Water-Only Troubleshooting: Still Experiencing Oily Hair?

Hi! I’ve received an overwhelming number of comments from so many of you asking questions and sharing your water-only hair washing experiences. It is wonderful to hear such positive feedback about the water-only method from so many of you! I’ve been trying to answer every question that I can in the comments, however I noticed there are a few questions that keep popping up regularly that I haven’t covered in my posts yet, so I will start making posts answering the most frequently asked questions you have to help as many of you as possible. At the time of this post, it has been over 11 months since I switched from low-poo (sulfate-free shampoo) to water-only hair care, and I swear it is the best thing that has ever happened to my hair! I still practice water-only hair washing, and I am even more thrilled with the results I get now than when I started. I hope I can help you be as thrilled with your results as I am with mine.

FAQ: “I have been water-only for a while, but my hair still feels oily or waxy!”

This can be frustrating! But there may be a quick and simple fix to what you are experiencing. The issue could be caused by a few different reasons, so let’s figure out where you are experiencing issues in the process.

First off, you should be getting very clean results immediately after water-washing your hair if you have been following all of the tips in my Ultimate Water-Only Hair Washing Routine post. If your hair doesn’t seem to get clean immediately after water-washing it, the issue could stem from either the actual washing process (see this post for tips), or caused by Reason #2 listed below. However, if you are getting clean hair immediately after water-washing it, but your hair becomes excessively oily after a day or two between washes, your hair could still be in the initial oily transition phase, and in that case, I recommend you follow the tips in my How to Transition to No-Poo Without Looking Oily post to get through the transition as quickly as possible. However, if you feel you should be out of the oily transitional phase by now, and you aren’t sure what’s going on, then this post is for you. 

Reason #1: You may have silicone buildup

Symptoms: Water-washes give you clean hair, but your hair feels dry or brittle. Throughout the week, your hair’s natural oils don’t seem to be soaking up into your strands (even after boar-bristle brushing). Instead, your natural oils seem to just sit on top your hair, making it look very oily.

Cause: You may have silicone buildup from hair styling products that were never properly washed out of your hair before starting no-poo/water-only. Or you might still be using silicone-filled hair products without realizing it, which is a big no-no. Silicones and no-poo do NOT mix.

Why you should avoid silicones on no-poo: Silicones can be found in most hair styling products, including heat protectants, conditioners, serums, pomades, gels, dry shampoos, hair sprays, etc. The sulfates in shampoos dry out and damage your hair, making it prone to tangles, dullness, breakage, and frizz. So the silicones are put in conditioners and styling products to temporarily counteract how dry and damaged your hair really looks by creating a waterproof barrier around your hair shafts, which gives your hair a sleek, shiny, and frizz-free effect. Silicones don’t heal or nourish your hair– your hair is still completely dry, damaged, and unmanageably tangly from shampooing– the silicones just temporarily hide this until the next time they are washed out and reapplied. (Ever shampoo and skip conditioner? Not a pretty sight.) Here’s the bad part: Silicones stay stuck on your hair shafts until you wash them out with a sulfate-shampoo. If you do not properly wash out the silicones, they will stay locked on your hair and will prevent water from ever penetrating the waterproof barrier they create. Over time, this will leave you with dry, brittle hair that won’t absorb water and won’t be able to soak up your hair’s natural oils (which, by the way, your hair’s natural oils actually DO hydrate, nourish, and make your hair shiny, frizz-free, elastic, bouncy, sleek, and healthy… better than silicones ever could). So you need to wash out the silicones if you want to have healthy, nourished, and grease-free hair in the long-term. (More on silicones here.)

How to know if you have silicone buildup: Look at the ingredients list of every product you use on your hair, and compare it with this guide to see if it contains silicones. If you have used any silicone-filled products since your last sulfate-shampoo hair wash, you probably have silicone buildup. It’s also worth noting that some shampoos don’t contain sulfates, such as low-poos or sulfate-free shampoos, so if you had been using one of these gentler shampoos in combination with silicones, you will most likely have silicone buildup, since the silicones weren’t getting washed out when you were shampooing. The guide also lists common sulfate ingredient names, so you can check your shampoo for that info, too.

What to do: It is widely recommended by natural hair care advocates that you clarify your hair with a sulfate-filled shampoo one last time (any cheap, sulfate-shampoo will do), and make sure you scrub it really well through the length of your hair, not just at the roots. Then completely stop using any hair products containing sulfates or silicones. If you are sad to part with your favorite silicone-filled hair products, I’d like to add that there are many natural & inexpensive alternatives that work just as great, though you may not even need them, as your hair’s natural oils should give you even better results (shiny, sleek, manageable, hydrated, bouncy, natural hold, etc) than the silicones ever did. I plan to write more about that in the future, so I encourage you to do some googling in the meantime. ;)

Will this mess up your no-poo progress? One sulfate-shampoo application shouldn’t reset all of the progress you’ve made so far with training your scalp’s oil production. It will strip all of the oils off your hair, though, which is very drying to your hair, but your hair will be clean and oil-free and ready for you to continue with no-poo or water-only. You can rub a few drops of an oil of your choice (Argan is great) between your palms and run it through dry hair to sleek it out and moisturize your hair. (Avoid the roots and avoid using too much which will make your hair look oily again.) You should also clean your brushes and combs (with sulfates), rinse them very well, and then use a clean boar-bristle-brush to distribute your scalp’s natural oils through your hair every day for ~1 week to coat it in hydrating oils to restore your hair back to its no-poo glory. You should notice your hair absorbing your natural oils a lot better. Check your hair about 8-12 hours after you brush and see if you notice a difference!

Not sure if you have silicone buildup? Try following Reason #2 first.

Reason #2: You may have waxy/oily buildup from the inital oily transitional phase.

Symptoms: Your hair doesn’t get as clean as it should with water-only washes. It feels like there is a lot of oil or waxiness left on your hair even right after you water-wash it.

Cause: Water washing works amazingly well at washing away the excess oil that accumulates during the week from a scalp with a normalized oil production, but if you went through a particularly oily phase when you switched from shampoo to water-only, it’s possible that you just need to get rid of the leftover oily/waxy buildup. Once you do, your hair should feel clean again, and water-washing should give you the results you’ve been waiting for.

What to do: I recommend using a gentle low-poo (sulfate-free shampoo) or co-wash (silicone-free conditioner) one last time to clarify your hair of the leftover buildup. You can refer to this guide to determine which products are sulfate- and silicone-free. Make sure you scrub it into your roots and through the length of your hair and rinse it out really well.

*I’d like to add that I had to do this, and I had a great experience with Calia’s Organic Hydrating Shampoo and Conditioner (a Canadian brand but it can also be purchased online for ~10 USD). If you take a look at the ingredients, it contains only essential oils & flower extracts and glycerin (which is even safe to eat). It was very gentle on my hair, and left it feeling very soft and completely clean. I recommend using a gentle, natural product like that if you can find it. You could probably find an even cheaper, DIY/homemade option if you’re into that. ;)

Will this mess up my no-poo progress? One clarifying wash with a gentle (sulfate-free) cleanser won’t strip your hair of its natural oils or mess with your scalp’s oil production (but more than one application might). One wash should just get rid of the oily/waxy buildup and allow you to continue water-washing with a head of clean, buildup-free hair and finally allow you to get the most out of your water-washes! You may even be able to notice your scalp’s oil production has slowed way down, you just couldn’t notice it before with all of the buildup in the way. I hope this tip works for you! It worked for me (and a few commenters on this site). I haven’t had an issue since.

Leave a comment below to let me know which questions you would like me to address in the next FAQ post!

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Shannon
    May 10, 2016

    Wwo doesn’t work for me and I don’t know why. …..I followed all the directions to a t…….still get greasy unwashed looking hair in less than 3 days. …..can’t afford that because I work and have 3 sons and 9 cats.

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      May 30, 2016

      Hi Shannon, If you are having a hard time getting through the oily transition on WO, I recommend using a different no poo method that is still gentle on your scalp but washes away excessive amounts of scalp oils. I recommend trying a co-wash (conditioner only, has to be silicone-free), honey wash, or even a low-poo (sulfate-free shampoo). You can stick with these methods long-term, or you can alternate these washes with WO washes, or wait til you get out of the oily phase and then try WO again in the future. I hope you find a method that works for you!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Karolina
    June 5, 2016

    Hi!

    Your blog is amazing, it has been a great help to me! I would just like to ask about one think I keep struggling with: after 6 weeks of water only, I am able to wash my hair in a way that my skin and my roots are clean. The problem is that the rest of the hair is still quite oily. Do you think that it could improve after some time or had i better use something to get rid of the buildup?

    Thank you very much!

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      April 6, 2019

      I’m glad to hear it! I recommend preening your hair while you water wash it. While the warm water is running through your hair, gently pull the oils and warm water down the hair shafts from root to tip. Another method you can try is adding dry shampoo an hour or so before water washing. (I recommend a homemade dry shampoo like arrowroot or tapioca powder.) This can absorb the oils from your hair strands and wash out when you water wash your hair.

  3. Leave a Reply

    Ellie
    September 1, 2016

    Hello, thanks for your blog, it has been really useful. From the start I have been doing water only washes and it has taken 7 weeks of epic grease to finally get to it balancing out. Hallelujah! I was tempted on many occasions to reach for the shampoo but I’m glad I didn’t and in any case I’d thrown it all out :) The most amazing benefit has been to my skin. I went from using a small tub of E45 on my extremely dry skin every two weeks, to using no moisturiser whatsoever on my face. If it hadn’t been for that I would have crumbled sooner but it seems to be self-moisturising now. I have very fine loosely curly hair but there is lots of it. What helped me to transition (finally) was using dry shampoo (cornflour and cocoa powder) liberally over my scalp and hair and then brushing it all out. I sat in an empty bath to do this as everything gets covered in greasy blobs of powder. I used a boar bristle brush. Then I water washed my hair as normal. It seemed to be a way of ‘dry cleaning’ the hair without disturbing it much. Thank you again for your advice, my skin and hair has never felt better. I don’t need heat or products to style my hair, I can make it curl any way I want with just my finger. The only products in my bathroom now are Dr Bronners soap, natural toothpaste and almond oil. I’m saving a fortune. If anyone’s thinking of giving up, hang in there!

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      November 11, 2016

      Ellie, Hallelujah!! So happy to hear you’ve had good results with water only, and glad your skin is responding well! My skin also has improved with using gentler shower products / water only hair. The dry shampoo (arrowroot/cocoa powder) was a big help for me as well during the transition. I hardly have to use it now, but I agree, it did seem like a way of dry cleaning the hair. I kept the powder away from my scalp and just on the strands that looked stringy during the transition, and it didn’t mess with my scalp’s oil production but made the length of my hair look clean and awesome between washes. Thanks for your positive feedback, let us know how your hair progresses in the future!

  4. Leave a Reply

    Emy
    October 27, 2016

    Can you remove a silicone buildup with a sulfate-filled shampoo or a sulfate-free shampoo? How can it work with a sulfate-filled shampoo if that’s the thing that’s causing it?

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      November 11, 2016

      From everything I have read, the only way to get rid of silicones is with sulfates. They are two separate things. Sulfates are put into shampoos as harsh cleansers. Silicones are put into conditioners which lock onto your hair strands for various reasons (e.g. to keep moisture from getting to your strands (helps with frizz), etc). Water-only washing and sulfate-free shampoos are not known to do the job of washing out silicones. You need to use a harsh cleanser to wash away silicones, i.e. sulfates.

  5. Leave a Reply

    Jannik
    October 23, 2017

    If people are having problems after all of your wonderful tips, it could be the water they are using. I had no idea how harsh the water at my house was until I moved. It was drying my hair out (I have very fine, oily hair) and causing it to break. After a few weeks I noticed a huge difference. I have since moved back and I use glacier water to rinse my hair once a week (the water is fine for my body). Anyway, something for folks to consider if nothing is working for them.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>