What Causes Oily Hair?

Having oily hair can cause a variety of hair and skin problems. For example, oily hair can increase your chances of acne formation on the scalp, forehead and neck, as skin oil (sebum) is a major contributing factor for the formation of acne plugs in the skin’s follicles. Oily hair may also contribute to production of dandruff on the scalp and hair, and it makes your hair look unhealthy and feel dirty. The problem can be treated, but it is important first to understand where it originates.

Oily Scalp

Oily hair originates from the scalp. Inside the skin tissue of the scalp resides sebaceous glands, which produce a substance known as sebum. Sebum is an essential part of skin and hair health, as it helps prevent the escape of moisture, leaving both hair and skin moisturized. When too much sebum is produced, the hair can absorb sebum oil off the scalp, leading to oily hair.


Hormones can also play a role in oily hair. During times of hormonal imbalance, such as during puberty or pregnancy, hormone levels can cause the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum. The more sebum produced by the scalp’s sebaceous glands, the oilier your hair may become. As your hormones become balanced again, sebum production drops, and problems with oily hair can decrease.


Certain diseases may also increase the production of sebum on the scalp, resulting in greater risk for developing oily hair. Any disease or disorder that affects the adrenal or pituitary gland, testicles or ovaries can result in an increase of sebum production.

According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, Parkinson’s disease may also cause an excess of sebum to be produced by the sebaceous glands.

Combs and Brushes

If you consistently use a comb or brush on your hair, this may also contribute to oily hair. When you pass a comb or brush through hair, the brush or comb pick up sebum oil from the scalp and distribute it on the hair strands as you pass it across your head. This is more specifically a problem with people who already have an oily scalp.

About this Author

Chris Sherwood is a professional freelance journalist who specializes in health and fitness, diseases, medical and health research, and drug and alcohol effects research. Sherwood is currently finishing his degree in health care policy and administration with an emphasis on hospital administration.