How to Remove Unsightly Product Build-up From Your Hair

Is your scalp caked and flaky within days of a wash? Have you just taken out a weave or braids and there’s unsightly gunk coating your strands? These are the signs of product build-up and here’s how you tackle it head on. By Lesley Buckle

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What causes build-up?

We get build-up when our hair and scalp becomes coated in a mixture of natural sebum (produced by the scalp), the products we reach for daily and dust or dirt from our environment. The scalp is like any other area of our skin, and in order for hair to thrive, this build-up has to be removed regularly to keep the scalp healthy. Celebrity stylist, Dionne Smith says, ‘Build-up is very common in finer hair which becomes weighed down, or hair that isn’t particularly porous, as the product is likely to sit on the strands and not be absorbed.’ How often you need to remove build-up from your hair will depend on how quickly your scalp and hair gets oily. For example, if you have a naturally oily scalp, exercise regularly or use lots of hair products, you may need to wash your hair more frequently.

What does build-up do?

If left for extended periods of time, build-up can affect healthy hair emerging from the scalp, prevent hair from responding to chemical treatments (like dyes and relaxers) and can cause breakage – especially when taking out braids and weaves. Dionne warns, ‘If you haven’t washed products out properly, the hair will feel coated, yet still dry, as no products will be able to break through to inject moisture.’ This means moisturising and conditioning won’t work effectively and hair will appear limp and dull.

Get scrubbing

Tracey Robinson, stylist at the Francesco Group advises, ‘I would recommend that the hair is shampooed every seven to 14 days depending on your lifestyle.’ A method popular amongst many natural-haired women is to use a conditioner only on wash day. Whilst this is much gentler on the hair and will provide some cleansing, occasionally a shampoo will be needed to effectively remove dirt. Look for ‘clarifying’ shampoos as these usually have stronger ingredients to really power through any dirt, dust, flakes and product residue. Clarifying shampoos should only be used once every four to six weeks, as they tend to strip the hair which can be drying if done too often.

If your hair is braided, weaved or in locs, dilute your shampoo with water before applying to the hair for easier rinsing. It’s also good to put the diluted shampoo in a spray or applicator bottle to get to those hard-to-reach areas. Tracey adds, ‘To prevent the hair from tangling the key is to not rub. Try to avoid too much friction when washing the hair, focusing on the scalp area, and be sure to rinse thoroughly to ensure all traces of product (including conditioner which can leave a film on the scalp) are removed from the hair after washing.

Hard water and chlorine build-up

Many homes in the UK have water which is classed as ‘very hard’ or ‘moderately hard’ and contains high amounts of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. The minerals in hard water can cling to the hair coating it, which prevents moisture from getting in causing dryness and eventually breakage. Signs that hair has been affected by hard water are: shampoo doesn’t lather well, hair feels very dry after washing or colour fades quickly. The chlorine found in swimming pools also contributes to build-up too. You can counteract hard water by using chelating shampoos and by getting a filter for your shower head. Prior to swimming, coat the hair with a conditioner to restrict the absorption of chlorine and wear a swimming cap.

Preventing build-up

If your hair suffers from build-up there are a few ways you can try to prevent it. Firstly reduce the number of styling products you use. If you wear a weave or extensions, use water-based ingredients (where water is the first ingredient) with a liquid consistency. Limit the use of butters, creams or products with silicones as they are much harder to remove from the hair. ‘Most silicones aren’t water soluble and can only be removed by a good cleanser, so use these sparingly and add them to your hair little by little if you need to,’ advises Dionne. Swap greases for light natural oils like jojoba or coconut instead. If you have locs or braids switch regular towels for microfibre towels and sleeping on a satin pillowcase too to avoid lint.

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