Your curls look less curly, the shine less shiny, the bounce less bouncy. Your Holy Grail products stop working. Dandruff-like particles appear on your hair and scalp.

You’re probably a victim of buildup — a common affliction for product-junkie curlyheads who may use cocktails of three or four products at a time to define curls, combat frizz and soften dry hair.

“Buildup suffocates and dehydrates the hair,” says Ouidad, the Queen of Curl.

Sometimes the products that feel the best on the hair may be the worst buildup culprits, says stylist Jonathan Torch, creator of the Curly Hair Solutions line of products.

“You have to understand the difference between feel good and do good,” he says.

Some heavy silicones may initially make the hair shiny and soft. But they could coat the hair, preventing products from penetrating the hair. The hair may get dryer and duller.

“When you get product buildup, you can’t get the ingredients that work into the hair,” Torch says. “Products just sit on the surface. You can have the best moisturizers in the world and they won’t make any difference.

The best solution for buildup is to prevent it in the first place.

“Less is more,” Ouidad says. “Try not to get to the point where you need to use anything to get rid of buildup.”

That means avoiding products with high resin contents, heavy oils and non-water soluble silicones, opting instead for water soluble ingredients, proteins, amino acids, essential oils and moisturizers.

“(Heavy waxes, silicones and oils”> are quick fixes,” says Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue, who created the Curlisto line of products. “My best advice is to study it before you buy it to see if it will work for your hair’s texture. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is less.”

Strong hairsprays also can cause buildup, especially when people spray them too close to their head.

“People tend to blast the roots to get more hold,” says Rodney Cutler of NYC’s Cutler Salon-Redken. “It just weighs the hair down.”

The distribution of a product also is important. Many people may just put a blob of gel in their hair without spreading it out. The result can be flakiness on top of the hair. Cutler suggests applying the product first underneath and then using a large-tooth comb to distribute it evenly.

What to do if you already have buildup?

Deep cleanse the hair once a week with a shampoo specially designed for that purpose. Or do more frequent washings.

“Often people don’t shampoo their hair enough,” Christo says. Those who swim or exercise often should use a clarifying shampoo at least once a week.

But don’t overdo it with the clarifying shampoos because they can strip the hair.

Stylist Philip Pelusi, who created the Phyto-Life line of products, suggests sudsing with a clarifying shampoo and following that with a more moisturizing shampoo.

Tips for preventing buildup

  • Always apply product at hair ends and work up to the root. This will help to make sure that your scalp does not get coated with product. The scalp will create oils to lift product away.
  • Spray hairsprays at least 12 inches away from the scalp.
  • Style with a gel, mousse or cream. Hairsprays should always be the last step. Keep your hands out of your hair after using a spray.
  • Use less product. If you properly emulsify a product in your palms before you apply it to your hair, you will use less product and get more even distribution.
  • Look for products that offer both conditioning and hold. Many offer both conditioning and styling. You will not need to use as many products and will save time and money.
  • Beware of conditioners with wax as the main ingredient. The hair will look beautiful at first, but eventually a dull coating will build up. If you doubt this, run the blade of a pair of scissors over fresh-washed and conditioned hair. If you get a film on your blade then your conditioner contains too much wax.
  • Use a product that controls humidity. This will help you resist the temptation to reapply hairspray throughout the day to “fix” your hair.
  • Be sure to rinse shampoos and conditioners out of your hair. The biggest cause of buildup is failure to properly rinse out their hair. If you wash your hair in the sink, make sure that you rinse the product out of the ends. Long hair resting at the bottom of the basin may never get thoroughly rinsed.

Suggested products for removing buildup

  • Philip Pelusi Phyto-Life Exfoliate and Refresh HAir
  • Biosilk Shampoo Out and PreTreat (salon treatment”>
  • Redken Cleansing Shampoo
  • Curlisto Aquilizer
  • Ouidad Water Works
  • Biolage Normalizing Shampoo
  • Elucence Volume Clarifying Shampoo
  • Matrix Essentials Alternative Action Clarifying Shampoo
  • Nucleic A Botanicals Daily Gentle Cleanse Shampoo
  • Joico Resolve Chelating/Clarifying Shampoo and Phine Chelating Treatment
  • KMS Daily Fixx Clarifying Shampoo and Turnstylr Cleansing Spray
  • Pantene Purity Clarifying Shampoo
  • Herbal Essences Fruit Fusions Purifying Shampoo
  • Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo

Christo’s Exfoliating Treatment

  • Black Karrad grapes
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Egg shell

Combine ingredients and then mix three teaspoons of the mixture with your daily conditioner or rinse. Comb it through the hair with a wide-tooth comb continuously for 10 minutes. The seeds from the grapes, strawberry and kiwi along with the eggshell act as an exfoliant. Do the treatment once a month.

Michelle Breyer

As co-founder of, a website for curly hair she began with her business partner and friend, Gretchen Heber, Michelle Breyer helped create the leading community and resource for people with curly hair. Frustrated by the lack of information on curly hair and the limited products available in the marketplace, the duo launched the site in 1998 with the help of a 14-year-old web designer. When Procter & Gamble called three years later to advertise to the® audience, Breyer knew they had indeed created a force in the industry, providing helpful information and unparalleled expertise for what was then considered a niche market.

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