What is product build up?
So you’ve noticed your hair has been a little lifeless. Lately it’s dull, your styles aren’t holding and now you’re beginning to notice some… residue 🤮 Well these are the first signs that you are experiencing product build up. Product build up begins when the hair and scalp becomes coated with product. There are many reasons behind product build up. The good news is that it can be avoided by correcting a few simple, but crippling hair routine habits. In this blog, we are going to dive into how to identify product build, what to do if you are experiencing it and what you can do to prevent it. Well, you have to ask yourself a few questions.
How exactly do you combat product build up? What precautions do I take to prevent it? What steps in my routine aid in product build up? Do the products I use contain ingredients that aren’t easy to wash out?
These are all valid questions and many of the answers lie in your hair texture, porosity and density. If you have a curly and/or coily pattern, it may be harder to reach your scalp, which in turn makes it harder to keep it clean. If you have low porosity hair, products have a hard time penetrating the hair shaft. This means the products will sit on top of the hair strand and build up on the scalp. If your hair is dense, meaning it is thick to the touch; your hair may take longer to dry. If a product does not properly dry, this will lead to clumping and uneven dryness. This is the worst kind of build up because bacteria will begin to form and you will begin to notice a smell or even be susceptible to an infection.
Makings of Build Up
So what exactly is the anatomy of build up? Many attribute the flakes they see to their product not working. Once your favorite moisturizer or gel stops working the way it used to, you think that it’s simply just run its course and your hair has “gotten used to it”. Well that is actually not the case. If a product has been working for you and your hair hasn’t been chemically altered, your body isn’t going through significant changes or your environment has not changed, most likely your product is just fine. The issue may be that it is not penetrating the hair shaft or scalp due to a little friend called sebum.
Sebum is a naturally occurring oil that is secreted by the scalp (and other parts of the body as well). If the hair and scalp is cleansed and free of debris, sebum will naturally lubricate the scalp and roots which in turn, keeps dry scalp away. When sebum is secreted from the cuticle it needs somewhere to go. If it has nowhere to go, as a result of products not properly washed from the hair, it will sit on the surface of the scalp and roots. Once it’s been exposed to the air, with nowhere to go, it hardens into a wax like substance. This is the perfect home for lint, dust, debris and products to stay put. This is when you’ll start to think your hair care regimen isn’t surviving its purpose so you’ll have to start over. Starting over isn’t necessary, you just need to make adjustments!
Ingredients are a large contributor to product build up. Even more important, where they were derived from, how they are formulated and how they mix with each other. Lots of the time you will see that brands will encourage you to use their products in harmony. While this may come off as pushy (trust, I get it), it also has another purpose. Many companies formulate their products’ ingredients to work in harmony with each other. Balance is key in all facets of life and hair care is no different. If you want to avoid product build up, try to ensure you pair your custards, gels or butters with the appropriate moisturizers or leave-ins. For example, you want to pair our Hydrating Curl Custard with our Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner. The moisture that is introduced from our leave in will allow the hair to stay moisturized and soft while the curl custard does the work of defining the curl and keeping its bounce.
An ingredient that is always brought up in the conversation of product build up is silicone. Now silicones have a plethora of benefits, especially when they are water soluble. They give slip, smooth the hair cuticle and add shine. Water soluble silicones are usually derived from vegetables so they are gentle to the hair. However, they do have a dark side. Artificial silicones unfortunately are much more common in the beauty world, so they bring their own set of issues. Artificial silicones have a bad reputation for many many reasons but the main one is their ability to coat the scalp and hair and create an insoluble barrier. Many times a simple shampoo routine will not help. Regular shampoos are commonly formulated to cleanse the surface area it’s applied to. They don’t normally have the ingredients that are going to eat through the artificial components. If you do not opt for a clarifying shampoo as part of your routine, you will be aiding your build up even after you thought you had it under control.
So now that you are equipped with the common factors that factor into build up on the scalp and hair, let’s look into a couple ways you can help prevent it and what you can do if you are experiencing this now.
Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse!
I’m sure your first instinct when you see any residue is to wash your hair. Cleansing the scalp is definitely the best way to remove any excess dirt, oil or products. The kinkier the hair texture, the harder it is to reach the scalp. However, cleansing is never enough. Chances are, if your build up is now visible, you are in need of a deep, deep cleaning of your scalp. There is a major difference between simply shampooing your hair and clarifying the scalp.
When thinking about the difference between a regular shampoo and a clarifying shampoo, think about the difference between cleaning a surface and then sanitizing one. When you clean up your kitchen counter, you rod all the visible debris, not realizing that there are germs, pathogens and bacteria still on your counter. When left unnoticed those irritants will cause more damage than you thought they could. When you sanitize a surface, you not only cleaned it but you also took an extra step to rid the counter of the unseen dangers that can spread throughout the house.
A clarifying shampoo is specifically formulated to give the hair a more intense cleaning. Clarifying shampoos are not meant to introduce nourishment to the hair, they are meant to detox the scalp and purify your hair cuticles. Clarifying shampoos tend to leave the hair feeling slightly stripped, but this is what you are looking for when you are combating build up. As mentioned, you want to give your hair products the proper environment to do what they are formulated to. With a clean foundation, your hair and scalp is now ready to receive all the nourishment you are going to introduce it to. Our Hydrating Shampoo is a great cleanser for light product build up. The kiwi extract gently cleanses, eating away at stubborn oils.
DIY Tip: If you aren’t sure if you know what a good clarifying shampoo is, try your kitchen! Apple Cider Vinegar is an amazing alternative to buying a clarifying shampoo. We have a great blog explaining the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar and how to apply it for an amazing clarifying treatment for the hair!
Hair Textures Matter!
Product build up is a process that builds itself on possibility. Products are able to build up, especially on the scalp, when they are left there. It is difficult to get rid of the products you use fully if your hair texture is in the way! This is why coily textured people have to take extra care when cleansing and clarifying to prevent build. The very nature of your hair texture will determine how you combat build up and in some cases, it will aid in the build up’s success if you do not not pay attention at each step of your routine.
Someone with curly or coily hair usually has a tight regimen they follow because they know how their hair reacts to different techniques and ingredients. Many know that they have to section their hair before they start any shampooing or styling. Sectioning is CRUCIAL for reaching the scalp, especially if you identify with the 4b/4c hair texture. Dividing your hair will allow you to apply your clarifying shampoo directly to the scalp and roots.
Along with the challenge of how your hair grows naturally from your head, you have to be mindful of what you are using. As we all know, the curlier the texture, the harder it is to moisturize. So we tend to use heavier moisturizing products like butters, thick oils, pastes, pomades, you name it! These products intertwine within your coils and curls, sit on your scalp and most times, have trouble fully penetrating the hair shaft and will become trapped in your hair. This is when you will begin to feel like your products are just sitting on the surface.
All In the Technique
Aside from cleansing your scalp and using a clean foundation, you have to give as much care into your method of applying product as well. This means that along with reading the ingredients of every product you use, you also have to pay close attention to how the product is meant to be used. If a product’s directions mention “use on wet or damp hair” or “use in small sections”, this means that there are ingredients in the product that work well in these conditions. When you give your product the proper environment, it is able to work in the most optimal fashion.
As you are applying products, pay attention to how much you are using for each wet section. Most products are white when applied wet. If you are applying a product and there is still a generous amount of white residue on your hands, this means that too much is being applied and your hair has already taken all that it is able to. After you apply the product to your hair, you should still FEEL product but it should not be VISIBLE. You should be able to look at your hair and still tell your natural hair color, it should not be coated in white all over.
As many curly and coily people know, twisting pastes are amazing products. They’re formulated to define your hair pattern while simultaneously keeping the strand moisturized but bouncy. However, they are notorious for flaking, clumping or sitting on top of the hand strand. If the product is not completely absorbed, it will aid in product build up. The key to avoiding this is to allow your product to dry WITH your hair. This means that when you are doing a twist out or a wash and go, for example, be sure your style is 95-100% DRY. If you did not over apply, the product will be properly absorbed during the drying process. The hair will feel hydrated but not slick. Your style should feel soft and have bounce. If your hair feels or looks weighed down, your products have not absorbed.
If you take a style down that is not completely dry, this is where you will see the white film that you saw during the styling process. That is another sign that product build up is present. When you are sure a style is dry, you do not want to take it down with bare hands. You want to coat your hands with a lightweight oil.
A lightweight oil during the take down of a style is crucial for two reasons. The first is its ability to add shine. This shine is actually a result of breaking down any flaking. If you use a paste, gel or custard, these products tend to create something called a cast around the hair shaft. Many times when this cast is not properly set during the drying process (caused by either not drying completely or is unevenly distributed) this is the cause of the flaking or clumping you see. An oil will break through this cast to help smooth the product. For example, our Hydrating AvoKiwi Blend is a super lightweight oil. The good thing about this oil is it is easy to be cleansed away because it does not sit on the hair. It is super easy for the hair to absorb because of its lightweight consistency and natural ingredients.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
The whole goal for hair care is for health and prosperity. The best way to do that is to set yourself up for success. Products will not have the opportunity to build up if you do not give them the environment to do so. You want to be sure that you are styling and caring for your hair with intention. Just like a garden, the soil is the most important step in growing healthy and thriving flowers. Your scalp and roots are your soil and you have to make sure they are tended to. If you make sure to cleanse and clarify properly, pay attention to your application of the products and take down with care, you won’t have to worry about product build up being a part of your journey!