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A woman lathering up her hair in the shower.


How To Reduce Buildup For Soft, Shiny Hair

Heavy hair products can lead to buildup, making strands look flat and dull. Ahead, learn our tips to address scalp buildup for a soft, shiny mane.

It can be tempting to load up on conditioners and styling treatments on the quest for shiny, healthy-looking hair. But as the saying goes, everything is better in moderation. In other words, overdoing it on the “healthy” scalp and hair products could lead to an unhealthy-looking mane. The culprit: Buildup.

Even if you shampoo daily, haircare products—particularly those made with heavier ingredients, like waxes or botanical oils—can accumulate on your scalp and strands. If these ingredients aren’t washed away properly, the resulting buildup can give your hair a limp or greasy appearance. How best to manage this concern depends on a few factors, including your hair type and your scalp’s skin type. We put together a guide on this common concern to help you get back on the right track. Read on to learn how to manage scalp buildup with just a few Kiehl’s essentials for a strong, shiny, and healthy-looking mane.

What Is Hair Buildup?

Buildup refers to the accumulation of substances on the scalp and roots; this can include dead skin cells and sebum; however, the term is most commonly used to describe product buildup. Typically, hair products, like leave-in conditioners and styling creams, get washed away when you shampoo. But if you use too much product, especially those with non-soluble silicones, you may find your shampoo is unable to fully remove all of the debris. This is especially true if you use surfactant-free shampoos, which research shows aren’t able to dissolve non-soluble silicone, a common smoothing agent in styling products.

How Does Buildup Affect Your Hair?

Mild buildup may give hair a limp, dull, or greasy appearance. If the accumulation is due to products that include harsh chemicals, hair may become weak or brittle. More severe or long-term buildup can lead to irritation and inflammation of the scalp. In some cases, this can cause itching, discomfort, or even dandruff. In most cases, though, product residue will simply lead to a decline in your hair’s appearance. Thankfully, preventing buildup is relatively simple. Read on to learn our tips for keeping hair soft and shiny with minimum buildup.

Hair Buildup Tip #1:

Use Products For Your Hair Type

As we mentioned, buildup can result from both an accumulation of natural substances (like sweat and oil) and styling products. As such, it’s a good idea to use shampoos and conditioners that are formulated to address your hair’s needs. For example, if you have thin hair, using an ultra-hydrating, oil-rich shampoo may weigh down your strands and give them an oily appearance. On the other hand, if you have thick hair or use lots of styling products, a mild shampoo is unlikely to provide a thorough cleanse. Therefore, it’s important to keep your hair type and grooming habits in mind when choosing haircare products. See our recommendations for our favorite shampoos and conditioners for every hair type, below.

A product shot of Kiehl's Amino Acid Conditioner and Amino Acid Shampoo

Normal Hair: Amino Acid Shampoo and Conditioner

If you have normal hair—that is, hair that is neither excessively oily nor dry—we recommend cleansing strands with Amino Acid Shampoo. This creamy shampoo for all hair types is formulated with lightweight coconut oil and amino acids. It helps cleanse and soften hair while boosting volume for clean, shiny strands. Pair it with Amino Acid Conditioner to smooth and hydrate your hair for a more manageable, healthier-looking mane.

Dry Hair: Nourishing Olive Fruit Oil Shampoo and Conditioner

Dry hair requires a bit of extra hydration to look and feel its best. For this hair type, we recommend Nourishing Olive Fruit Oil Shampoo, which thoroughly cleanses hair while imparting it with healthy hydration for a softer feel and healthier appearance. After cleansing, apply Nourishing Olive Fruit Oil Conditioner to your hair from the middle of your strands down, focusing on dry, damaged ends. This hydrating pair can be used daily for a stronger, more manageable mane.

Fine, Thin, or Oily Hair: Rice and Wheat Volumizing Shampoo and Conditioning Rinse

For fine, thin, or oily hair, lather up with a lightweight formula, such as Rice and Wheat Volumizing Shampoo. This mild shampoo with hydrolyzed rice protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and honey helps remove buildup without stripping hair of its essential moisture. The weightless formula adds body and shine to flat tresses for a more voluminous finish. After washing your hair, condition strands with Rice and Wheat Volumizing Conditioning Rinse. This ultra-lightweight formula helps smooth split ends and tame flyaways for visibly thicker, healthier-looking hair.

Hair Buildup Tip #2:

Apply Heavy Conditioners To Ends Only

Unless you have an extremely dry scalp or damaged hair (like that weakened by repeated chemical processing), we recommend applying heavy conditioners to the ends and mid-strands only. This helps prevent product from building up on the scalp, which is already conditioned by its natural oils.

To help keep your hair looking shiny and feeling strong, try incorporating a deep conditioning mask into your weekly routine. We recommend Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Mask, which features a blend of hydrating oils, including olive fruit oil. This conditioning treatment helps nourish and strengthen dry, damaged hair. The antioxidant-rich formula also helps protect against damage from external stressors, such as sun exposure or excessive heat styling. Use it weekly for shinier, healthier-looking strands.

Hair Buildup Tip #3:

Beware of Over-Cleansing

While you may be tempted to wash your hair daily to minimize buildup, that’s not always the best move. Over-cleansing could damage hair and lead to frizz, flyaways, and a dull appearance. It may also make hair less manageable, which can lead to increased friction and breakage. Thankfully, most people don’t need to wash their hair every day to keep it and their scalp clean. Check out our article How Often Do You Need To Wash Your Hair? to learn how frequently you should lather up.

Hair Buildup Tip #4:

Reach For Lightweight Scalp Treatments

If you spend time caring for your hair but neglect your scalp, chances are good your strands won’t look as healthy as they could. That’s because the condition of your scalp is closely linked to the health of your hair. Research shows that having an unhealthy, undernourished scalp can negatively impact your hair’s appearance. Strands may appear duller, have a rough texture, or become more brittle. In more severe cases, an unhealthy scalp can lead to serious haircare concerns.

Magic Elixir

Regularly using lightweight moisturizing products for a healthy scalp can help keep your hair looking its best. We recommend Magic Elixir, a conditioning pre-shampoo scalp treatment made with rosemary oil, avocado oil, and safflower oil. When applied to a dry scalp before shampooing, this unique formula helps stimulate and condition the hair and scalp for a healthier-looking mane. It’s suitable for all hair types and can be used regularly for smoother, more manageable strands.

Hair Buildup Tip #5:

Remember To Care For Facial Hair

While buildup is typically used in reference to head hair, it can be a concern for facial hair as well. The face has thousands of oil glands, and men’s skin in particular tends to be on the oilier side. This oil, along with grooming products, sweat, and dead skin cells, can build up and negatively affect the appearance of facial hair.

Grooming Solutions Nourishing Shampoo + Conditioner

To help keep your facial hair clean, try Grooming Solutions Nourishing Shampoo + Conditioner. This two-in-one treatment for men helps cleanse and soften men’s hair. The moisturizing formula is suitable for both facial and head hair and helps hydrate the skin for a more nourished appearance. For facial hair, follow up with lightweight beard grooming products for manageable, healthy-looking hair.

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