What is hair product buildup?

 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 might 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.

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
  • 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. What this means is that, in addition, to not being able to effectively remove silicones, conditioners can also contribute to product buildup (because of the surfactants they contain). They usually occur in 2 varieties: alkyl amines and alkyl-quaternized ammonium salts. 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 to see if these ingredients are there.
How do you remove buildup?
  1. Wash with a clarifying shampoo when needed. Some examples of clarifying shampoos are:
    • Ion Clarifying shampoo (this shampoo leaves my hair feeling soft afterwards),
    • Kinky Curly come clean shampoo
    • 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 Shampoo,
    • Pureology Purify shampoo (this shampoo is also a chelating shampoo. It is sulfate-free but dries the heaven out of my hair).
  2. I used to be a proponent of Baking soda and apple cider vinegar for removing buildup but after Natural Haven’s experiment, I’m not so sure anymore. 

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.


Related articles:


  1. Cationic Surfactants in Curly Hair Care Products naturallycurly.com
© Copyright 2014 Dr Fomsky, All rights Reserved. Written For: Get your Sizzelle on!

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