Why Does My Hair Feel Waxy? A Celebrity Hairstylist Explains

The causes, and how to solve it.

combing white product through black hair
(Image credit: Getty)

The feel of your hair as you run your fingers through it can play a huge role in your confidence. Indeed, we all like to emerge from our routine of shampooing and conditioning to find our locks feeling soft, hydrated, and smooth. However, our hair doesn't always feel completely refreshed after a shower, leaving us plagued with scalp irritation, greasy hair, or even waxy hair. 

This waxy feeling most often consists of a film-like residue at the scalp or on the parts of the hair shaft near the root. This can make it feel more difficult for you to run your fingers through your hair, or can leave an oily or sticky feeling on your hands after you touch your hair. Residue like this can weigh hair down, making straight hair look limp and curls appear weighed down. Plus, waxy residue on the hair and scalp can curb hair growth, because you can't grow long, healthy hair without first having a healthy scalp. 

So I contacted celebrity hairstylist Glenn Ellis, who broke down the reasons hair feels waxy sometimes and, of course, what you can do to solve it. 

Why Does My Hair Feel Waxy?

To fight waxy hair and prevent it from feeling that way to begin with, it's first important to understand why hair feels waxy sometimes. 

"Waxy feelings are often due to product buildup," says Ellis. And that build-up most often comes from pollution, sweat, dandruff, and excess hair products like leave-in conditioners, hair oils, serums, gels, and more. In this case, it's important to know how to wash your hair thoroughly, from scalp to tip, and to keep in mind how often you should wash your hair so that excess oils don't have the chance to build up. 

Ellis also adds that "using shampoos and conditioners that have sulfates in them" can also result in a waxy feeling, because the sulfates in these products "coat the hair." Some of the most common sulfates you might find in hair products include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), mmonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), and ammonium laureth sulfate.

"I always recommend using sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners to avoid the waxy feeling from the start," he reiterates.

Below, some high-quality sulfate-free shampoo options that will keep your hair fresh and free from wax.

How to Get Rid of Waxy Hair

So, now that you know what could be causing your waxy hair and have checked the labels on all your hair products for sulfates, what do you do to treat your waxy roots?

Ellis says that if the waxy feeling you're experiencing is particularly stubborn and resists multiple washes—even after you scrubbed and switched out any products that contain sulfates—you can always go the salon route. If so, you can opt for a Malibu Treatment. "This is a gel that goes on that will break down the buildup and make your hair feel back to normal," he explains. 

But if you'd like to start by treating your waxy hair at home, there are a number of options you can try.

"I also recommend using a clarifying shampoo if you’re doing it at home," he advises. "A good clarifying shampoo can help break down that waxy feeling."

Below, a few expert- and editor-approved favorites. 

Meet the Expert

Glenn Ellis
Glenn Ellis

Glenn Ellis is a hair stylist who works between New York City and Los Angeles. Currently, he can be booked at the Andy Lecompte Salon in L.A. or the Marie Robinson Salon in NYC. His clients have included Olivia Wilde, Aubrey Plaza, Sia, and many others.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, politics, culture, and fashion at Marie Claire and at publications including The New York Times, HuffPost Personal, Bustle, Alma, Muskrat Magazine, O'Bheal, and elsewhere. Her personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column kickstarted her professional writing career in 2018, and that piece has since been printed in the 2019 revised edition of the Modern Love book. Having studied history, international relations, and film, she has made films on politics and gender equity in addition to writing about cinema for Film Ireland, University College Cork, and on her personal blog, gabrielleulubay.medium.com. Before working with Marie Claire, Gabrielle worked in local government, higher education, and sales, and has resided in four countries and counting. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, and spent two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy.

Deeply political, she believes that skincare, haircare, and sexual wellness are central tenets to one's overall health and fights for them to be taken seriously, especially for people of color. She also loves studying makeup as a means of artistic expression, drawing on her experience as an artist in her analysis of beauty trends. She's based in New York City, where she can be found watching movies or running her art business when she isn't writing. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleUlubay or on Instagram at @gabrielle.ulubay, or follow her art at @suburban.graffiti.art