How To Get Rid Of Scalp Buildup Effectively

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Annie Jangam

Have you tried anti-dandruff shampoos only to find your scalp still flaky and greasy? Chances are you have scalp buildup that looks quite similar to dandruff flakes. Such buildup needs a different treatment approach. Using dry shampoos frequently or improper rinsing can leave behind residue on the scalp and lead to issues over time. But worry not – the buildup can be removed with the right methods.

In this article, we discuss the causes of scalp buildup, how you can get rid of it, and the proper hygienic practices for preventing it in the first place. Keep reading.

What Is Scalp Buildup?

Scalp buildup is the accumulation of excess oil (sebum), sweat, dead skin cells, and leftover hair care products on the scalp.

  • The flaky residue can be white or gray and is often confused for dandruff.
  • The scalp can feel greasy or waxy due to the overproduction of natural oils. If left unchecked, scalp buildup can clog hair follicles and eventually lead to infections, folliculitis, scalp acne, and hair loss.
  • Scalp buildup often results in symptoms similar to other scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. These symptoms include an itchy scalp, redness or inflammation, and swelling.

Find out the causes of scalp buildup in the next section. 

What Causes Scalp Buildup?

It is normal for dead skin cells and natural oils to accumulate on the scalp. However, excess use of hair care products, improper hair rinsing, and skipping hair washing can cause scalp buildup.

Sebum The glands in the scalp produce a natural, waxy oil called sebum that moisturizes and protects the scalp and hair. Overproduction of sebum can make the scalp greasy and result in scalp buildup.
Dead skin cellsThe scalp constantly renews itself by sloughing off dead skin cells. Dead skin cells that are not removed collect on the scalp and lead to scalp build up.
SweatSweat on the scalp helps flush out the toxins. The scalp needs to be cleaned regularly to remove sweat, toxins, and other impurities excreted by the body.
Product residue Hair sprays, dry shampoos, gels, mousse, and leave-in conditioners can leave behind a residue. Excess use of these hair care products or improper cleansing can accumulate on the scalp as buildup.

We have learnt the causes of scalp buildup. How does it look? Scroll down to find out.

What Does Scalp Buildup Look Like?

Scalp buildup looks similar to dandruff. It is flaky residue that can be grayish-white. It may feel greasy and have an unpleasant odor. Sometimes, dandruff also adds up to scalp buildup.

What Does Scalp Buildup Look Like

Removing scalp buildup is simple. We have discussed it in the following section.

How To Get Rid Of Scalp Buildup

  1. Clarifying Shampoos: These shampoos are specially formulated to remove the greasy residue on your scalp effectively. Keep in mind that clarifying shampoos can be drying and must be used sparingly (once a month). They should not be used in place of your regular shampoos.
  2. Rinse Your Hair Properly: Residue, especially from dry shampoos or natural oils, sweat, and dead skin cells can cause long-term issues if not removed. Rinse your scalp thoroughly to remove buildup and keep it clean.
  3. Use Lukewarm Water: Washing your hair with lukewarm water can help dissolve the oily scalp residue. Ensure the water is not too hot.
  4. Use The Products Properly: Shampoos should be used on the scalp, while conditioners should be used on the hair strands. Often, we use conditioners on the scalp, making it greasy and oily. They also make hair limp and heavy. Remember to gently massage the shampoo on the scalp and hair roots to clean the scalp buildup. Avoid aggressive scrubbing as this can lead to scabs, sores, and hair breakage.
  5. Brush Your Hair Regularly: Keeping your hair tangle-free can reduce product buildup. Unruly, tangled, and knotty hair can trap the residue and aggravate the scalp. Brushing your hair regularly and using natural bristles (boar) can help detangle the hair and distribute the natural oils and products evenly throughout the hair strands. Serums, detanglers, and leave-in conditioners, when used in adequate amounts, can help untangle your hair.
  6. Home Remedies: Anecdotal evidence suggests that using apple cider vinegar rinse or baking powder in the shampoo can help remove scalp build up. It is widely believed that these ingredients exfoliate the scalp by dissolving product residue. However, remember, you can only try these home remedies if there is no inflammation on the scalp.

While treating scalp buildup is good, preventing it is even better. Let us explore the various ways you can prevent scalp build up altogether. 

How To Prevent Scalp Buildup

The best way to treat scalp buildup is to stop it before it starts. If you are prone to scalp build up, you may take these preventive measures:

  • Avoid Excess Use Of Products: Haircare products are a great way to style and care for your hair. However, use them prudently, as excess use can lead to the accumulation of scalp residue and even make your hair dull Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for effective results.
  • Keep Your Hair Healthy: Harsh chemicals and pollution can make your hair dirty and greasy. Wash it regularly to keep your scalp clean. Washing your hair after a workout to get rid of the sweat and grime on the scalp can also help.
  • Maintain A Healthy Hair Routine: Have a dedicated hair care routine suitable for your hair type.

Most often, scalp residue is neglected in its initial stages. Untreated scalp buildups can cause issues.

Risk Factors Of Scalp Buildup

  • Scalp buildup can clog hair follicles and become a breeding ground for scalp microbes, leading to infections and dandruff.
  • The inflammation in the follicles can cause folliculitis and scalp acne.
  • Clogged hair follicles can also lead to hair loss.
  • Poor scalp health and lack of hydration can irritate the skin and make you vulnerable to other scalp conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. 


The scalp naturally collects dirt, dead cells, sweat, product residue, and sebum. Maintaining good scalp hygiene will help reduce scalp buildup and boost your hair health. Follow a dedicated hair care routine with regular hair washes and thorough rinses, use the right products for your hair type, and limit the use of styling products to prevent scalp buildups.

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Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."