Washing your hair can be a chore, especially if it’s very long, but it can feel so good! Nothing feels better than a head of fresh-smelling, shiny, bouncy hair.
Sometimes, however, washing can leave you asking, “why does my hair feel waxy?” Read on to learn what causes waxy hair and how you can avoid it.
What Is Waxy Hair?
Hair can become waxy for a few reasons. The most common cause of waxy-feeling hair is product buildup. Next, health issues, including stress, can lead to waxy hair.
Harsh chemical treatments or certain medications might also leave your hair feeling waxy. Finally, hard water can cause waxy hair. “Waxy” hair is hair that feels sticky, gunky, or greasy even after washing.
You may notice that your hair doesn’t have the bounce or shine you usually expect after a wash, or you may feel the grease on your fingers after touching your hair. Your scalp might itch, and you may notice that you need to wash more frequently to make your hair feel clean.
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4 Reasons You Have Waxy Hair
If you’re tired of having greasy or waxy hair, feel embarrassed to wear your hair down, or if you’ve switched up your wash routine and products but seen no improvement, it might be time to look at one of these underlying causes to address the issue.
1. Product Buildup
The most common cause of waxy hair is product buildup. Even if you wash your hair regularly, product buildup can still occur because many shampoos and conditioners contain heavy, water-resistant ingredients that cling to the hair.
Many shampoos and conditioners contain silicones and sulfates. These buzzwords have gotten a lot of attention due to the “Low-Poo” and “No-Poo” movements — but what are they exactly?
Silicones are used in hair care products as lubricants to provide moisture and “slip” to hair strands. They are what makes hair feel soft and manageable after conditioning.
Silicone molecules fill in pores and gaps in the hair, making dry hair look healthier. Silicones can be beneficial if you have tangled, dry, or unmanageable hair. They make brushing easier and make hair shinier.
However, they are not a real solution to damage or split-ends — they are merely a band-aid on the problem. Over time, silicones build up on hair follicles, weighing hair down and leading to waxiness.
Read Next: What Is Silicone-Free Shampoo?
“Sulfates” is the other buzzword that has gotten attention from the “curly-girl metnod” and low/no-poo movements in recent years. Sulfates are what give shampoo its satisfying lather. They are also excellent at removing dirt and oil from hair and getting hair “squeaky” clean.
The problem with sulfates is that if you use them every day, they will strip the natural moisture out of your hair and scalp. This causes your body to overproduce oil, leading to even oilier hair. Sulfates are important in hair care — but use them sparingly.
Sulfates help to remove buildup from gels, leave-in conditioners, and other hair products. Washing with a sulfate shampoo once every two weeks, or once a week at most, should be sufficient to reap the benefits without encountering any issues.
Read Next: The 7 Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos in 2023
2. Medical Conditions
Many people suffer from underlying medical conditions that contribute to greasy or waxy hair. These can include hormonal imbalances, fungal or bacterial conditions, or even stress, poor diet, or lack of sleep.
Seborrhea is a common skin condition caused by a hormonal imbalance. When seborrhea affects the scalp, it is called dandruff. Seborrhea causes white flakes, itchiness, and redness. If you notice that your scalp is itchy in addition to your hair being waxy, you may have seborrhea.
Many shampoos on the market can treat dandruff — Head and Shoulders is the most common and is a great option. If the condition is very bad, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe medication for it.
Another great and cost-free treatment for seborrhea is salt water. Daily salt water rinses effectively eliminate dandruff without the need for medical treatment.
Just be aware that salt water, while great for your skin, can dry out your hair. Make sure you rinse the ends with fresh water after doing a salt rinse and use a good, sulfate-free conditioner.
Read Next: How to Get Rid of Dandruff Without Shampoo
Poor Diet, Stress, and Lack of Sleep
Many cosmetic problems can be solved simply by improving diet, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep. Stress is often exacerbated by lack of sleep and poor diet choices (like ingesting too much sugar or caffeine), which in turn leads to poor diet choices and poor sleep.
As you can see, it’s a vicious cycle, and it’s tough to break. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise benefits more than just your waistline.
Food rich in nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin B helps your skin, hair, and nails grow stronger. Diets high in protein lead to healthier, fuller hair. Regular exercise helps your body to regulate its sleep cycle and stress levels.
If you aren’t getting good sleep, eating well, or taking regular exercise, waxy hair might be one symptom of your unhealthy lifestyle.
3. Hair Damage
Our skin and hair are exposed to a lot daily. Sun, wind, water, and pollutants in the air can all affect how our hair looks and feels. While you might expect damage to lead to dry or frizzy hair, you should know that environmental damage can also be the cause of greasy or waxy hair.
Prolonged exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause the outside covering of the hair (called the cuticle) to break down. This makes hair feel dry or frizzy. It also means hair dries quickly, won’t hold a curl, and is prone to breaking.
While sun damage itself won’t lead to waxy hair, attempts to restore sun-damaged hair might. Contrary to popular belief, sun-damaged hair cannot be restored through conditioning.
Conditioners only make hair look softer — they do not reverse the damage. Additionally, conditioners that contain silicones and parabens can weigh hair down and lead to greasiness.
The only thing that can repair hair damage is trimming. Using professional treatments like Olaplex can also help. Your next best bet is to take preventative measures like wearing a scarf or hat to protect your hair.
Salt and Pool Water Damage
Like the sun, salt water and chlorine can dry hair out and cause frizziness, brittleness, and breakage. Combined with sun damage, these can do a number on your hair during the summer months.
As with sun damage, attempts to reverse salt or chlorine damage often only lead to more problems as conditioners and products with silicones are loaded onto the hair, causing product buildup.
The best defense against damage from the sun, salt water, or chlorine is to rinse your hair with fresh water as soon as you get out of the ocean or the pool. If you don’t give the chemicals time to penetrate your hair follicles, the damage will be much less.
4. Hard Water
Hard water is water that contains a lot of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Most homes in America have relatively hard water. The minerals in hard water can build up in hair over time, leading to heaviness or waxy hair.
One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to rinse your hair with filtered water after a shower.
Just as your Brita filter removes excess minerals from your drinking water, it can also remove excess minerals from your shower water. You could install a Brita shower filter or simply use the water from the filter in your fridge.
Read Next: How to Boil Hard Water to Wash Hair
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most frequently asked questions about waxy hair.
Why Does My Hair Feel Sticky and Waxy?
There are several reasons your hair may feel sticky or waxy. The most common reason is buildup from products, especially conditioners that contain silicones. Another common reason is the over-production of oils in the scalp, commonly caused by seborrhea, or by over-washing with products containing sulfates.
Why Does My Hair Feel Waxy After Washing It?
If you wash your hair and it still feels sticky or waxy, you may not be rinsing your conditioner out all the way. It’s possible you are also using the wrong type of conditioner for your hair or using a very heavy conditioner when it is not necessary to do so.
What Is Waxy Hair?
Waxy hair is hair that feels sticky or greasy to the touch. Waxy hair might also look dull and limp and may have no bounce. Waxy hair might not hold a curl or style easily and might be difficult to brush.
How Do You Treat Waxy Hair?
The best way to treat waxy hair is to switch to a “low-poo” or “no-poo” washing routine. Use a shampoo containing sulfates only once every other week, and wash with conditioner only or with a low-poo shampoo to prevent product buildup.
Why Does My Hair Feel Waxy After Bleaching?
Hair that feels waxy or “gummy” after bleaching has often been over-processed to the point of being severely damaged. This type of damage usually indicates that the inside of the hair follicle has been affected, not just the cuticle or outer layer.
So, Why Does My Hair Feel Waxy?
Waxy hair is hair that feels stiff, limp, greasy, or gummy. It usually indicates that your hair either has product buildup, or that it has suffered damage, either from the environment or from over-processing with chemicals.
To treat waxy hair, try using shampoos without sulfates, getting a trim, and protecting your hair from future damage. And while you’re here, be sure to take our “what hair products should I use” quiz. You’ll be glad you did!