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Scalp buildup: Why it happens, how it affects your hair, and how to avoid it

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Scalp buildup is a common situation where there are leftover natural or product layers left to their own devices over the skin on the scalp.

This buildup can form from either natural sources of buildup, leftover layers of hair products, or a combination of these two things.

Natural sources of scalp buildup may come from your naturally produced scalp oils that are meant to moisturize and protect your scalp, excess dead skin cells piling up, or even sweat coming from the skin on your head. While all of these sources are normal, if they are left unwashed off and start piling up, you may be in store for a buildup situation.

Hair product sources of scalp buildup may include leftover residue from shampoos, conditioners, leave-in treatments, gels, hairsprays, mousse -- really anything that you use to clean, style, or moisturize your hair. These things aren’t inherently bad for your scalp or hair, but they can cause build issues if left for many days without being properly cleaned away.

Scalp buildup can lead to an unpleasant feeling of scalp irritation, itchiness, dryness, flakiness, oily or crusty skin, or even sores if left untreated for too long.

Why does scalp buildup sometimes happen?

Scalp buildup occurs when these natural sources of skin cells and oils, or applied products are not properly cleaned off on the regular. 

This could happen from someone not using shampoos and conditioners well suited to their hair type and oil production levels, someone not knowing the right techniques for proper deep scalp cleaning, not washing your scalp and hair enough, or it may even be a symptom of a scalp condition like dandruff, psoriasis, or scalp eczema. 

Can scalp buildup negatively affect your hair?

If scalp buildup is left to go on for too long, it could lead to an inflammation of the hair follicles called folliculitis. Folliculitis can be uncomfortable and lead to an infection of the follicles which could develop into crusty sores that are difficult to heal. In time, these sores may lead to hair loss or scarring on the scalp.

Aside from folliculitis, constantly having buildup on your scalp may negatively affect the overall health of the skin in the area. This could lead to slower hair growth, or your hair looking less healthy than if your scalp was kept clean and clear.

How to get rid of and prevent scalp buildup?

There are a couple of tips to help get rid of your current buildup and help keep it from happening again.

  1. Choose shampoos and conditioners that are suited to our hair and scalp - If you have oily hair, go for products that cater to oily types, as more “gentle” cleansers may not remove enough sebum to keep up with your production. If you know you are prone to dandruff, incorporate an anti-dandruff shampoo into your regimen. If your hair and scalp lean dry, use moisturizing formulas to avoid skin flakiness from an overly dry scalp.
  2. Learn how to wash your hair and scalp deeply - Just wiping a shampoo over your head once or twice probably isn’t thorough enough to fully remove all oil, skin cell, and product buildup close to your scalp. Gently but thoroughly get your fingers and palms in there and massage the scalp area with your shampoo to work the residue away for a minute or two.
  3. Consider a scalp exfoliant - If just a good mashing technique isn’t cutting it, you may want to consider a physical or chemical scalp exfoliant once or twice a week to help loosen up any gunk or flakes that are hanging around your scalp.
  4. Apply your hair products sparingly - You don’t have to give up all of your styling products, but you may want to cut back on them to reduce the amount left to build up in your hair and scalp. When you do use hair products, also consider whether they need to be applied close to your scalp, or if you can focus them on the mids and ends of your hair.
  5. Revamp your wash schedule - Sometimes buildup may occur because you are washing your hair too infrequently. For those with oily hair, you may need a wash every day or two, those with drier hair may opt for every 2-4 days. Assess how your buildup issues change with your wash schedule and take it from there.

What to do when scalp buildup doesn’t go away?

If you have integrated the tips above to help keep buildup from forming, but you are still dealing with the issue, you may have something else going on with your scalp.

Dandruff may be mistaken for buildup and may be able to be treated using easy to find over the counter dandruff shampoos. But, situations like eczema or scalp psoriasis may need a treatment plan from a doctor in order to properly address the issue.

Talk with your doctor about your treatment options if your buildup is severe, painful, oozing, causing wounds, or just not going away.

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Here at Strut, we try to help deliver information related to all things hair-related, including where to start if you are noticing hair loss.

We are a telemedicine company that can help you get treatment for hair loss issues by utilizing prescription options that cannot be found over the counter at your local drug store.

We offer hair loss treatments for both men and women dealing with patterned hair loss, as well as oral and topical options for men.

If you are dealing with hair loss and want to see if a prescription treatment is a good place to start, you can have a free online questionnaire and image-based telemedicine consultation with our U.S. licensed doctors today. If you are a good candidate for treatment, your medication will be shipped to your front door.

If you have any questions during your treatment or need adjustments, our staff and doctors are available for free and unlimited follow-ups.

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