What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair?





What is product buildup?

Product buildup is basically a gradual accumulation of products on the hair strands.

  1. Your hair will look flat and also feel as if it’s coated.
  2. Even when your hair has been freshly washed, it will still look dull and dirty with no shine.
  3. In addition, your hair will probably be difficult to style.

What happens is that the accumulated product doesn’t allow necessary moisture, oils and other nutrients to penetrate your hair. When you have product buildup on your hair, it will remain dry until you remove the buildup. If you repeatedly have ‘bad’ wash days where your hair doesn’t come out well moisturized even after deep conditioning, your hair might be suffering from product buildup.

Causes of product build-up:

  • Non-porous hair. Hair that doesn’t allow products including water to penetrate easily is described as being non-porous. If you have non-porous hair, products tend to remain on top of the hair strand and this leads to buildup. If your hair is non-porous, you should ensure that you use heat each time you deep condition to open your hair cuticles for better product penetration.
  • Failure to rinse out all your product 
  • Use of hair waxes
  • Silicones: These are found in most hair products; they are very good detangling agents and coat the hair strand giving it a smooth feel and appearance. However, most silicones are water-insoluble and can only be removed by cleaning agents like Cocamidopropyl betaine, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, etc. If you don’t use shampoos containing these agents regularly and you use silcone containing products, this can lead to product buildup. Most silicones have the suffix -cone. Examples include dimethicone, cyclomethicone, amodimethicone, etc. Examples of water-soluble silicones are Dimethicone CopolyolLauryl Methicone Copolyol. For a more extensive list of silicones, click HERE.
  • Co-washing, cleansing conditioners, no-poo method. Although co-washing and using cleansing conditioners are gentle on your hair, they can lead to buildup. The surfactants in conditioners are not usually adequate to eliminate silicones. What this means is that if you’re mostly co-washing, you should avoid water-insoluble silicones because they can eventually accumulate on your hair.
  • Cationic surfactants: These are the common conditioning agents in most conditioners. They usually occur in 2 varieties: alkyl amines and alkyl-quaternized ammonium salts. In addition to not being able to effectively remove silicones, they can also contribute to product buildup. Although “they are water soluble, the quaternary variety bind rather tightly to the hair surface and can build up, so be aware of the potential for that issue.The alkyl amines seem to have no significant drawbacks for a curly girl or guy, and many users report enjoying their effects”1.  Examples of the alkyl-quartenized ammonium salts include Behentrimonium methosulfate, Cetrimonium Chloride, Stearalkonium chlorideCetrimonium bromideBehentrimonium chloride. Examples of the amine varieties include: Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine (lactate, citrate, propionate), Isostearamidopropyl dimethylamineBehenamidopropyl dimethylamine. Simply read your product ingredient list and you will see of these ingredients there.

How do you remove product buildup?

  1. Wash with a clarifying shampoo. Some examples of clarifying shampoos are

Since silicones can cause buildup, you should also watch out for them in your hair products.

Things you can do to prevent buildup

  • Use less product;
  • Avoid water-insoluble silicones;
  • If you can’t avoid using water-insoluble silicones, shampoo your hair regularly with agents that remove silicones;
  • Melt your products in your hands before applying them to your hair.

Dr Fomsky

*updated on 4th August 2016*

Related articles:


  1. Cationic Surfactants in Curly Hair Care Products naturallycurly.com
  2. How to Remove Product Build-up in Hair eHow.com
  3. The Best Ways to remove product buildup from the hair livestrong.com
  4. DIY Organic Hair Remedies: Stop Build-up with Apple Cider Vinegar tlc.howstuffworks.com
About the author
Dr Fomsky

Nigerian-born Dr Fomsky is a God-lover, a wife, a mom of three, a medical doctor by day. Plus she owns a Nigerian-based online hair product store called Sizzelle.
Dr Fomsky is very passionate about hair, skin and weight management. Since she's had her babies, she's been struggling to keep her weight and her tummy down!
At night, she likes to read books, write blog posts and leave comments on other blogs. She lives in Alberta, Canada and is also the author of Solving your relaxed hair breakage book .
LAST RELAXER DAY: December 15th, 2016
BIG CHOP: January 14th, 2017
Natural Hair, Unknown Porosity, Fine Hair strands, Low to Moderate Density

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41 Comments to What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair?

  1. Ifai says:

    since my hair was behaving in a way I didn’t quite understand (my favourite deep conditioner did not seem to be working), I mixed a teaspoon of vinegar to some shampoo i had poured into a bowl to wash my hair. I don’t know what I was expecting but my hair was so soft I was surprised. The deep conditioner worked better afterwards. Prior to that time, I had never consciously clarified my hair, though I used sulfate shampoos at least once a month.

  2. CP says:

    You don’t need to use a clarifying shampoo to remove buildup. Any shampoo that doesn’t have the ingredients you listed that can build up will remove buildup. Also, vinegar alone doesn’t remove buildup. But ALWAYS use an acidic rinse after using baking soda, because baking soda alone has a high pH and can be very harsh on your hair.

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say that, “Any shampoo that doesn’t have the ingredients you listed that can build up will remove buildup”. Some people would argue with you that vinegar can remove buildup because it works for them. However, I do agree that doing an acidic rinse after using baking soda is a good idea because like you stated, it does have a high pH and can be harsh on hair.

      • charlotte says:

        Clarifying shampoos are really harsh especially since when you have build up your hair is already dried out. The best way to avoid build up is to use products that wash out easily and avoid putting on too much. Then shampoo regularly with something mild rather than harsh. That is what he or she means. A regular shampoo that is not harsh can remove build up if you are applying the correct amount of product. Also dermatologists tend to recommend washing a few times a week regardless of hair texture so if you use a mild shampoo more regularly you should be able to prevent the need for a harsh one later.

  3. […] What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair? […]

  4. […] my hair was suffering from product buildup or protein overload. I went back to read my own post, What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair? After reading it, I literally ran out to get myself some baking soda. I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of […]

  5. […] you use products with no silicones, you can use sulfate-free shampoos regularly with little risk of product buildup. This is what makes the use of silicone-free products […]

  6. […] For more information on these subjects please refer to these websites employed in this post: thesizzlingmama.com healthguidance.com […]

  7. […] What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair? […]

  8. […] wear weaves for my job to protect my own hair from heat and product buildup. I don’t leave weaves in longer than six weeks, and I use quality hair. I haven’t had a […]

  9. […] wear weaves for my job to protect my own hair from heat and product buildup. I don’t leave weaves in longer than six weeks, and I use quality hair. I haven’t had a […]

  10. Monday says:

    Hi..I know I am a bit late to comment here but I am wondering that can I use the vinega method everyday because my hair seems to have a lot of buildup or isit to harsh to my hair if I use it everyday?i have chemical straightened my hair but now after washing my hair,it will become sticky and hard and tangled together like its have wax in it….strong wax!but after it dries it became soft again(damn weird).i have washed my hair quite a few days already but the wax haven’t gone off so I am going to try this method tmr morning,hope it will be successful cuz my hair is really annoying

  11. Sarah says:

    I’d really love it if you could help me out..
    My hair used to be really soft and shiny and it was great but then I decided to use coconut oil on it..big mistake.This was 5 months ago and ever since then my hair is rough,tangles a lot (even after brushing it,it feels like I haven’t brushed at all),it falls out A LOT(never used to much before) and I have these random short hairs sticking out on the top of my head which I never had before.
    Hope you get back to me
    Thank you.

  12. Angela says:

    I need advice! I can’t seem to determine if my hair is just worn out from over-processing or if I have build-up. Many of the ‘symptoms’ are the same, dry or brittle hair, tangles badly, lack of shine/luster. I do color my hair about 4 times per year. Usually I go darker than my roots (which I’ve been told adds shine and color–and It does. I did hi-light my hair in January and again in March. After washing my hair, the top looks like a rats nest–no matter how much deep conditioner I use, or how long I leave it on. I can’t get my fingers or a brush through it without using lots of leave in conditioner. I tried a 30-min Olive Oil treatment three nights ago — and last night I still had a rats nest after washing it. Help! I don’t know how to make it manageable again? Clarify? or Condition?

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      Hello Angela. I think that it probably has to do with the fact that you color your hair. These signs that you’re describing point towards that. Have you tried to use henna instead? Henna adds shine and strengthens hair at the same time. If you don’t want the reddish color that henna imparts but just the shine, you can only leave it on for an hour.
      To combat this problem, I suggest that you deep condition your hair at least once a week with a light protein conditioner containing keratin. Olive oil on its own might not be adequate. I personally recommend Joico moisture recovery conditioner and Joico color endure conditioner. Hope this helps

      • Angela says:

        I have never tied henna, and don’t care for the orange-red color. I didn’t realize you could use it for a shorter amount of time and not get the coloring effects–I will research that. I will try the Joico product you suggest, thank you!

  13. Catherine says:

    Reading this has been very interesting. I and 45 and my daughter is 17. A month or so ago we both experienced ‘product build up’ for the first time…ever. In 45 years I have never known this condition and for it to suddenly happen at the same time as my daughter is something very weird. To a lesser extent, my husband also said his hair wasn’t feeling as good as normal after washing but he seems ok now – without doing anything different.

    After doing some research, I bought a good clarifying shampoo (Osmo Effects Detoxify Shampoo) and that seemed to work. However, after only a couple of washes with our normal shampoos again, my daughter’s hair started feeling ‘sticky’ again – mine took a few more washes, but also feels ‘sticky’ again now. She uses only a few hair products, and I use nothing other than shampoo so I’m confused by this ‘product build up’ explanation when I’m not using any!

    I’m nervous about the frequent use of the clarifying shampoo and whether that does damage over time if we use it for every wash….is this a danger?

    Also, I’m going to try a different regular shampoo and see if that helps – what should I be looking for?

    I have some Forever Living Aloe-Jojoba shampoo – I actually bought it to use for the dog as he had dry, itchy skin in the summer and my Forever Living agent said it was a product that was perfect for both human and pet use. Maybe I’ll give that a go.

    However, I am confused as to why I would suddenly start having this problem for the first time in 45 years when I’m not doing anything different.

    Is there any way that external forces could have something to do with this, i.e. something different in the water perhaps, or some new ingredient that is being added to all regular shampoos? Is this even possible?

    I’m very confused as to why this should suddenly start happening to myself and my daughter and would welcome any thoughts.

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      Hi Catherine. Does your husband also use the same shampoo with you and your daughter? I am thinking it might be the water you are using. Try buying a shower filter and see if it makes a difference. Regular use of clarifying shampoos can dry out the hair. When I used to live in a place with ‘bad’ water, I was using a sulfate-free swimmers shampoo called ION SWIMMERS SHAMPOO. That could be an alternative. It is possible that a new ingredient could have been added to your regular shampoo or other hair priducts. Try comparing if you can. Forever Living has good priducts. You could give the jojoba shampoo a shot too.

      • Catherine says:

        Well, that’s the thing, all three of us use different shampoos. That’s what made me start thinking it was either something external, like the water – we are in a very hard water area just north of London so we’ve been using a water softener on the mains water that comes into the house….I wonder if there might be an issue there, perhaps. I’ll also look at the possibility of a shower filter to see if that helps.

        Re. any additional or change in ingredients that may have occurred in regular shampoos. I’ll start checking out the labels to see if there’s any clues there. I’ll try the Forever Living Jojoba alternative in the mean time and also look at sulphate-free shampoos as well….and possibly get some ACVinegar as well!

        Thanks for the tips – I’m determined to come at this from all angles!

  14. […] What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair? […]

  15. […] The surfactant agents in conditioners do not have the ability to remove silicones. What this means is that if you regularly co-wash, you should look out for silicone-free conditioners or those containing water-soluble silicones. If you don’t, use a shampoo from time to time to eliminate buildup. Please read What is product buildup and how can it affect your hair? […]

  16. […] a protein leave-in. However, I have two qualms with it. One, it contains silicones which can cause product buildup. Two, it contains mineral oil which can reduce the hair’s ability to absorb moisture. I […]

  17. […] cleansed my hair pretty well. CHECK. It removed all the buildup in my hair. How did I know this? My deep conditioner sank. right. […]

  18. […] Many of us girls find this hard to swallow, especially those with dry long hair. Sometimes, however, a key reason for our dry hair and hair that seems null of life is the fact that we have overloaded it. Continuous use of today’s expensive, moisturising hair care products can actually, over time, have the opposite effect on our hair and make it feel dry and look dull whilst being impossible to style and control for a full day.  Read more about product build up here. […]

  19. Amisha says:

    From the above information it seems that i too have product buildup because inspite of deep conditioning, oiling the hair regularly and taking special care for my chemically straightened hair i have suddenly lost my shine and have dull looking hair and those frizzy hair roots…so please suggest me some solution for it without spending much amount on it

  20. […] found that after a while of washing your hair, it is lank and lifeless. Somebody told me its called product build-up and to try apple cider vinegar to get rid of this gunk from my har. Apple cider vinegar did more […]

  21. […] filled with non-soluble silicones and mineral oils, which do your hair more harm than good. They build up around your hair shaft and won’t let any beneficial products get through. This can lead to dry […]

  22. Yasmin says:

    I have thin black curly hair and live in Australia. I’ve had silicone buildup for 3 years now and wondering how to get rid of it for good. It started when I was 14, I kept straighten my hair without protection (I was dumb and didn’t like my curly hair) and now I’m 17, I regret doing that everyday. My hair was completely damaged after all the straighten, so I got the keratin treatment done. I didn’t like the treatment as it made my hair go greasy and oily. 3 months later, the lady added moroccan oil to my hair (very high in silicone) and now my hair is covered with it still. I wash my hair with a silicone free shampoo and have tried everyone one available in the shops. To have proof of my hair, I can’t straighten my hair because there is something suffocated/covering it. 2) my hair looks like I have oil/product in my hair when I don’t. I just went to get rid of the buildup because i just want normal hair. None one understands what is happening and if I tell them, they may think I’m crazy. I want to speak to a hairdresser or person who has knowledge in this. I’ve read every article about silicone buildup and that its prone to black curly hair. Since my hair was so dry, it could of locked in the silicone? I don’t know I’m not a professional, but I do know that silicone is hard to remove if treatment has been done? Do you have any recommendations? Who should I go to fix this issue. Please I’m begging. I appreciate it a lot.

    • Dr Fomsky says:

      Hi Yasmin. I apologize for not responding earlier. I think you might be having a bit hair damage, given your history of long-term straightening and then the keratin treatment. I can’t see you mention using a clarifying shampoo. Try using that or a chelating shampoo. Apple cider vinegar can also help to remove the buildup that you are experiencing. I think that you should use a protein conditioner for damaged hair to help restore your hair. Plus get a hair cut to remove dead ends. Thank you

  23. Mary Ware says:

    Hello Dr. Fomsky! Great article on product build up and how it can effect our hair. Superb. Product build up can cause in itch and dandruff if you do not remove it on time using any natural treatment such as apple cider vinegar/baking soda or your favorite clarifying shampoo. I mostly use my favorite GKhair pH+ clarifying shampoo once a week to remove an excess styling products, dirt, residue, product build up and other impurities to minimize the risk of an itch and dandruff. It works really well for my hair. love it. 🙂 <3

  24. Alana MC says:

    Just stumbled across this article and was wondering if product build up could be my problem. Okay so 8 months ago I had to temporarily lived elsewhere during the week due to a job. Up until this point my hair had been really healthy. Anyway the water in that location was awful and had a bad effect on my hair so I’d only wash my hair once a week when I got home. I had previously washed it twice a week. As expected my hair did get greasy but I decided I would rather it be greasy then have the horrible feel of created by the water so I continued with the weekly wash. However recently I have noticed some of the things you mentioned happening to my hair. It would dry really quickly after a shower and then it would feel dry and have a waxy coating. I don’t use any product on my hair except shampoo and a very rare condition so I do ‘t know how I could have gotten product build up?

  25. Jill says:

    NEVER EVER apply baking soda or vinegar to your hair, you will FRY it, it will break off like crazy leaving you bald if done too much. OMG. Natural doesn’t mean gentle, vinegar is way too acidic and baking soda way too alkaline (it’s like putting bleach on your hair!)

  26. Jill says:

    I don’t see a difference in ingredients between clarifying shampoos and regular shampoos by the way.Some even cause buildup, like the first one that has silicones in it!

    • Dr Fomsky says:

      I do agree that there is really no difference except for the name ‘Clarifying’! And it’s also true that the ones that contain silicone can actually worsen buildup.

  27. […] and clean as possible in the future. There are numerous causes of scalp buildup, according to Dr. Fomsky, medical doctor and an expert on hair, skin, and weight. These causes include what you are putting […]

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