The Mestiza Muse

Be Beautiful. Be Natural. Be You.

Be Beautiful. Be Natural. Be You.

Scalp Buildup Solutions: Remedies for Healthier Hair

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Photo shows scalp that has build up and we provide remedies to remedy common scalp build up issues.

We partner with and endorse products from trusted companies that benefit our readers. Here’s our process.

As a reader-supported platform, we may earn affiliate commissions for purchases made through links, including those advertising

Please read our disclosure for more info.

Welcome! If you’re experiencing itchy flakes or a greasy feeling on your scalp, you’re not alone. Many people deal with these symptoms due to a buildup of oil, sweat, and other substances on the scalp. This accumulation can block pores and lead to discomfort, including scalp acne and dandruff. Recognizing the need for action is the first step towards relief, and fortunately, addressing scalp buildup is more straightforward than you might think.

Scalp buildup occurs when the natural process of cellular turnover—where old skin cells die and new ones are formed—is disrupted. Normally, dead cells shed from the skin’s surface, but sometimes, they can accumulate and form a hard layer on top of the scalp. This buildup not only slows down the production of new skin cells but can also interfere with the normal hair growth cycle, leading to various scalp issues.

To dive deeper into this topic, I’ve sought the insights of a friend who is not only a hair scientist but also a cosmetic formulator with a PhD in Chemistry. His expertise sheds light on the science of scalp buildup and offers credible remedies to improve the health of your scalp. By understanding the root causes and applying targeted solutions, you can achieve a healthier scalp and, by extension, healthier hair.

Understanding the Scalp: Protection, Regulation, and Hair Health

The scalp serves as a protective barrier for the skull and the brain beneath it, playing a crucial role in our overall well-being. Beyond its protective function, the scalp is instrumental in maintaining healthy hair and regulating body temperature. It is richly supplied with blood vessels that nourish the brain and hair follicles, ensuring our head remains at a comfortable temperature and our hair grows strong and healthy.

Covered with millions of hair strands, the scalp shields us from environmental hazards, such as sunlight and physical impacts, while hair itself acts as a thermal insulator, protecting our brain from extreme temperatures. This protective layer is not just functional; it also forms a significant part of our appearance, influencing personal grooming and styling choices.

Given its importance, scalp health cannot be overstated. A well-cared-for scalp supports healthy hair growth and maintains hair’s natural luster and strength. Remember the golden rule: healthy scalp, healthy hair. Keeping the scalp clean and free from buildup is essential for its health and function.

But what exactly is scalp buildup, and why is maintaining a clean, healthy scalp crucial? Scalp buildup occurs when dead skin cells, natural oils, and product residue accumulate on the scalp, potentially leading to irritation and impeding hair growth. Understanding the scalp’s functions highlights the importance of regular cleansing and care to prevent buildup, ensuring both scalp and hair remain healthy. Let’s explore the basics of maintaining a clean and vibrant scalp.

The Biochemical Processes of Hair Growth on the Scalp

Hair growth is a fascinating process that begins deep within the scalp at structures known as hair follicles. These specialized sites are abundant across the scalp, with the base of each follicle located about 4 millimeters beneath the skin’s surface.1,2

Within these follicles, cells undergo a complex biochemical transformation called keratinization, which is essential for hair production. This process requires a rich supply of nutrients, minerals, lipids, and proteins, all vital for the development, growth, and maintenance of healthy hair.

These crucial nutrients are absorbed from the scalp’s cells, highlighting the importance of a nutrient-rich environment for optimal hair health. Even though hair is technically dead once it emerges from the follicle, it continues to rely on the scalp for the nutrients needed to sustain growth and health.

The continuous cycle of keratinization and nutrient supply ensures that hair fibers are steadily pushed upwards, allowing for consistent hair growth. This intricate cycle underscores the importance of maintaining a healthy scalp for normal and healthy hair growth.

Graphics of hair follicle

The Role of Sebaceous Glands in Scalp Health

The scalp is home to numerous sebaceous glands, which, along with hair follicles, play a critical role in maintaining scalp and hair health. These glands produce a fatty substance known as sebum, which serves as a natural lubricant. Sebum’s composition includes lipids, fatty acid esters, and waxes, all of which work together to moisturize and condition both the scalp and hair shafts.

The production of sebum is finely regulated by specific hormones, balancing the scalp’s moisture levels. However, this balance can be delicate. Insufficient sebum production can lead to a dry scalp, whereas excessive production may result in dandruff, promote microbial growth, and cause a buildup of oily residues on both the scalp and hair. This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy equilibrium of sebum to ensure the scalp and hair remain in optimal condition.

Understanding Scalp Buildup: Causes and Impact

Scalp buildup occurs as part of the skin’s natural process of cellular turnover, where old cells die off and new ones are generated to replace them. Typically, these dead cells shed from the skin’s surface, maintaining healthy skin and scalp conditions.

Exfoliation plays a key role in this cycle, helping to remove dead skin cells and thereby accelerating the renewal process. However, there are instances where these dead cells don’t shed as they should. Instead, they accumulate on the scalp, forming a hard layer that we refer to as scalp buildup.

This accumulation can hinder the normal formation of new skin cells and potentially disrupt the natural hair growth cycle. By understanding the causes and effects of scalp buildup, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain a healthy scalp environment, essential for optimal hair health and growth.

Dandruff: Causes and Solutions

Image of scalp with buildup.

Sebum, while crucial for maintaining hair and scalp health as a natural conditioner, can contribute to scalp issues when produced in excess. This overproduction, combined with a buildup of dead skin cells, creates a greasy, waxy layer on the scalp. Such an environment becomes a breeding ground for microbes, including fungi, which can lead to dandruff. Characterized by small, white flakes, dandruff is a common condition affecting many people across genders.

The presence of dandruff not only causes discomfort but can also be a source of embarrassment for many. Fortunately, a variety of anti-dandruff treatments are available, ranging from specialized shampoos to natural home remedies, helping those affected to manage and reduce the condition effectively.

The Impact of Air Pollution on Hair Health

The effects of burning fossil fuels and rapid industrialization extend far beyond environmental degradation; recent studies have highlighted the significant impact of air pollution on hair quality.3,4 Particularly, individuals living or spending considerable time near busy highways and freeways are at a higher risk of exposure to harmful pollutants.

These pollutants, including tiny black carbon particles, can adhere to the natural oils (sebum) on the scalp, creating a sticky, greasy substance. This not only affects the appearance and feel of the hair but can also contribute to scalp irritation and potentially impair hair health over time. Recognizing the sources and effects of pollution is crucial in finding ways to protect and maintain healthy hair in polluted environments.

Product Residue in Hair Care

Hair care products, designed to cleanse, condition, and style, often contain a complex mix of chemical ingredients including surfactants, conditioning agents, oils, and waxes. While these ingredients serve important purposes, they can sometimes leave behind residue if not thoroughly rinsed out. Over time, this buildup can lead to a feeling of heaviness or oiliness on the scalp.

A contributing factor to this buildup is the size of the molecules in some chemical ingredients, which can be too large to fully penetrate the hair cuticles, resulting in their accumulation on both the hair shaft and scalp. Additionally, many hair care products contain polymers that are cationic (positively charged), making them particularly prone to sticking to the hair and scalp. These polymers are common in a range of products, from shampoos and conditioners to hair masks and styling aids, and the more polymer a product contains, the greater the risk of buildup.

The curly hair community is well acquainted with the challenges of silicone buildup, but it’s important to recognize that conditioning agents found in conditioners and hair masks can also contribute to this issue. Given that hair carries a negative charge and these polymers are positively charged, there’s a natural attraction that facilitates the buildup. Understanding these interactions is key to selecting products that maintain the health and cleanliness of your hair and scalp.

The Consequences of Buildup on Hair and Scalp Health

Buildup on the scalp or along the hair shaft can have profound effects on both hair and scalp wellness. When residues accumulate, they can seal off the scalp’s pores, hindering the absorption of beneficial ingredients and preventing them from nourishing the scalp and hair roots.

Moreover, this layer of dead skin cells and product residue can restrict blood flow and limit oxygen access to the scalp. Over time, this can lead to the formation of white flakes, which, when combined with natural oils or sebum, may take on a greasy appearance.

Such buildup interferes with the scalp’s inherent processes, including sebum production and the natural shedding of dead cells. The repercussions of this disruption can be severe, encompassing unpleasant scalp odors, hair thinning, and the emergence of scalp acne. Recognizing and addressing scalp buildup is crucial for maintaining the health and vitality of both scalp and hair.

Understanding and Addressing Polymeric Buildup on Hair

Polymeric buildup, resulting from the use of various hair care formulations, significantly alters the physical and chemical properties of the hair surface. Essentially, the residue left by products, including cationic polymers and silicones, can impact how your hair looks and feels.

These polymeric deposits obstruct the absorption and adherence of smaller, beneficial molecules to the hair, compromising the effectiveness of hair care products. Additionally, such buildup diminishes the hair’s ability to interact with solar radiation. Instead of absorbing light, the accumulated deposits reflect it, leading to hair that appears dull and lacks its natural shine.

The implications of polymeric buildup extend beyond aesthetic concerns, affecting overall scalp and hair health. Recognizing the need to remove buildup is the first step towards restoring the natural vitality of your hair.

Effective Strategies for Removing Scalp Buildup

Eliminating scalp buildup is essential for maintaining healthy hair and scalp. Here’s how you can keep buildup at bay:

  • Prioritize Scalp Hygiene: Regular washing is crucial for scalp health. Observe your scalp closely by parting your hair in various sections. If you detect signs of buildup, it might be time to adjust your washing frequency. Incorporating an extra wash session or two can make a significant difference.
  • Use Clarifying Shampoo: Standard shampoos may not always remove all the residue. Incorporating a gentle clarifying shampoo into your routine can help eliminate stubborn grime and buildup, ensuring your scalp and hair are truly clean.
  • Weekly Scalp Massages with Natural Oils: Engage in a weekly scalp massage using beneficial At least once a week, massage your scalp with natural oils like olive or coconut oil. Adding a few drops of tea tree oil, known for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, can enhance the benefits. Remember to dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil to mitigate its potency, especially if you have a sensitive scalp.
  • Regular Scalp Checks: Regularly inspect your scalp to prevent the formation of scales and flakes, staying vigilant about your scalp’s health.
  • Dandruff Management: For those dealing with dandruff, consider treatments containing active ingredients like sulfur, zinc pyrithione, or other antifungal agents, as recommended by a dermatologist.

Incorporating these practices into your hair care routine can significantly reduce scalp buildup, leaving your hair and scalp healthier and more balanced.

Gentle Clarifying Shampoos for Effective Scalp Buildup Removal

To effectively clear scalp buildup while maintaining hair health, consider these gentle clarifying shampoos formulated with clean ingredients:

Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt.

Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt

  • Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt: Ideal for detox treatments, effectively cleanses, purifies, and restores balance to sensitive or oily scalps.
  • Formulated with Sea Salt and Sweet Almond Oil: Sea salt naturally exfoliates, removing impurities and restoring scalp balance, while sweet almond oil soothes the scalp, refreshes hair, and ensures optimal hydration.
Avalon Organics Scalp Normalizing Shampoo

Avalon Organics Scalp Normalizing Shampoo

  • Certified Organic Shampoo: Made with non-GMO ingredients; free from parabens, harsh preservatives, synthetic colors or fragrances, and phthalates.
  • Vegan and Cruelty-Free: Not tested on animals.
  • Gentle Cleansing: Relieves scalp discomfort while cleansing hair.
  • pH Balanced Formula: Crafted with plant-based botanicals and essential oils.
  • Clean Ingredients: No GMOs, parabens, harsh preservatives, synthetic colors or fragrances, or phthalates. Vegan-friendly formula.
Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo

Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo

  • Nourishes with essential oils, refreshing the scalp.
  • Targets buildup and flakes.
  • Formulated with real, natural ingredients.
  • Sulfate-free purifying shampoo enhanced with cleansing natural oils.
Alikay Naturals Moisturizing Black Soap Shampoo

Alikay Naturals Moisturizing Black Soap Shampoo

  • Nourishes with essential oils, refreshing the scalp.
  • Targets buildup and flakes.
  • Formulated with real, natural ingredients.
  • Sulfate-free purifying shampoo enhanced with cleansing natural oils.
Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo

Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo

  • Highly recommended clarifying shampoo.
  • Effective chelating properties to remove hard water minerals.
  • Prevents hard water build-up on hair.
EDEN BodyWorks Papaya Castor Scalp Cleanser

EDEN BodyWorks Papaya Castor Scalp Cleanser

  • Rich in vitamins for hair and scalp health.
  • Sulfate-free formula.
  • Removes dirt and build-up while retaining natural moisture.
  • Contains Castor Oil for deep hydration and protection against dryness.
  • Functions as an effective hair detangler.
SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo

SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo

  • This is also one of my all time favorite shampoos. I’ve been using it since the beginning of my healthy hair journey.
  • Sulfate-free formula.
  • Removes build-up while providing nourishing moisture.
  • Ideal for damaged and color-treated hair.
  • Enriched with Jamaican Black Castor Oil and Shea Butter for strengthening and repair.
  • Cruelty-free and free from silicone, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, and petrolatum.
GiovanniEco Chic 50:50 Balanced Hydrating & Clarifying Shampoo

GiovanniEco Chic 50:50 Balanced Hydrating & Clarifying Shampoo

  • Enriched with a blend of vitamins, nutrients, and proteins to strengthen and revitalize each hair strand.
  • Specifically formulated to safeguard over-worked, over-processed, and color-treated hair, preserving color and enhancing shine.
  • Infused with Aloe Vera, Rosemary, and other Botanical Extracts to provide moisture and improve manageability, suitable for daily use.
  • Vegan and cruelty-free, aligning with ethical standards.
  • Free from harsh chemicals, ensuring gentle care for your hair.
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment 

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment 

  • Provides a soothing and detoxifying treatment for the scalp, restoring hydration and relieving dryness, itchiness, and irritation.
  • Hydrates, balances, and soothes the scalp, addressing issues such as itchiness, irritation, and flakiness.
  • Detoxifies the scalp by drawing out impurities, promoting a healthier scalp environment.
  • Contains a unique blend of tea tree oil, biotin, panthenol, and witch hazel to calm and nourish the scalp, while Binchotan charcoal absorbs impurities to reduce build-up.
  • Formulated with 99% naturally derived ingredients, ensuring a gentle and effective treatment.
  • Suitable for use on color-treated, keratin-treated, chemically-treated, and relaxed hair, offering versatility and safety for various hair types and treatments.


Scalp build-up can vary widely from person to person, presenting as anything from itchy scales to sensitivity. It’s crucial to find a scalp treatment that suits your specific needs in order to maintain healthy hair and scalp. Equally important is the regular removal of grime and debris from the scalp to prevent issues from escalating. The remedies provided offer effective solutions for addressing scalp build-up, providing a solid starting point for tackling scalp concerns. Trying one of these remedies can lead to a refreshed and revitalized scalp, contributing to improved overall scalp health and well-being.


  1. Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 2005. ↩︎
  2. Robbins, C. R., Chemical and physical behavior of human hair. 4th ed.; Springer-Verlag: New York, 2002. ↩︎
  3. Galliano, A.; Ye, C.; Su, F.; Wang, C.; Wang, Y.; Liu, C.; Wagle, A.; Guerin, M.; Flament, F.; Steel, A., Particulate matter adheres to human hair exposed to severe aerial pollution: consequences for certain hair surface propertiesInter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2017, 39 (6), 610-616. ↩︎
  4. Naudin, G.; Bastien, P.; Mezzache, S.; Trehu, E.; Bourokba, N.; Appenzeller, B. M. R.; Soeur, J.; Bornschlögl, T., Human pollution exposure correlates with accelerated ultrastructural degradation of hair fibersProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2019, 116 (37), 18410-18415. ↩︎


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

My Favourite Things

Great hair goes beyond using shampoos, conditioners, and styling products. Shop my favorite must-haves.

After years of requests, I’m finally sharing my go-to skincare products.

Give your space a quick refresh with these ultimate home decor ideas.

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure and make sure to pack these essential items to take with you on your journey.

Curl Care


Is High Porosity Hair Genetic?

Are you curious about whether the characteristic of high porosity hair is inherited? It’s a valid question, especially considering the link between high porosity and damaged hair. How could a

Read More »





One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted.
Do it now.

- Paulo coelho