What Is Product Build Up?

What Is Product Build Up

I am sure you read it many times here on my articles talking about product build up and what it can do to our hair. However, I was wondering if you know exactly what is and what causes build up on our hair.


What Is Product Build Up?

Product build up is an accumulation or layering of product on the hair strand. You know you have it when your hair starts to feel dry, limp and dull, not responding to your regular hair regimen products and practices. In an effort to salvage their hair from this situation many people change products because 1) they think the old ones are to blame for the situation or 2) a new product will solve the situation. Others will merely wash their hair thinking that the problem can simply be washed away.


However, when you have product build up a simple product swap or hair wash won’t solve the situation.  Your hair has now an accumulation of product on its outer layer (cuticle) that prevents moisture from getting into your hair. Even the best and most effective products, with the best ingredients, won’t be able to penetrate through this build up to moisturise and nourish your hair the way it needs to be. You need to remove all the product build up so your hair can be released from its suffocating state of imprisonment.



What Is The Cause Of Product Build Up?

Product IngredientsI’m guessing your first answer is silicone and you are right. However, this hasty portrayal of silicone as the great culprit of product build up is not correct. There are many other ingredients such as petroleum, mineral oil or polyquats that are present in hair products and also create build up. It might also be surprising for you to know that natural ingredients such as vegetable oils, waxes, butters and even plant gels create a film around the hair strand.


Having said this, although natural ingredients can also create build up the type and rate at which they do it is much different than the one silicones create for instance. Natural oils, butters, waxes and gels all have nutrients that provide “food”, moisture and/or protection to our hair. Eventually, with continued use they also create build up and prevent proper absorption of moisture.


Silicones, on the other hand, are used in hair products to provide shine, to smooth the cuticle layers, to prevent moisture loss or to protect it by creating a film around it. Okay, it doesn’t sound much different from natural ingredients, does it? But it is, because they are very resistant to your regular shampoo, meaning they are hard to remove and just as these film forming ingredients prevent moisture loss they also don’t allow it in. To solve this, hard surfactants have to be used and they are not friendly to our transitioning or natural hair.


This is the reason why some naturals like myself prefer to avoid certain ingredients in hair products. Or why those following the Curly Girl Method avoid products with silicone. Being forced to use shampoos with hard surfactants to remove product build up takes a heavy toll on our hair.


Ingredients that form build up can be found in most hair products like conditioners, leave-ins, stylers or hair serums and the amount of product you apply on your hair, the product you don’t rinse out completely or the number of times you use these products have an influence on how frequently you need to remove build  up. Choosing natural ingredients will decrease the need to use drying shampoos as regularly.




Not everyone’s hair will react to film forming ingredients in the same way. Some will be more prone to build up than others. Low porosity hair, for instance, is hair that has its cuticle layers tightly closed and because of that, products just stay on the surface. Either way, build up will still need to be removed and to do this you can:


Note: Whenever you use a build up remover don’t forget to follow it with a moisturising deep conditioner otherwise your hair will be very dry.



Have you suffered from build up? What was your solution? Do you do anything to avoid it?

2 thoughts on “What Is Product Build Up?

  1. I have thin hair so when products are too thick I suffer from product build up fairly easily.

    1. Yes, Desiree. Your hair thrives better with products that have a light consistency and are not too heavy on oils and butter – meaning that products with these ingredients as their first few ingredients can leave your hair limp and with build up. Take care! 🙂

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