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A dubious Wikipedia article makes this claim, which I've seen numerous times before, in various forms:

Using shampoo every day removes sebum, the oil produced by the scalp. This causes the sebaceous glands to produce oil at a higher rate to compensate for what is lost during shampooing.

Is there any truth to this? How does the skin know how much oil is on it? How is the amount of oil produced per day determined? What biological function causes one to affect the other?

  • Anecdotally, I have a friend that hasn't used shampoo for years and his scalp seems to have adjusted (i.e. there's no way to tell if you don't know). I don't believe it's the same for everyone though. – dancek Apr 28 '11 at 13:38
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    From my experience if you take the oil off of skin then the body produces more oil, if the oil is removed more frequently then the body will produce even more oil to compensate, the body is good at adapting. I'm not an expert on biology but I know that millions of years of evolution certainly didn't neglect how much skin oil we produce in certain scenarios. – YupHio May 1 '11 at 18:34
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    “hasn't used shampoo for years” – gross! ;-) – Konrad Rudolph May 3 '11 at 12:11
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    @YupHio: Yes, there are lot of anecdotes like that, but it doesn't prove anything. There are a lot of anecdotes of hair growing back thicker if you shave it, with similar "feedback loops" proposed as mechanisms, but this is a myth of human perception. skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/490/… – endolith Jun 1 '11 at 20:08
13

It appears that most shampoos do not cause this. However, shampoos with with selenium sulfide will indeed increase oiliness.

From Pierard-Franchimont, C. Arrese, J. E. Pierard, G. E., Sebum flow dynamics and antidandruff shampoos, JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF COSMETIC CHEMISTS, VOL 48; NUMBER 2, pages 117-122 (1997).

"It has been previously shown that excessive oiliness is a disturbing side effect following regular use of selenium sulfide shampoo to control dandruff (4,5)"

"s. Many studies have shown that the early sebum flow after the skin is cleaned comes mainly from a reservoir in the pilosebaceous follicle, and not from any feedback stimulation of the sebaceous gland (13-15)"

"In the present study, most of the antidandruff shampoos showed an absence of significant SER change over time....Such a finding confirms the unreality of the so-called reactive seborrhea, in which the sebaceous excretion increases with the frequency of most hair washes"

"(4) H. Goldschmidt and A.M. Kligman, Increased sebum secretion following selenium sulfide shampoos, Acta Dermatol. Venereol., 48, 488-491 (1968).

(5) G. E. Piérard, C. Piérard-Franchimont, and T. Ben Mosbah, Les pityrosporoses. Pityriasis versicolor, folliculite pityrosporique, dermatite séborrhéique et état pelliculaire, Rev. Med. LiPge, 44, 267-271 (1989)."

"(13) A.M. Kligman and W. B. Shelley, An investigation into the biology of the sebaceous gland,.]. Invest. Dermatol., 30, 99-125 (1958).

(14) J. S. Strauss, D. T. Downing, and M. E. Stewart, Sebum secretion rates in relation to age, J. AppL CosmetoL, 3, 257-266 (1985).

(15) C. Pirard-Franchimont, G. E. Pirard, and A. Kligman, Seasonal modulation of the sebum excretion, Dermatologica, 181, 21-22 (1990)"

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