Somewhere along the last 4,000 days of quarantine, amidst my billionth snack dance to the kitchen and zillionth existential crisis brought on by the news/a single meme, I realized my hair was…gross. It suddenly felt oilier, looked greasier, and was kinda just itchy and uncomfortable all day (is this HOT? Does this all sound HOT?!)
At first, I thought it was because I had also turned into a caged animal since lockdown, skipping showers for dry shampoo and leaving my hair in a perpetual bun, but even as I got my shit together and remembered what hygiene was, my hair remained oily. Like, weirdly oily. And as I started to receive texts from friends complaining about their similar grease lives, I decided to investigate (ahem, text my dermatologist bud) and discovered that our oily scalps are not a coincidence—we’re all just dealing with something called ~quarantine scalp~.
What is quarantine scalp?
K, I just made that name up, but if it sticks, I demand payment in the form of sly winks and nods. BASICALLY, if you’ve been feeling like your scalp has been especially oily or greasy recently, you’re not imagining it—it’s likely a very real, very human response to the absolute dumpster fire we’re all living in right now.
“When you’re stressed out, your cortisol levels spike, and that spike triggers your body to create extra sebum—aka oil—on your skin, scalp, wherever,” says dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, founder of Hudson Dermatology and Laser in New York City. And if you’ve had more than just a few days of anxiety or stress over the last few months—which, hi, I’m pretty sure we all have—your body’s just been churning out oil all day every day, leaving your scalp greasier and your face potentially oilier (which also explains those sudden breakouts).
And just to make things more fun, excess oil on your scalp can also trigger something called seborrheic dermatitis (seb derm, for short), an itchy, flaky scalp inflammation that can look and feel like dandruff. “Everyone naturally has yeast in our bodies, but when we’re in extra dry weather—like stuck at home with the heat on all day—that yeast tends to grow exponentially and can trigger greasy flakes known as seborrheic dermatitis,” says Dr. Bhanusali.
So if your scalp oils are cranked up to 200, you’re loading on the dry shampoo, and you’re not really washing your hair, you’re basically creating the perfect environment for yeast to thrive (sounds gross, but it’s natural, so you’re fine) and cause either dandruff, seb derm, or, at the very least, oily irritation.
How do I fix my oily hair?
I mean, as seems to be the answer for most things recently, ~*TiMe*~. Eventually, as life (hopefully) returns to a new normal and your stress levels equal out, your oil production will follow. You can also try adding in a mediation or workout session each day to help lower your oil-producing stress hormones (apps like Peleton, DailyBurn, and Calm have free trial sessions right now).
As for dealing with the itch, oil, and/or flakes? Don’t go crazy trying to wash your scalp twice a day—you’ll only further piss off your skin. Instead, wash your hair every other day with a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser. Then, twice a week, swap in a shampoo formulated with zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole, two holy-grail ingredients that work to kill the extra yeast on your scalp.
Pick a gentle shampoo + a yeast-killing shampoo
If you don’t see some improvement within three weeks, get thyself to a dermatologist—virtually, that is. Your derm (even over video call) can prescribe you some stronger, more effective shampoos and topical creams to help your scalp chill TF out. And in the meantime, may I suggest learning to tie-dye your entire closet or making whipped peanut-butter milk or finally cleaning your makeup brushes? Literally anything more productive than staring in the mirror, waiting for your hormones to drop.