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

    Julia
    June 19, 2018

    Hello, I am transitioning to no poo, and I am using rhassoul clay mixed with warm water once a week instead of shampoo. It really helps my hair feel less oily but it allows me to wait longer every time between washes. I really recommend it (although I am not sure where to find it in the US).
    Has anyone else tried it? It’s used mostly in North Africa from my understanding.

  2. Leave a Reply

    Lea
    August 17, 2018

    Hi! Love your website, it’s so interesting and great to get into all tbe zero waste stuff! I am doing no poo since two months, washing with rye flour. This wirks so great! I tried switching to wo several times now, but the problem is that I do not get clean hair from it. Like ever. Sure, its less oily than before the wash. But its always waxy and greasy still,no matter how well I scrub or if I use the apple vinegar rinse. I am sure that I don’t have silicone buildup, I used silicone free shampoo for several years. Do you have any idea why this might not be working for me? I tried all of your tips.. It would be so great if you can help! Greetings from Germany :)

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      October 7, 2018

      Hi Lea, I’m glad you enjoy this site! I recommend checking whether you have hard or soft water in your area. You can usually look up water hardness for your city online. Hard water can make it difficult for you to get a super clean water only wash. I have personally lived in areas with hard and soft water, and I notice a difference when the water is hard. To solve this, I typically see people recommending getting a shower head attachment that will help take the minerals out of hard water and help soften it so you can get cleaner hair washes. I have never personally done this, but something that worked for me was using dry shampoo about an hour before water washing my hair just to get excess oils absorbed, and then water washing it all away. I went into more detail in this post. Hope one of these options helps you!

  3. Leave a Reply

    Courtny
    November 13, 2018

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU so much for your posts about this matter. I reached a point this summer where even low-poo Nature’s Gate shampoos were causing my scalp and hair to get so dry and itchy that I HAD to make a change. Tried some shampoo bars for a while, but they left my hair waxy and limp, and the ACV rinse was making my hair dry and brittle. I love my long hair and want to keep growing it out, so I had to try something different. I am in the oily phase now, but braids and hats are helping to mask that a bit. After reading your trouble-shooting post about transitioning to WO I am going to do one last thorough sulfate shampoo to start fresh and keep going. I will attest that the BBB makes a HUGE difference. Before I started using one, my ends were super dry and brittle, like straw. A trim would’ve helped, but since I’ve been using my BBB daily then ends have become much more soft, and I can probably wait for a while more before another trim. GRATEFUL for your sharing and thorough information. Thank you <3

  4. Leave a Reply

    Joanna
    December 29, 2018

    Hi, I’m not giving up! I’ve tried WO again and this time is a lot better. My hair feels clean after wash, it squeaks, feels light when it’s drying and it dries quickly and next day it looks clean like after shampoo but next evening when I brush it there is this sort of tarnish, this light layer on top of my BBBrush. Later when days go by and I brush my hair I don’t have it anymore. Just this first and second day sometimes too. Also My hair doesn’t stink but I can smell odour. It’s probably on my scalp. Will this pass? Or shall I do something? I was my hair now every 5 days. First 2 days they look cleanand feel clean.

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