remove product buildup in hair.
Beauty Talk

How to Remove Product Buildup in Hair The Correct Way.

Last Updated on December 5, 2022

Don’t we all love having shiny, voluminous hair? We use so many hair products to achieve volume but all we are left is with a greasy, flaky scalp that tend to feel itchy too. Sometimes it just a delay between hair washes but often, it’s the our favourite hair care products that cause a buildup on our hair and scalp.

What Exactly is Scalp Buildup?

Scalp buildup is an accumulation of dirt on our scalp that leads to limp, flat, greasy scalp. It can include dead skin cells, sweat, excess sebum and residues from haircare products.

Your regular shampoo can’t get rid of all this buildup on its own. So clarifying your hair on regular basis is crucial to remove scalp buildup and getting clean, bouncy hair.

5 Elements That Cause Product Buildup in Hair

1. Silicones

The most common culprit behind product buildup in hair is silicone. Silicone is present in most drugstore shampoos, conditioners, serums, hair styling products, etc.

It forms a film over the hair that helps tame the frizz and add shine. But it tends to build up over time making your hair look flat and limp.

Even regular shampoos contain silicones and thus are not cannot remove their buildup from hair. So it’s best to avoid silicones in your hair care products.

Also Read: The Best Silicone-Free Conditioners in India

2. Oils, Butter and Waxes

Yes, even the cold-pressed oils, natural butter and waxes can build up over time on the scalp when not cleaned well. We cannot completely avoid oils in our haircare routine since they help in keeping hair soft and moisturized.

But we can definitely try not to overdo it.  And let’s face it, most of us don’t cleanse our scalp in the appropriate manner or use appropriate products to clean it.

3. Cationic Surfactants and Polymers

These are quaternary ammonium compounds that act as foam boosters and conditioning agents. You will often find these as replacements for silicones in sulfate-free shampoo formulas.

E.g. Cetrimonium chloride, Behentrimonium chloride, Polyquaternium (4,7,10…) etc.

They cleanse mildly and can help condition, detangle and tame flyaways but can build up on the scalp over time if you don’t clarify your hair.

4. Hard Water

Water in some regions contains a higher amount of minerals like calcium and magnesium and is called hard water. These minerals residue can build up on your scalp to form a dandruff-like residue.

Hard water leaves your hair tangled, dry, frizzy, dull-looking, and difficult to manage. If the area where you live has hard water, you need to clarify your hair to remove scalp buildup.

5. Petrolatum

Petroleum products like mineral oil, paraffin, and petroleum jelly can create product build-up in your hair just like natural oils and waxes. But since petrolatum is occlusive in nature and does not have any beneficial nutrients, it is best avoided.

remove product buildup in hair.
Non sulfate shampoos cannot remove silicone and cationic surfactant buildup from hair 

How Does Product Buildup In Hair Affect Hair Health?

Product buildup in hair affects both the look and health of your hair. It prevents moisture and nutrients from entering your hair. This leaves your hair dry, frizzy, lifeless, and dull-looking.

They also leave residue on the scalp leading to itching, flaking, and limp hair at the roots. This makes your hair look flat and less voluminous despite having thick hair.

Hard water buildup may even lead to breakage and hairfall issues in long run. It also makes it difficult for natural shampoos to lather and leaves your hair all tangled and dry.

If you are suffering from the issues above, you need to consider clarifying your hair regularly. It’s easy and I will guide you through the process of removing the buildup below.

Also Read: The Clean Beauty Movement- Why you should be joining too

How to Remove Product Buildup in Hair The Right Way?

Using a clarifying shampoo once a month works best in removing product buildup in the hair. These shampoos are the ones that don’t have any of the above ingredients in their formula and help cleanse your scalp and hair thoroughly.

But they are often drying in nature and hence should be used too often. 1-2 times a month is all you need.

A sulfate-based clarifying shampoo is your best friend as it removes all kinds of buildup including silicone. Hence, when switching to natural hair care regime, it is advised to clarify your hair first to remove all the silicone buildup in hair that natural shampoos cannot remove.

Pantene Lively Clean is a budget-friendly option you can find easily in Indian stores. Another surfactant option is alpha-olefin sulfonate, which is milder than sulfates yet removes cationic buildup, oils, waxes, and silicones.

Apart from these, you can also use Bentonite clay, Rhassoul clay or Kaolin clay to remove oil buildup from hair. Not as effective as a clarifying shampoo but can still do a decent job.

How To Remove Hard Water Buildup From Hair?

You can use Apple cider vinegar (ACV) or lemon juice rinses to remove some amount of hard water mineral buildup from your hair.  But don’t do this too often as their pH level is too low.

Also, dilute them well with water before using them to minimize their acidity level.

Another option is to use shampoos with chelating agents like Disodium EDTA, Trisodium EDTA or sodium citrate.  (I couldn’t find a chelating shampoo in India. Let me know if you know one.)

Hard water levels vary across regions. So if you live in an area with very hard water, you should consider installing water softeners or hard water filters in your bathroom (they also help in filtering out chlorine from water).

Some Tips To Avoid Product Buildup From Hair:

  • Make sure you are clarifying your hair at least once every month but don’t overdo it too.
  • While in the shower, take time and rinse shampoo and conditioner out of your hair well with water.
  • Minimize the number of styling products you use on your hair.
  • Avoid delaying hair washes or using too much oil and conditioner.

Regularly removing product buildup in your hair will help keep it healthy, shiny and voluminous. Do you clarify your hair regularly? Let me know how you do it in the comments below.

* This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using the link, I will earn a small amount (at no extra cost to you!) The amount helps me maintain website costs and bring more and better content to you.

how to remove product buildup in hair. clarifying shampoo for haircare
how to remove product buildup in hair. clarifying shampoo for haircare

Hi, I am a freelance writer and beauty enthusiast from Mumbai. As I navigate the realms of beauty, my mission is to empower you with the right knowledge to nurture yourself and feel confident in your own beautiful skin.


  • Bear

    And to add, sulfates should not be used all the time! They are best used to clarify hair which should be done once a month anyway so if you are using silicones it’s fine as long as you know how to use them and clarify routinely to avoid buildup.

    • Rutu

      Silicone just makes your hair look good by forming a film on top. Hence, I recommend going for other conditioners and natural oil that actually soften and moisturize the hair and are easier to clean. If you know how to use silicone-based products without causing buildup, you can definitely use them, it’s a personal choice.

  • Bear

    Actually, sulfates aren’t the only thing that removes silicones, there are gentle cleaners such as coconadopropyl betaine that also do the job without stripping hair. Also if you use a harsh shampoo you don’t need to then add more silicones to your hair to counter the dryness, there are a number of conditioners you can use without silicones to tame the hair. And silicones aren’t the devil, they actually benefit some people’s hair depending on their routine. People just need to know how to use them.

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