The former probably has an added film-like, frizz-minimizing effect that you really feel in your hair, so when you first apply it, it feels great but it can cause build-up over time. So what we can do when formulating is use that one at a very low percentage, and combine it with a polyquat that can easily be rinsed off and also has anti-frizz properties. By combining them and using the right amounts of each, we can mitigate the build-up effect.”
For example, in our Irish Sea Moss Gel, we use Polyquaternium 69 (a common film-forming polyquat that provides hold) and Polyquaternium 37 (an anti-frizz and anti-static polyquat). Separately they do very different things, but when combined they provide a synergistic result that mitigates their “negative” qualities and boost their positive qualities.
What about those days you just want an extra deep clean?
For the deepest scalp cleanse ever, try the LUS Scalp Scrubber, a gentle silicone massager that exfoliates the scalp for the deepest clean ever, lifting oil and buildup while you shampoo. And for an extra-clarifying DIY, try an apple cider vinegar rinse. Just mix one part raw apple cider vinegar and two parts warm water in a spray bottle, shake well and apply directly to the scalp, making sure you’ve covered the entirety of your head. Then begin massaging it in with your fingers to lift dirt and build up. rinse the mixture out with warm water and follow up with shampoo and conditioner.
While product buildup in your hair and on your scalp may start out harmless and just mildly uncomfortable, it can lead to more severe consequences if left untreated. The best way to combat product buildup is by preventing it from occurring in the first place. You can do this by regularly cleansing and using good-for-you curly hair products that are formulated with the right ingredients to give you clean, nourished, healthy hair.