Usually when when think about the oil in our hair, we aren't thinking good thoughts. Generally you want to find some super shampoo that will wash this oil (called sebum) out. the reality about sebum is actually pretty cool. While an overproduction of sebum will weigh your hair down and can make it look greasy, sebum does some amazing things for your hair too.
The World's Best Natural ConditionerThe most obvious job that sebum does is condition your hair. You produce sebum all over your body, everywhere there is a hair follicle. Sebum is not just oily, it also has some sticky, waxy components to it. The heat from your skin melts the sebum to help it travel down the length of the hair where it hardens and forms a pretty tough invisible coat over your hair called the acid mantle.
The acid mantle seals your cuticle, protecting it from damage, helping the individual hairs to "slip" and not get knotted together. If your hair tangles when dry, this is a fair indicator that your acid mantle and the top layers of your cuticle are snagged and damaged.
Any products you use that eat into the acid mantle will also start to corrode the cuticle beneath and damage your hair. Sebum is slightly acidic, with a pH ranging from about 4 to 6.5. Water has a neutral pH of 7, so generally speaking does not affect this protective layer. Any decent shampoo or conditioner has a slightly acid pH around 4.5 to 6, formulated intentionally to support your acid mantle.
The sorts of things that women do put in their hair that will strip this layer away can include acids such as lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide (promoted widely as "natural lighteners"), permanent hair colour, perms and relaxants.
Sebum also creates an environment on your scalp (and on the skin elsewhere on your body) that is unfriendly to a long list of bacteria and fungi, which of course helps keep your skin healthy and prevents infection. There is also some research that there is a type of bacteria that does thrive in sebum that may help support our immune system.
You Cannot Control Your Sebum ProductionSebum cannot be "stimulated" by over-shampooing or massaging your scalp or by taking any kind of nutritional supplement. Its production is completely influenced by your hormones. There are drugs that will reduce sebum production, but they work by manipulating your hormone levels and are prone to some unpleasant side effects.
Dry scalp?As women age, our sebum production drops. This can result in your scalp and hair feeling drier than it did when you were young. In this situation, it is worth experimenting with extending the number of days between shampoos. Grooming your hair with your fingers instead of a brush can also help spread sebum from your scalp further along the length of your hair. You may also want to try using a leave-in conditioner on the ends of your hair.
It is good to have a wash, obviously. But sebum is really quite important in maintaining healthy looking hair, so it is worth trying to find a balance between washing your hair and retaining a good amount of your sebum.
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