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


     Product buildup is basically a gradual accumulation of products on the hair strands. Your hair will look flat and also feel as if it’s coated. Even when your hair has been freshly washed, it will still look dull and dirty with no shine. 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 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 buildup?
  1. Wash with a clarifying shampoo. Some examples of clarifying shampoos are Ion Clarifying shampoo (this shampoo leaves my hair feeling soft afterwards), Alberto Vo5 Kiwi Lime Squeeze Clarifying Shampoo (I love this cheapie shampoo), Pantene Pro-V Clarifying shampoo, Redken Cleansing cream, Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo, Kenra Clarifying ShampooPureology Purify shampoo (this shampoo is also a chelating shampoo. It is sulfate-free but dries the heaven out of your hair).
  2. Baking soda: Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to the amount of shampoo you would normally use, then stir with a spoon until well-mixed. An alternative method involves wetting your hair, rubbing baking soda into the wet hair, rinsing, then shampooing as usual. Your hair clean will be free of buildup and will appear much softer and shinier. Due to the fact that baking soda has a high pH, it can be harsh on your hair, leaving your cuticles raised. To counterract this, follow with a low pH conditioner e.g Roux porosity Control Corrector and Conditioner or apple cider vinegar. (Thanks to CP, a commenter, for reminding me to add this).
  3. Vinegar: You can either use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. There are several ways to use vinegar to eliminate buildup from your hair. You can use it before you shampoo your hair, with your shampoo, after your shampoo or you can skip shampooing your hair completely.
  • If you’re not shampooing your hair, wet your hair. Pour a cup of white vinegar onto your hair and scalp and massage. Follow up with conditioner to keep your scalp and hair from drying out.
  • If you’re going to be using it after shampooing: add 1 cup of vinegar to 4 cups of hot water, and let the solution sit for a half hour. After shampooing, pour this solution onto your hair and scalp. Make sure you fully rinse it out with water. Follow up with your regular conditioner.
  • If you’re mixing it with your shampoo: pour your usual amount of shampoo into your palms and add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Then simply wash your hair with the mixture. Do this whenever your hair feels weighed down with build-up. You may need to this once every 2-4 weeks.
  • If you’re using vinegar before your shampoo, simply wet your hair in the shower, and massage 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar onto your scalp and hair. Then shampoo/condition as you normally would.

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 2nd August 2012*

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
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...