Sebum is an oily substance that contains compounds called “lipids,” some of which (squalene and wax esters) are not found anywhere else in the body. It’s your body's natural moisturizer and protectant for your skin and hair, and it’s produced by specialized cells called Sebocytes that breakdown in the sebaceous glands underneath the top layer of your skin.
Your body produces sebum to deliver natural sunscreen, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial substances to your skin and hair, helping to protect them from UV rays and other environmental hazards. And the production levels of sebum vary with your hormone levels, especially when it comes to androgens like testosterone and with your age. The older you get, the less your body produces naturally.
Because your body produces more when you’re younger, it can get onto your face and is the reason you are more prone to acne breakouts during puberty. The spike in testosterone levels causes your body produce more which leads to sebum plugs. The sebum plugs can clog your pores and turn into pimples. And this is where your hair comes in.
It’s easy to confuse sebum plugs versus keratin plugs though. You can tell the difference because sebum plugs form a head that you can pop, but keratin plugs have a more scaly feeling on the skin. Even though the oily skin or hair from excess sebum production can be annoying, you don’t want to totally get rid of the oil altogether. Instead you can work to reduce the levels your body produces naturally.
The first step is to talk to a licensed dermatologist as they handle this on a regular basis. Dermatologists may be able to provide you with retinoids or hormone therapy. Next is to reduce or avoid high glycaemic foods as they may lead to sebum overproduction. Also make sure you get enough vitamin A, which can help reduce the amount your body produces. Now lets jump into sebum and your hair.
Sebum is an important factor in helping to protect your locks. The sebaceous glands in your scalp release the oil, and this oil is what coats your hair strands when you brush or comb them. Sebum’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties can also help keep your scalp healthy. This is why it is important to know how often you should wash your hair because shampooing too frequently won’t leave enough sebum for healthy hair, but not doing so often enough can cause problems like scalp buildup.
Scalp buildup happens when hardened sebum on the scalp mixes with sweat, hair products, and even dead skin cells. This can cause flakes, itchiness, and sometimes infections. You can keep your scalp healthy and free of build up by washing with the right frequency and using the shampoo mostly on your scalp to remove buildup, and only use it on your hair strands as much as needed to remove excess hair products. This will help keep the naturally protectant sebum doing its job on the older parts of your hair that are farther from the sebaceous glands in your scalp.
A good diet and good hygiene are usually enough to maintain the right amount of sebum production for your skin and hair, but if you feel like you have too much causing oily skin or too little resulting in dry skin and hair, consult a medical professional. If you found this guide to sebum and your hair helpful, subscribe to our blog below.