Hair Sebum: What is, Causes & Tips to Control Excess Sebum

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Ramona Sinha

Too much of a good thing can be bad for you – like hair sebum. If you have less scalp sebum, your hair will turn dry and brittle. And an excess of it makes the hair greasy and brings on a host of other issues.

Sebum is the natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands on your scalp (and skin). It contains fatty acids and other nutrients to nourish the roots and support healthy hair growth. Concerned about how sebum can be bad for your scalp health? This article explores sebum’s role in scalp and hair maintenance, the link between sebum buildup and hair loss, and how to manage excess sebum production. Read on.

What Is Sebum And Why Do We Need It?

Sebum is a waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands that moisturize your hair and scalp. This natural oil coats the hair strands to protect them and prevents dryness.

Sebum is a complex mixture of several lipids, such as triglycerides, fatty acids, cholesterol, squalene, and wax esters. These components have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and are essential for hair and scalp health (2). The sebaceous glands surround the hair follicles to nourish them and strengthen your hair.

Sebum is extremely crucial for maintaining your hair health. However, excess sebum production can damage your hair. Let’s find out how.

Can Too Much Sebum Damage My Hair?

Yes. Excess sebum secretion can lead to greasy-looking hair, scalp redness, and intense itching. Excess sebum also causes the proliferation of Malassezia, a fungus-like yeast that feeds on the fatty acids in sebum and causes dandruff (3). Too much sebum can cause issues like:

  • Folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles)

Several factors can cause excess sebum production on the scalp. In the next section, we have explored the reasons behind sebum overproduction on the scalp.

What Causes Excessive Sebum Production On The Scalp?

1. Hormones

Androgens are hormones that regulate the production of sebum all over your body, including your scalp. They increase the size of sebaceous glands and stimulate excess sebum production. Progesterone – a hormone released by the ovaries increase sebum production in women (4).

2. Age

Your age can also affect sebum production. The sebaceous glands are active even before birth, offering lubrication and moisture to the baby’s skin. Sebum production is minimum in the early ages and peaks at adolescence, declining as you grow older (5). Hormonal changes during puberty may trigger excess sebum production.3. Environmental And Contributory Factors

Apart from the above primary causes, other factors may also affect sebum production. These include:

  • Hormonal medications, such as birth control pills (6), (7)
  • Product buildup
  • Dead skin cell accumulation on the scalp

The sebaceous glands are present all over the body, and a majority of them are bound to the hair follicles (5). This is another reason behind the extra sebum on your scalp. This excess sebum buildup can also affect hair health and cause hair loss. Learn more in the next section.

How Does Sebum Buildup Result In Hair Loss?

The sebum buildup on the scalp affects your hair health in multiple ways:

  • Sebum accumulation clogs the hair follicles. This chokes the follicles, affecting hair health and eventually causing hair loss.
  • Sebum accumulation in the follicles may clog them, trap bacteria and may cause folliculitis (commonly known as scalp acne) (8). This condition can result in scabs on the scalp that heal slowly and trigger hair loss (9).

Fortunately, you can manage sebum buildup on your scalp and control hair loss with the following tips and tricks.

Tips To Control Excessive Sebum Production

1. Birth Control And Hormone Medications

Oral contraceptives can reduce excess sebum production (10). Your doctor may even suggest a combination of contraceptives and other hormone medications to balance your sebum production.

2. Prescription Treatments

Excessive sebum production causes acne on the scalp or folliculitis. If not treated, it may cause pain, irritation, and hair loss. Oral isotretinoin can treat the condition  (11). However, the dosage depends on the severity of your condition. Consult a doctor for the right dosage.

3. Diet Changes

Making simple dietary changes can reduce excess sebum. The consumption of excess fat and carbohydrates and foods with a high glycemic index may increase sebum production (12). Cut down on junk food, carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, noodles, white bread, and baked goodies to regulate sebum. Consume a balanced diet and follow a healthy lifestyle to maintain hair and scalp health.

4. Massage Your Scalp

Massaging your scalp can improve blood circulation (13). It can also prevent sebum accumulation. Gentle massaging may help distribute natural oils, reducing the chances of hair fall and infection.

5. Proper Hair Care

Following the right hair care practices can regulate excess sebum and keep the scalp healthy. Wash your hair thrice a week with a mild shampoo. Avoid using harsh shampoos with SLS and alcohol. Also, use styling products in moderation. Always wash the scalp after you have used hairstyling products to minimize product buildup. Moreover, the chemicals in hair products weaken the moisture barrier and dry out your hair and scalp. The skin increases sebum production to protect the moisture barrier.

Here are a few more tips to prevent sebum-related hair loss and keep your mane looking fresh and healthy.

How To Prevent Hair Loss From Sebum Buildup

1. Use Mild Hair Care Products

Pick products that are free of parabens, sulfates, silicons, alcohol, and other harmful chemicals. Make sure the shampoo suits your hair type and texture. Using products that do not meet your needs will only worsen the problem and increase sebum production and hair loss.

2. Skip Excess Hair Washing

Washing your hair seems like the most obvious thing to do to combat sebum buildup on the scalp. However, excessive washing can be counterintuitive in this case.

Frequent hair washing can strip the scalp of the oils and moisture it needs. This dries out the scalp and follicles, prompting the sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum.

Closing Thoughts

Sebum is important for the hair and scalp health – provided it is balanced. Controlling excessive sebum production can eliminate issues like inflamed follicles, seborrheic dermatitis, and hair fall. Follow good hair care practices, consume a healthy diet, and use the right hair care products. With these small changes, you can easily bid goodbye to your oily and itchy scalp and keep your tresses beautiful, healthy, and manageable.


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Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.