An oily scalp can create a multitude of issues, from chronic itchiness to dull, dry hair. The good news is that when you successfully treat an oily scalp, you eliminate these other problems as well. How can you say goodbye to an oily scalp and hello to healthier skin and hair? 

Dr. Sapna Palep, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, has advice on how to manage and treat an oily scalp. We offer comprehensive cosmetic and medical dermatological treatments, using the least invasive methods possible to achieve natural, beautiful results. Our team of physicians can help you reach your aesthetic goals or address your health concerns in our SOHO, Tribeca, and Uptown offices. From lifestyle changes, to over-the-counter products and medical treatments, Dr. Palep explains below how you can keep your scalp and hair looking and feeling their absolute best. 

Causes of an Oily Scalp

Everyone has some oil on their scalp. Oil is necessary to keep the skin moisturized and the hair hydrated. Our sebaceous glands are responsible for producing the oil our hair and skin need. In some cases, these glands can start to produce too much oil. Why do some people have an oily scalp and others don’t? Here are a few reasons

  • Hormonal fluctuations 
  • Stress (which can lead to a hormone imbalance)
  • Acne on the face or other areas of the body 
  • Other skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) 
  • Higher levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) 
  • Genetics

If your hair is dry while your scalp is oily, it could be due to washing your hair too often or using the wrong products on your hair. Some skin conditions can also lead to dry hair despite excess oil production.

Symptoms of an Oily Scalp 

You may have an oily scalp if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Pimples or ingrown hairs on the scalp
  • Hair that looks oily or waxy even after washing
  • An itchy scalp, often accompanied by white flaking
  • The appearance of a skin condition, like eczema
  • A feeling that your hair is never fully clean

If you are unsure whether your symptoms are due to excess oil, an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists in NYC can help you know for sure. Your dermatologist can also diagnose and treat other skin conditions that might be contributing to the excess oil production. 

An Oily Scalp and Hair Loss

Some people suffer another troublesome symptom with an oily scalp: hair loss. While oil does not cause hair loss by itself, it can exacerbate a condition that might already exist. Excess oil clogs the hair follicles, making it difficult for new hair to grow. In addition, the oil buildup can trap other pore-clogging substances like dirt, buildup of hair products, and dandruff flaking. 

Higher amounts of DHT can also lead to hair loss. Since these increased levels can also increase oil in the scalp, individuals may find they are dealing with a twofold problem of hair loss and an oily scalp at the same time. This issue is most common in men over 50, but it can also occur in women. 

Reducing the Oil Production

There are some steps you can take to reduce oil production to improve the appearance of your scalp and hair. Dr. Palep suggests oral medicines like spironolactone for women. Spironolactone can decrease androgens which in turn decreases oil production. A healthy diet that doesn’t induce hormones can also help manage oil production. Dr. Palep also encourages patients to decrease stress levels, which in turn reduces cortisol levels, which can lead to a decrease in oil production. 

How to Treat an Oily Scalp

The good news is there are ways to treat an oily scalp. First, Dr. Palep recommends avoiding oil to treat an oily scalp. This is something that is often done, and it usually makes things worse.  

You can wash your scalp more often. If you don’t want to dry out the rest of the hair, protect the ends by applying conditioner after you shampoo. Do not put conditioner on the scalp itself, however. Apply it to the hair starting a few centimeters away from the scalp. 

Brushing the scalp regularly increases blood circulation, which increases nutrient delivery to the hair overall. This will promote growth and improve the appearance of the hair.  

There are also products you can purchase over the counter that will help control oil production and associated problems. For example, Dr. Palep says antifungal shampoos help tremendously with preventing and treating the dandruff that results from an excessively oily scalp. She also recommends avoiding greasy or sticky products like styling gels, mousse, and hairspray.

Other good options include ketoconazole shampoo or shampoos with small amounts of salicylic acid. Shampoos with coal tar or tea tree oil can also be a good choice as long as the formulations are not in an oil base. One good example is Paul Mitchell’s Tea Tree Special Shampoo. Neutrogena anti-residue shampoo is also an effective product, according to Dr. Palep.

No matter which type of shampoo you choose, Dr. Palep cautions against using the product anywhere but the scalp. These cleansers are not designed for the hair or other areas of the body. When used according to manufacturer instructions, all can help minimize oil production and maximize the health of your skin and the quality of your hair. 

Schedule a Consultation with a Dermatologist in New York City Today

The scalp is just one area that can experience excessive oil production. If you are dealing with this concern on the scalp, face, or another area of the body, a board-certified dermatologist can help. Contact Spring Street Dermatology in New York City today to schedule your assessment at our SOHO, Tribeca, or Uptown office.


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